Here comes the Spring 2014 issue, with (among much else) ice, the Caribbean, Hammond Innes, and the return of yachts to the water and salmon to the world’s rivers.
Emma Beynon sails to Svalbard in an ancient pilot cutter:
Our aim is to circumnavigate the archipelago if the ice allows. Failing that, we intend to sail as far north as we can before we meet the pack ice. Our route was last charted in 1934, with soundings taken more than four miles apart. We really will be nosing into the unknown. The skipper, Roger Capps, has nailed a copper skirt to Dolphin’s larch-on-oak hull. This gives her a jaunty air, but we all know that any old growler could make a nasty hole. Moored up against the cruise ships and steel-hulled yachts in the harbour, Dolphin looks almost too much of a veteran to withstand this harsh environment. A significant number of locals are amazed at her diminutive size and basic facilities. We talk of Tilman and plum duff.
Yesterday in the bright polar night the harbourmaster saw a polar bear climb into the cockpit ofa neighbouringyacht, before wandering off up the dark and dusty mountain behind the town.
Fraser Fraser-Harris and John Clegg navigate the early days of chartering in the West Indies:
To be financially viable, yachts had to be bought cheaply, so almost all were classic pre-war vessels with magnificent old slow-turning engines for which spare parts were nowhere available. Their electrics were primitive and minimal, of strange voltages, and with junction boxes full of electrocuted cockroaches. The lead-covered cable often carried as many volts in the insulation as there were in the batteries. Most boats had plough-steel rigging, wormed, parcelled and served, tensioned by galvanised bottlescrews packed in white lead and tallow, sewn in canvas and painted. Some even had lignum vitae deadeyes with four-stranded Italian tarred hemp lanyards started with a double Matthew Walker and finished with a cow hitch, the tail slipped back on itself with frapping turns to make all secure. One did not tune the rigging very often.
John Simpson takes us sailing in the 1950s:
Dauntless, our family’s first boat, was a 12-ton Lowestoft fishing smack of uncertain vintage. It took my father three years of his spare time to convert her into a pleasure yacht, working on her in a mud berth on the salting at Brandy Hole on the upper reaches of the River Crouch in Essex.
Given my parents’ personal circumstances – two young kids and living in a rented flat – this was an optimistic decision; but they were both only thirty at the time, and having survived the war they wanted some quality of life.
Bob Harris rows a 50-ton lighter downriver to the Port of London in its heyday:
We started away from the wharf with the wind about south. My mate was very green. I was busily engaged in looking after him as the oar was unmanageable in his hands, I taking the pair with him hanging on to instruct him in the rhythm of swinging out and pulling steadily; he was really more trouble to me than the barge. I was sorry for him, as he had rowed up with the skiff and blisters were now forming on both hands. We allowed her to blow over to leeward, I explained that usually we had to row across the river to the Pimlico shore to get in a favourable working position to shoot Vauxhall. As the river bends towards Vauxhall the wind leads from aft, and it was a fair wind to Waterloo on this day…
Sailing the 1945 Cowes to Dinard race with Nigel Sharp:
It is perhaps surprising that as many as eight boats made it to the start line, and a great many logistical difficulties had to be overcome to run the race at all. Every boat had its own problems with victualling as well as fitting out, and special arrangements had to be made to overcome difficulties with passports, Customs officials and currency. Admiralty permission had to be sought on both sides of the Channel (the request was greeted with such enthusiasm by the Commander-in-Chiefs in Portsmouth and Plymouth that they provided the destroyer HMS Inconstant to accompany the fleet). Last but not least, the course would involve a considerable diversion around a specially laid mark-boat off Brixham to avoid an extensive minefield in the Channel.
Rear-Admiral John Lang introduces his late friend Hammond Innes:
[Innes’s] working technique was to explore the wilder parts of the world in the hope that an idea for a story would emerge from his experience. His first journey was to the Persian Gulf at the invitation of my father, who was commanding the Bahrain-based Black Swan class frigate HMS Flamingo. He spent some three weeks embarked in Flamingo, and was to write later that the Gulf was like ‘a shallow pot of salt water simmering everlastingly in the sun’s fire.’ Anyone travelling to the Gulf today might find some of his observations about the pre-oil-boom era interesting. He noted, for instance, that the bar across the entrance to the creek at Dubai, which nowadays has two mighty ports, was so silted up that dhows had difficulty getting in.
