Here comes the Winter 2012 issue – writing to freeze your blood, warming reports from the Tropics, shipjacking, old boats and the Coastguard.
Trevor Robertson gives full (but hardly consoling) instructions on how to sail round Cape Horn:
The weather in the westerlies is boisterous but predictable. Nothing except the tip of South America interrupts the eastward sweep of the low-pressure systems that are the dominant feature of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties. The wind and barometer follow a near-textbook pattern. A week or ten days separates the passage of one low from the next, and there is barely a gap between depressions. Any ocean can be windy; what distinguishes the Southern Ocean from all others is the size of the waves. Those great breaking seas, the greybeards of sailing legend, are not just a sailor’s tale to impress the girls ashore. They have a majesty and weight that I have not seen anywhere else, including, from my limited experience, the North Atlantic in winter.
James Hamilton-Paterson goes fishing in the Philippines:
Danding and Bokbok cut the engines and in silence we abruptly lose way. We have arrived at the place where the seabed is strewn with huge boulders which over the millennia have been shed from the invisible cliff above. It is a good place to start, for the boulders are usually a dormitory for lapu-lapu. Then the current can carry us back towards the strait over some of the richer corals. If we are still in the water when it changes we can even work our way partially across the strait to the deepest point of the channel. In this manner we will not have to waste energy swimming against the current, for although it is not as strong far underwater as it is at the surface it still counts, particularly when towing a full catch-line. The polythene hoses are checked by torchlight and roughly straightened into two coils fore and aft. I will take one and Arman the other.
James Long writes from the Cook Islands about the reintroduction of sail power to cargo ships in the Pacific:The crowd on the quay next to the ferry Lady Naomi was seething with discontent. I was watching idly when a hand clapped me on the shoulder and my friend from Rakahanga said, ‘Come and meet someone.’ He led me to a man in a brightly-patterned shirt sprawled in a low chair under a makeshift awning. ‘This is the Prime Minister,’ he said.
The PM looked up at me from under the brim of his sun hat. ‘England,’ he said meditatively. ‘You come from England. So did Captain Cook. He came here, you know. He gave us our name.’
We were on the island of Rarotonga, capital of the Cook Islands, nineteen hundred miles northeast of New Zealand and four thousand seven hundred miles southwest of Los Angeles. It seemed impolite to remind the PM that Cook never came near the place.
Douglas Lindsay tells the sorry tale of the recovery of the ‘Dubai Valour’ from far up a steamy river in Nigeria:
After about a year, a deal was done to release the ship. She sailed, much to the relief of her crew, all of whom were still on board. But at Koko, only twenty miles downstream, she was boarded by the Nigerian military and ordered to return to Sapele. Her master, Captain Shulgin, gave a graphic description of drugged-up soldiers running amok on the ship, firing machine guns in the air and threatening everyone in sight. What caused this change of heart is unclear. The result, however, was that the ship was returned to her buoys at Sapele, her crew in the depths of despair.
Arthur Travers spends a morning with Dover Coastguard:
A building sunk into the cliff top behind Dover castle. In the building a big eight-sided room, four of the windows glazed, looking south over the hazy glitter of the Straits, where the pencil-shaded shapes of ships hang on the sea. Down to the right a ferry is making a three-point turn inside the breakwater of Dover harbour. The light from the windows flickers to the rotation of the radar antenna. There are desks arranged round three parts of a square, each with screens showing the little ais triangles of ships. A huge pair of binoculars hangs from the ceiling. Nobody is using them; all eyes are on the screens.
Keith Dovkants describes a ferocious but little-known campaign of the First World War at sea:
Two ships of war are locked in a duel to the death. One swiftly tacks. Her guns come to bear. Her broadside hurls hot metal into her adversary’s hull…
A scene from the era of fighting sail? Indeed, but not as long ago as you might think. This action took place on the cusp of living memory, in 1917. The sailing ship was Fresh Hope, a wooden three-masted schooner commanded by Lieutenant J Martin, an officer in the Royal Navy’s Special Service. Fresh Hope was a Q-ship, a merchant marine vessel secretly armed with guns and sent out to lure the Kaiser’s marauding U-boats into a trap.
A friend of Basil Lubbock’s makes an astonishing discovery:
‘Strolling leisurely one day along the waterfront at New Orleans, I noticed standing prominently out behind an old shed the tall tapering spars of a sailing ship. This class of cargo carrier being more the exception than the rule at the wharves of the Crescent City, and taking as I do a keen interest in the doings of old clippers, my curiosity tempted me to investigate, so retracing my steps I made the best of my way through a timber yard and eventually emerged upon the old and dilapidated wharf at which she lay. The day of clipper ships was past and gone long ere I commenced my apprenticeship in a modern Clyde four-poster, but I needed no telling that this was one of the old timers.’
Maldwin Drummond describes the difficulties of conserving the ‘Cutty Sark’:
The challenge faced by the Cutty Sark Trust is experienced in the case of almost every conserved vessel sitting on its keel – that is, that with the passing of time the vessel tends to slump, and the lines become obscured. This was the principal problem faced by the architects, who with the Trust devised the scheme. The ship had been there for over fifty years, sitting on a concrete block. A detailed examination showed that she would not last another fifty years if the same solution was adopted.
Annie Hill celebrates pilotage:
I am one of the world’s laziest sailors, but finding my way using electronic devices dramatically reduces my pleasure in the whole business. I do not deny that when approaching a rock-bound and relatively featureless coast in thick visibility, the boat shoved here and there by erratic currents and without having had a reliable fix for several hours, a gps is an unmitigated blessing. Before gps, one might well have stood off and on until the fog lifted. If the coast in question happened to be that of Maine or one of the Maritime provinces of Canada, this could well have meant dallying around for several days. Using the gps, echo sounder, eyes and ears, then dropping the hook in a safe haven and relaxing with a hot grog, certainly beats lying offshore and worrying. Most of the time, though, sailing in fair weather with good visibility, I practise the art of pilotage in the knowledge that I will be as certain of my position as if I had been using the gps.
Adrian Morgan explains the use of taste buds to determine the condition of an old wooden boat:
Old boat owners… need stronger stomachs than those who buy new Bavarias. I myself have tried bilge water many times, and have even developed a taste for it. ‘Ah, Castrol 10W20, with a touch of spilled baked bean and a note of, hmm, Old Holborn? A hint of salt, but mostly rainwater. Not bad, not bad at all.’
Para Handy and the crew of the Vital Spark discuss the inexplicable habits of the herring:
‘If ye ask me, I think whit spoiled the herrin’ fishin in Loch Fyne was the way they gaed on writin’ aboot it in the papers,’ said Macphail. ‘It was enough to scunner ony self‑respectin’ fish. Wan day a chap would write that it was the trawlers that were daein’ a’ the damage; next day anither chap would say he was a liar, and that trawlin’was a thing the herrin’ thrived on. Then a chap would write that there should be a close time so as to gie the herrin’ time to draw their breaths for anither breenge into the nets; and anither chap would write from Campbeltown and say a close time would be takin’the bread oot o’ the mooths o’ his wife and weans. A scientific man said herrin’ came on cycles ‑’
‘ He’s a liar, anyway,’said the Captain, with conviction. ‘They were in Loch Fyne afore the cycle was invented.’