Autumn 2014: racing in the southern hemisphere, stories from the wild world of superyachts, shoe smuggling in the Baltic, painters, explorers and adventurers.
Geoff Heriot tells the story of Australia’s first ocean race:
It was extreme summer, one of those periods when seawater seemed to plop on the beach with the viscosity of petroleum, as Shamrock left behind the lights of the small bayside city of Geelong and passed Point Henry to starboard, bound for the fishing village of Queenscliff. The boat had no engine. While the land-dwellers sweated fitfully in their beds, she close-hauled along the Bellarine Peninsula, her big Yankee drawing well as the breeze puffed and lulled. It was Christmas Day of 1907, and she was one of four yachts mustering for Australia’s first organised ocean yacht race, the Rudder Cup. The boats converging on Queenscliff from Melbourne reported unstable wind conditions through the night. By 0900 on Christmas Day the wind had died, and barometric pressure was falling….
Ian Fraser Grigor takes us fishing for herring off the west coast of Scotland in winter:
First day of the week, last week of the fishing year, they cleared the harbour and put to sea – without hope, for the last few weeks had been blank, as if the herring forever had gone from the ocean. On first watch, the Old Timer loafed in the wheelhouse. The boy cook in his galley (mince, Gold Leaf and a new war comic) was making the tea; down aft, the Big Fella and the Skipper were in their curtained bunks, studying the newspapers of the previous week.
That night they got nothing. They saw no marks till dusk the following day, close in to an island, with a slash of wind screaming over its cliffs and shrouds of spindrift blasting into the growing night. They had a tow and tore the net. Later, in a sheltered bay, they hauled the net forward and mended it. It began to snow. By the time they had finished the snow had stopped, though it was colder than ever. When they went to sea again it was blowing harder than ever too.
Rosie Thomas sails to South Georgia for recreational purposes:
In May 1916, three scarecrows stumbled off an unmapped glacier in South Georgia and into the safety of a whaling station. To the astonished commander of the station their leader murmured, ‘My name is Shackleton’. The journey the trio had just completed remains one of the greatest feats of survival from the heroic age of exploration.
This is the journey we plan to recreate. From the benign shelter of our Terra Nova tents and padded parkas, with our latest ski-mountaineering kit, our pulks (sledges) laden with food, our gps and Gore-Tex and avalanche bleeps, and our crevasse self-rescue gear merrily clinking on our harnesses, we shall probably take five days to do it.
What the hell. It’s supposed to be a holiday.
Anthony Dew’s ship crosses the Baltic in winter:
The Jet was on a regular round trip of around ten days, from the uk across the North Sea, through the Kiel Canal, along the southern Baltic to Gdynia, and back. We took mostly raw materials – steel, hides, chemicals and so on – to Poland, and brought back finished manufactured goods – machinery and tools, household goods and shoes. The Jet was a handsome ship and smart, if old, and we often carried passengers, so the food was excellent. I enjoyed working on a proper cargo ship, but I’d always been a warm-water sailor. During the bitter winter of ’78-9 even the Southern Baltic froze.
The Editor approaches the Frisian Islands in the smack yacht ‘Gloria’:
One minute the world was shades of grey like a photographic print. The next the eastern horizon became a lemon-coloured streak that grew a fiery bulge and the sun bounced pop into the sky, and suddenly all that one-colour world was blue and green and yellow, with a string of Eider duck trailing across the bow, and round the rim of the sea the grey-green line of Germany.
The tide was turning, the breeze scarce enough to blow away the smoke from the galley stovepipe. Gloria lumbered across the greasy blue water in a tangle of grey fumes. Helgoland had been washed away by the tide of light. Ahead was our new mark: a long, low hump of dun-coloured sand crowned with white birds: Alte Mellum.
Richard Clifford pauses in his circumnavigation:
Makemo atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago is about 37nm long and 9nm wide. There are only two deepwater entrances, so the flood and ebb through these passages are ferocious. I was en route from the Marquesas to Tahiti single-handed in my yacht Shamaal, a Warrior 35. Makemo was my first Pacific atoll, and we had arrived while the 8-knot ebb was streaming out of the northern entrance. I did not have the luxury of either tide tables or weather forecasts. After a couple of hours hove-to I let draw and slowly made progress against the end of the ebb; even so, standing waves jumped into the cockpit and gave us a bucking-bronco ride. Once we were through the entrance we motored over to the anchorage off the village.