Hammond Innes begins the story of the Wreck of the ‘Mary Deare’:
Mike’s cheerful, freckled face appeared abruptly out of the night, hanging disembodied in the light from the binnacle. He handed me a mug. ‘Nice and fresh up here after the galley,’ he said. Then the smile was wiped from his face. ‘What the hell’s that?’ He was staring past my left shoulder, at something astern of us on the port quarter. ‘Can’t be the moon, can it?’
I swung round. A cold green translucence showed at the edge of visibility. The light grew steadily brighter, phosphorescent and unearthly – a ghastly brilliance, like a bloated glow-worm. Then suddenly it condensed and hardened into a green pinpoint, and I yelled at Mike: ‘The Aldis – quick!’ It was the starboard navigation light of a big steamer, and it was bearing straight down on us.
Christopher Schuler traces the development of the instruments of navigation:
The first written record of navigation by the stars occurs in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus, leaving Calypso’s island, charts his course by the Great Bear which, ‘the beautiful goddess had bidden him to keep on the left hand as he sailed over the sea.’ Factual accounts of actual journeys by ancient Greeks survive in the form of periploi – ‘circumnavigations’ – listing the ports and coastal landmarks, with intermediate distances, that the captain of a vessel would find along a shore.
Mike Smylie, aka the Kipperman, writes of the habits, catching and smoking of herrings:
The Great Yarmouth fish salesman John Wm De Cauxtells us that the herring is to man the most valuable and, therefore, the most important fish in northern waters. Loch Fyne and the surrounding area was of course long renowned for the quality and abundance of its herring, swimming in shoals many miles long and two across: ‘from Kenmore south to Saddell Bay the blind shoals wander in the sea/I ply my spade and watch them play – God, what is it but mockery?’
Loch Fyne was where the ring net was born. In the early 1830s some Tarbert fishermen experimented with a seine net sent out from the shore with a single small skiff and set around a shoal. Soon two skiffs were being sent out with a net between them to encircle the shoal. The results were spectacular – so spectacular, indeed, that legislation forced through by the traditional drift-net fishers from up-loch banned the method. The ring-net fishermen were forced to work at night, under cover of darkness. It was a tough business. The hard-pressed fishers had to avoid being detected by patrols of soldiers; and the soldiers were not the only reason for watchfulness. The essence of success was to spot the ‘natural appearances’ that betrayed the presence of the shoals – the diving Solan goose, the porpoise, known to nibble at the edges of the shoals, the oil on the water, the ‘fire in the water’ brought on by the sea’s own phosphorescence and the fishes’ movement.
Amanda Martin tells the story of the pioneering marine photographers of Scilly:
For as long as photography has existed, magazines, travel documentaries, ethnographic studies and popular fiction have been pummelling us with images of island communities around the world. The Isles of Scilly are no exception to this fascination, and indeed can claim an unusually complete pictorial record from the mid nineteenth century onwards. Scilly’s first intrepid photographers were consumed by their urge to log (and occasionally embellish) the life and events of the archipelago in all its weathers and sea states. Many excellent examples of 19th and early 20th century photography are still in the islands; but the remaining collections are vulnerable to the imperial ambitions of mainland institutions, as was demonstrated by the recent Sotheby’s sale of the Gibson shipwreck archive to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
Dr Martin Llewellyn follows an Atlantic salmon into its little-understood world in the North Atlantic gyre:
Spring is arriving in the northern hemisphere. The snows are retreating to their mountainous summer refuges. Icicles sparkle prettily, and the drip of the meltwater becomes a roaring flood. In the headwaters of rivers that flow into the North Atlantic, among shallow rapids and tumbled stones, hundreds of thousands of small, dark-speckled fish are undergoing a radical transformation. Longer, warmer days are triggering cascades of corticosteroids in their forefinger-long bodies. A kind of accelerated adolescence ensues; in a few weeks they will be big-eyed silver smolt, recognisable as juvenile salmon, streaking downstream at twenty-five kilometres a day, tiny but enthusiastic teleosts ploughing forwards and out into the open sea…
And of course there is North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship and eccentricity, edited by Sam Llewellyn and decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.