Autumn 2015 – trolling for tuna, racing multihulls round the world, getting on the wrong side of Bill Tilman, hanging out with the Albanian navy….
Albert Strange remembers his last cruise in in Cherub II:
When a man has owned and parted with a good many different boats, each one leaves in the memory its own particular stories which are never forgotten. No ship that I have ever owned has left more or happier memories than the little Humber yawl Cherub. She was a good, dependable creature, such a sea-boat for her inches and, if you did not want to walk about below, gave such comfort and ease when the toils of the day were over, that the affection she compelled has never been obliterated by her successors. I still wonder how I brought myself to part with her.
Jon Tucker trolls for tuna under sail:
‘Fish!’ yells Colin, as first one then three lines suddenly go bar-tight, zipping steeply downwards. The ensuing drill has become second nature. We hasten aft from the warmth of the wheelhouse, cautious on the heeling deck swept by knee-deep green water. Twenty vigorous minutes later, nine good-sized albacore tuna weighing from six to eight kilograms are sloshing among the melting ice in the slurry bin.
Rod Heikell sails from the Red Sea to Cochin:
We needed to keep clear of Socotra, the large island on the southern entrance to the Gulf of Aden, because it has long had a reputation for piracy. In 1995 at least fifteen ships and yachts had been seized by pirates operating out of Somalia over an eight month period. In 1996 the area was declared a no-go zone for shipping of any sort. Several yachts had been fired on and a few had been boarded by pirates. This was not the era where yachties were captured and held for ransom, but more ‘smash-and-grab’ piracy for money and valuables.
As it was we slipped past just 60 miles off the coast of Socotra and within the known zone for piracy, running no lights at night and keeping a good watch by day….
H A leF Hurt tells the melancholy tale of the loss of the ‘Sappho’:
The last of the cargo had been hoisted on shore, the hatches were all covered and secured, and the chief officer gave a sigh of relief as he left the deck and hurried into the welcome warmth of the saloon. It was terribly cold outside. Winter had come unusually early, and with quite unlooked-for severity. For the last fortnight the thermometer had not stood above zero, and had often been 20˚ below, and now in the first week of December 1915 the river at Arkhangel was covered with two feet of ice.
‘Thank God that’s over at last,’ he exclaimed.
The British Naval Attaché in Rome pays a visit to the Albanian Navy:
Formally dressed in ice cream suit and aiguillettes and accompanied by an Albanian minder, we set off in a battered staff car. Three fraught hours later (Albanians drive very fast and competitively, pulling out without looking, and their roads are littered with potholes and stray animals) we arrived at the Officer Naval Training College just north of Vlorë. Here we were greeted by a smart honour guard and invited to tour the establishment. There was not a lot to see. Staff and cadets were enthusiastic, but queries relating to equipment and study programmes elicited a Balkan shrug. It appeared that the obstacle course of ropes and chasm, a few tattered notebooks and a beached whaler were the extent of their training capability. Of boat-work, practical instruction and engineering there was no evidence.
Nigel Sharp recounts the tooth-jarring history of the Jules Verne Trophy:
Before 1993 no fully-crewed multihull had ever raced non-stop around the world. The idea of the Jules Verne Trophy – named after the author of Around the World in Eighty Days – was conceived by some of the sailors who took part in the 1989-90 Vendée Globe, including the winner, Titouan Lamazou, who set a new round-the-world non-stop record of 109-and-a-bit days. The trophy was to be awarded to the first boat to sail from an imaginary starting line between the Lizard and Ushant, leave the three great capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) to port and return to the same line in under eighty days, and to any boats which subsequently beat the first winner’s record.
In January 1993, three large multihulls set off to try to win the trophy. Robin Knox-Johnston, co-skipper of Enza New Zealand, one of the competitors, wrote: ‘Impossible and unrealistic, said many… those of us who thought it could be done at that time with a large enough multihull were classified as dreamers.’ Commodore Explorer, the only one of the three to make it round, won the trophy, crossing the finishing line with just eighteen hours to spare. Among the many people who were surprised that the goal was achieved so soon was the American artist who was making the trophy, but hadn’t yet finished it.