Adrian Morgan explores Viking boatbuilding:
For years I have been building boats to what could loosely be called a Viking pattern – pointed at both ends and clinker built. A Viking who found himself transported through time and into my shed would recognise the methods, if not the means. I use sawn planks instead of riven logs, electric planers instead of axe and adze, and copper nails and round roves instead of iron nails and square roves. Between the overlapping planks I pipe a thin bead of mastic instead of laying in moss or tarred rope.
Most of this I have learned as I went along. When I started, I knew very little about Viking boatbuilding. But then the same went for the Vikings when they started.
Nigel Sharp compares two refits on the Fal:
It is seven o’clock on a still Saturday evening in October. The 300’ mast lies horizontally on substantial trestles. It has been there for the past eighteen months. Tonight, five cranes and fifty people standpoised and ready. The 1000-tonne main crane has arrived on site on Monday, along with fourteen trucks carrying its component parts. The floodlights pick out the scene in heavy chiaroscuro. The mast belongs to Mirabella5, the world’s biggest sloop – 255’ long, 740 tonnes displacement– which has crawled out of Pendennis Shipyard’s drydock in the early hours of Wednesday morning after an almighty refit, and been towed round to Queen’s Wharf.
At the top of Mylor Creek, exactly two miles away as the crow flies, the 25’ ‘Tryphena’ lies quietly in a dark shed at Gaffers and Luggers yard, owned and run by Sam Heard, the third generation of the Heard family. In spring Sam will step ‘Tryphena’s’ mast. In doing so he has no concerns about wind speed or cranes. The yard is in a beautifully sheltered location, surrounded by rising land and expanses of trees.
Emma Spence seeks glamour in the crew quarters of a superyacht:
Victoria grabs a pile of freshly laundered guest clothes with one hand and a cleaning caddy with the other. She makes her way out of the crew mess, through the galley, and down into the lower guest cabins. It’s her first season in yachting. She was so excited to land her first job. To celebrate, she spent her last €30 on three bottles of rosé in the Irish pub in Antibes. She clings to the memory of that day, and reassures herself that she’s happy to be here. It is just that she imagined from the stories told her by yachties she met back home in Cape Town that there’d be more time on the beach, and less time spent cleaning heads with cotton buds.
Peter Davey investigates Matthew Flinders’s battle with magnetic variation and deviation:
The earliest users of the compass seem to have been the Chinese, who in the eleventh century used a magnetised needle to find north. The earliest European records date from the thirteenth century, when it was thought that the needle was influenced by masses of magnetic rocks in the Polar regions. This did not, however, account for variation, the difference between true north and magnetic north.
Rod Heikell, author of many pilot books, gives an insight into his calling:
I had no real training for surveying harbours. I taught myself the basics of triangulation, and surveyed in the old fashioned way – with a hand-bearing compass and transits on known objects. This was before GPS, hand-held depth sounders, laser distance measurers, and cad drawing programmes on your laptop or in the publishers’ drawing department.
As my surveys became more confident, I found myself lost in admiration for my predecessors. In the 1830s, Captain Graves and his able Lieutenant Spratt surveyed much of the eastern Mediterranean. As a consequence of being shipwrecked at age fifteen due to a faulty chart and in peril of starvation, Francis Beaufort – who later invented the eponymous Scale – became obsessed with the importance of education and the development of accurate charts for those risking their lives at sea.
Ella Westland explores Turner’s relationship with the sea:
‘Soapsuds and whitewash’ was one verdict on J M W Turner’s swirling oil painting of a steamboat in a snowstorm when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1842. The Ariel was ‘making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead’ off Harwich harbour, according to Turner’s very specific entry in the exhibition catalogue, which also stated that the artist himself had experienced the storm. ‘Soapsuds and whitewash’, he kept muttering that evening, sitting in an armchair by the fire after dinner. ‘What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea’s like? I wish they’d been in it!’ He later claimed in conversation that sailors had lashed him to the mast for four hours to observe the scene: ‘I did not expect to escape; but I felt bound to record it if I did.’
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics – all edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.