Extracts from the The Marine Quarterly - Autumn 2012

Here comes the Autumn issue, with gales, North Sea Oil, literature, vandalism and the northeast monsoon.

Adrian Morgan, wooden boatbuilder, tells the story of an epoch-making yacht race.
In September 1893, two great yachts came smoking out of the gathering blackness of an autumn night. They caught the weary observers on the Royal Yacht Squadron steamer, moored in the lee of the Needles, completely by surprise. They were the King’s Britannia, topmast housed, under spitfire jib, staysail and a single reefed mainsail; and the American boat Navahoe. They were heading for the finish line after perhaps the most ferocious Channel crossing in the history of yacht racing.


Luke Powell, builder of Scilly pilot cutters, tells the story of an Atlantic crossing
In late August 2005 I gathered a crew together. There was Big Nick, the ever faithful rope puller, young Jim Bob our enthusiastic sailing carpenter, and my son Dylan, who at fourteen was strong and in need of adventure. As we flew over the North Atlantic I pressed my face to the porthole and peered down at the vast empty sea. It looked cold and uninviting.

Trevor Robertson explains the making of sketch charts, with examples drawn from life
A voyage from New Zealand to Chile and a winter exploring Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, Chile promised to combine all I like most – a challenging 5000 miles, through the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean to a wild coast with a multitude of channels and bays to explore. I cleared from New Zealand for Chile in November 2009, and arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile, after a rough passage of fifty-four days. Annie Hill, my frequent sailing companion, joined me in Puerto Montt and we pottered around the Gulfs of Reloncaví and Ancud and as far south as Ventisquero San Rafael, the lowest-latitude tidewater glacier in the world, pushing down to the sea through heavily-forested hills alive with kingfishers, woodpeckers and hummingbirds.

After Annie left to fly back to New Zealand in early May I set off for the canales, the wild glaciated channels that stretch 1800 miles south and east to Cape Horn.

Tristan Jones, teller of tall tales, tells one of his tallest
As Barbara sailed away from the coast the fetch of the sea increased, and with it our movement, so that by midnight we were wallowing violently. The sky was clear, with no moon, but Venus was setting in the west, twice the size she appears in normal ocean skies. Millions of bright stars gleamed overhead. It was all very beautiful, but we would have preferred overcast and even rain, for we were most anxious to avoid being seen by Arab craft, whether military or civilian. The Israelis had warned us in no uncertain terms what would happen to us if we were to encounter an Egyptian naval vessel.

Anthony Dalton, Jones’s biographer, goes looking for the man, and finds mostly myths
The late Tristan Jones, a self-professed lifelong bachelor and sailor, wrote sixteen nautical books between 1975 and 1995. Two were admitted fiction, Aka – a poignant story of a singlehanded sailor and a tribe of dolphins; and Dutch Treat – a well-crafted novel of World War II. One was a treatise on sailing skills, much of it cribbed from other books. The other thirteen, Tristan claimed, were autobiographical.

The Tristan of the autobiographical works was a Welshman descended from a long line of seafarers, born on his father’s tramp steamer in the South Atlantic in May 1924. At the tender age of thirteen he joined the crew of Second Apprentice, a boomie ketch barge working the south and east coasts of England with occasional voyages across the Channel. In May 1940, with the war in Europe one year old, he joined the Royal Navy, serving his apprenticeship at hms Ganges, the notorious shore-based training facility at Shotley in Suffolk, before being assigned to sea duty early in 1941. In Heart of Oak (1984) he recorded his harrowing years of extreme danger on the high seas, having three ships sunk under him before he reached the age of eighteen.

Somewhere in between he found time to convert an old lifeboat to sail and romped off to a litany of adventures from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, none of them, oddly, authenticated then or since.

Ian Tew, tugmaster and descendant of pirates, describes a monsoon tow
My tug Salvaliant was alongside the Foochow off Triton Shoal, Singapore, preparing to tow the Foochow to Hong Kong. We were having a quiet beer on the bridge when I was called on our internal radio and told that my departure was delayed. I was to tow another ship to Hong Kong as well. This was not exactly good news, because the Salvaliant only had a single-drum tow winch, the northeast monsoon was blowing hard in the South China Sea, and I had not towed tandem before.

Anton Bowring gives an object lesson in expedition ship acquisition
In 1979, our small, ice-strengthened ship mv Benjamin Bowring cast off her shore lines and boldly set off down the Thames from Greenwich. It was the start of a three-year voyage. Our Patron, Prince Charles, was on board. So was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, our leader, and fourteen volunteer crew members, including me. A fleet of small craft followed us. Whistles blasted and fire tugs sprayed water jets into the air. I and my mates waved and cheered at every opportunity.