Captain Richard Woodman remembers his friend Lady Rozelle Raynes:
The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the daily trip through the grounds of [Lady Rozelle’s] father’s estate passed through an Army encampment. The spectacle of young men training for war had its effect upon her; she prayed that the war would not end before she could sign up. Her prayers were answered, and in 1943 she joined the wrns, finding herself not – to use Nicholas Monsarrat’s phrase – a ‘commissioned lovely’ on the staff of an admiral, but a Stoker Second Class, manning one of the many small tugs carrying men and signals round the anchorages of the growing invasion fleet assembling in the Solent.
Colonel Rémy of the Résistance is smuggled out of occupied France with his family:
We had set the radio up in the hotel room, and contacted London. In a short message we told them that we were ready to start Operation Marie-Louise, and London confirmed that the boat would be at the rendezvous at the agreed hour. Alex suggested that we dine at the Moulin de Rosmadec. I arranged a horse-drawn carriole,the only available transport, and we left the children in the care of the hotel’s patronne, and asked the young peasant at the reins to pick us up early the next morning to deliver us to the coast at Pont-Aven.
Janet Verasanso, one of the pioneers of Mediterranean cruising, explains her deeply fraught relationship with the legendary Harold ‘Bill’ Tilman:
In early May 1951 the British people were either looking forward eagerly to the Festival of Britain or wondering whether (despite the draconian currency restrictions) it might not be a good moment to take a holiday abroad. My husband, Ernle Bradford, and I belonged to the latter category. In anticipation of the crowds and incessant media reportage, we sold our possessions and bought a small 10-ton ex-racing Dutch boeier named Mother Goose, which we hoped would take us through the French canals to the quieter delights of the Mediterranean. To be able to cruise this sea, visiting the Renaissance cities of Tuscany and the ancient sites of Greece, had been my dream since childhood. To do so in one’s own boat, especially after the privations of the war and immediate post-war period, seemed almost unbelievable.
Douglas Lindsay describes his early days in the coasting trade:
A ship was working north along the Buchan coast in dense fog, with a man on the foc’sle chucking small lumps of coal ahead. So long as they splashed, it was safe to go on. The lookout was rather surprised when a policeman suddenly appeared over the foc’sle rails, and the captain fell on his knees and vowed to sign the pledge. The explanation was not, however, supernatural. The ship had gone aground on a slowly shelving sandy beach without realising it, and the policeman, pedalling by on his bicycle, had been unimpressed to have a lump of coal chucked at him out of the murk. Following the bellows of the ship’s whistle, he had waded out to the ship’s bow with a ladder, and climbed aboard to find out what on earth was going on. Badly shaken, the captain renounced the pledge and sought refuge in the bottle, where the policeman joined him.
I have heard people swear this is true.
The distinguished surgeon Martin Thomas describes the diseases of seamen:
In the age of sail, Jack Tar risked injury and death from foundering, wreck, fire and explosion, as well as the cannon, musket and cutlass of the enemy. But a greater risk by far – greater than all these horrors put together – came from disease and the treatments for disease, some of which were useless but did no harm, and others which were worse than the condition itself. It has been estimated that in the Napoleonic Wars eighty-one per cent of deaths were caused by disease or accident, twelve per cent by loss of the ship, and only six per cent by enemy action.
Glenn Storhaug explores the seamanlike nature of the poet T S Eliot:
In 1910, Tom [Eliot] boarded a steamer for a short stay in London and a long stay at the Sorbonne in Paris….This was the start of his transformation into T S Eliot, future Nobel Laureate, impeccably-dressed publisher and man of letters. But his early sailing experiences provided his poetry with a source of imagery that never lost its significance. Memories of such fogbound expeditions as his rounding of Mount Desert Rock intensified rather than faded…
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.