And we had plenty to cheer about. The Benjamin Bowring was bound for Antarctica, not so much following in the wake of the great explorers Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Mawson, as planning to outdo them. Only Sir Vivian Fuchs with Edmund Hillary had properly crossed Antarctica before. They had made the journey in 1956, using big tracked vehicles towing cabooses – accommodation modules – on sledges. Our expedition was lightweight. We planned to use small snow scooters to cover the 2000 miles from coast to coast.

Antarctica was just the start of it. Two years later Ran and his colleague Charlie Burton would also cross the Arctic Ocean, becoming the first people ever to complete a longitudinal circumnavigation of the world via both North and South Poles.

The Benjamin Bowring had the vital job of carrying the expedition team, with all its stores and equipment, across the seas and oceans along the route. The first such waterway was the English Channel. It was our intention to deliver the expedition team to Dieppe, where they would set off in Land Rovers through France and Spain, heading towards Africa. But there was a problem.

As the ship passed through the Woolwich Barrier on the ebb, only the crew and expedition members knew that once we had disembarked our dignitaries and journalists at Tilbury, we would have to unload the Land Rovers promptly. Then we would have to head back upriver to our berth in Milwall Dock, while Fiennes and his team caught the six o’clock ferry from Dover to Calais.

Alastair Robertson explains the history of North Sea oil
Ever since 1848, when James ‘Paraffin’ Young produced oil from shale mined in central Scotland, it had been known that there was oil to be had on the fringes of the North Sea. In Germany, oil was found near Hanover in 1859. Gas was found by mistake in a water well near Hamburg in 1910. bp discovered gas in reservoirs in the Lake District at Eskdale in 1938, and in 1939 struck commercial oil at Eakring in Nottinghamshire. But for many years the North Sea itself was considered an unlikely source of oil – until in 1959 a huge gas field was discovered at Groningen in the Netherlands, and exploration moved offshore.

Some time after 1965 harbour offices up and down the east coast of Britain were recording the arrival and departure of a breed of vessel never before seen in the North Sea. The lines of the newcomers were brutish, blunt and utilitarian. The bridge was stacked over the crew quarters and the whole superstructure was squashed forward over the bows. The rest of the vessel consisted entirely of a long, low-freeboard deck.

This ungainly fleet presaged a major change in Britain’s economic fortunes.

Julian Harrap explains where the ‘Cutty Sark ‘project went wrong
The Cutty Sark is a truly remarkable survival. Having been built for a working life of some twenty-five years, she in fact sailed through a period on the tea trade, the wool trade, and later, under the Portuguese flag, as a general cargo vessel working the traditional routes of the north and south Atlantic. Whether or not she was the fastest clipper ever built is immaterial. Her importance lies in the fact that she represents the ultimate development of a type of sailing vessel built at Aberdeen and Glasgow, derived from American prototypes. Her encasement in a concrete dry-dock in Greenwich in 1956, however imaginative, secured a further term of survival. And then came the present restoration.

The hull sits above the black glass skirt concealing her underbody, so any visitor approaching by water, or closer at hand on the foreshore at Greenwich, could be forgiven for thinking he was looking at the biggest wind-driven hovercraft ever seen.

Jonathon Green leads us through the lingo of the ship’s larder
Rations come down to two words: biscuits and beef, which encompassed any meat that could be salted, e.g. pork, or in extreme cases penguins. The first were of tooth-snapping solidity, and the second was not to be confused with what modern America terms ‘corned’ (after the particles of salt found in its pink deliciousness) beef. The pair were known as hard tack and salt junk. The hard was self-evident; tack comes either from another piece of self description, standard English tack, a quality of binding or solidity; or from the pleasingly nautical tackle, which in this context is generic for food. Bread, which would be brown, was sometimes soft tack, sometimes tommy or soft tommy (soft, that is, in comparison to the biscuits), which was a poor pun on Tommy Brown.

Richard Woodman lays bare the mysteries of tonnage
Let us start at the beginning; which, in terms of a vessel’s tonnage, was somewhere around 1300ad, when the kings of England were also feudal lords of vast swathes of France, particularly the wine-producing regions of the southwest. The import of wine from Bordeaux became a thriving business, capable of supplying some handy duties to the Royal treasury. Naturally such a levy had to be based upon the quantity of wine brought into the country. Since this was generally carried in large barrels known as tuns, the tun became the basic unit.

A tun was the equivalent of two pipes, or four hogsheads. It contained two hundred and fifty-two ‘old gallons’ and came to be the way of measuring the capacity of a vessel, then known as her ‘burthen.’

Mike Bender proposes a Marine Quarterly Library
Soon after Rupert Hart-Davis left Jonathan Cape to set up his own publishing house, he asked Arthur Ransome, a Cape author, to create a library of sailing texts. Between 1948 and 1963, sixty-three titles were published as the Mariner’s Library. When the list was bought by Adlard Coles, they added a sixty-fourth, Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race. Well, 1963 is nearly fifty years ago, and a lot of books have been written since then. So what additions should be made to an updated version of the ml, which I propose to call, for the sake of convenience and for no other reason, the Marine Quarterly Library?