Spring 2015 – sloops of war, inshore fisheries, cruising tropical Japan and Captain Nemo’s library
JoJo Pickering tells the story of her father’s relationship with a famous boat:
Racundra was built for Arthur Ransome of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ fame in Riga in 1922, and is immortalised in his wonderful Racundra’s First Cruise. Adlard Coles bought her, renamed her Annette II, and wrote about her in his book Close-Hauled. She was renamed Racundra after Adlard Coles sold her, passed through various different hands and fell into obscurity. My father was her fourteenth – and last – owner.
Tom Whitfield tells the story of a childhood fishing in a Devon beach boat:
A lobster pot was worth about £5 when one added up the cost of the withies and the day’s labour – about a week’s wages then. The highlight always was when a blue flash was seen in the bottom of the pot as it surfaced, and a frantic flap flap of the lobster’s tail as the dripping pot was lifted and rolled in over the gunwale. The boat would threaten to dip its gunwale as the weight of the pot freed itself from the water and the weight of Bert (not that I ever called him anything but Mr Hillman, out of respect for his age) and myself eagerly watching for signs of life.
Henry Plummer has a near-fatal brush with Cape Fear:
There are many inlets to run to in fair weather for a boat of 4ft draft, but I fancy it usually happens that a man stays outside until the sea picks up and makes running inlet bars dangerous. The bars off the mouths of the inlets, they tell me, trend to southward and the gutter runs behind them up the beach. The open beach is fairly bold and if I was put to it, I think I would crowd on the rags, tie myself in the cockpit and send her up into the meadow. Make no mistake about that, a good, bold, sandy beach is much better to walk home on than 10ft of tide-swept water inside a sunken sandspit.
Douglas Lindsay retrieves the ‘Sunset’ from Amazon pirates:
Time passed – so much time, indeed, that the skipper’s patience ran out, and he sailed for Brazil. The bank was upset by this. The Sunset reached Nazaré some time in September 1996, and was greeted with open arms by the fishing company which had invited her to come. There was, however, no sign of a fishing permit, or indeed any obvious prospect of the boat starting work. By this time the bank was getting seriously upset, and demanded that the skipper return to the uk with his boat, failing which they would take action against him. The local fishing company’s response to the bank’s threat was to remove the boat from the company’s pier and hide it in a creek up the Amazon. At this point the bank decided it was time to reach for the repo experts.
Jeremy Roch cruises from Plymouth to London and back in 1677:
Having some occasion that called me to London, as had three or four sparks of the Town the like, I proposed going by water to save charges, which they agreed to. According[ly] I fitted my boat with all necessaries for such a voyage and, when all was ready, I gave them notice to come away. But it seems their hearts failed them, for they put it off with frivolous excuses, which vexed me a little. However, since I had put myself to so much cost and trouble, I was resolved to proceed, though alone. But as I was going off, a young lad that had never been on the salt water desired me to give him passage and I, thinking he might be of some service to me, took him in.
Ian Mclaughlan traces the development of the sloop of war from its 17thcentury origins:
With their slender hulls and shallow draught, [the first sloops] bore a strong resemblance to enormous, elegant rowing boats. The largest were 65ft to 70ft on deck, with a beam of 13ft and a draught of 5ft. They had weather decks, so they could to a certain extent keep the sea in rough conditions (though these decks were no guarantee of safety; during their brief, hardworking careers, which lasted from 1673–83, several foundered or were wrecked.) Their mainmast was amidships and set a square course and topsail or a very tall, thin ‘buss’ sail, as used by the herring busses. The foremast carried either one square course or, depending on the rig of the mainmast, a course and topsail. Although they were armed, they were not really fighting ships. They carried 2 or 3-pounder carriage guns and possibly some half-pound swivel guns, often referred to as ‘murderers’, mounted on stanchions at chest height. These were often charged with metal bric-a-brac and used against the opposing crew as a form of naval blunderbuss.
Neil Calder goes dinghy cruising in Okinawa:
I live in a house by the sea on the beautiful subtropical island of Okinawa. Okinawa lies some 400 miles south of the Japanese mainland and is the largest of a chain of islands named the Ryukyus. From my deck I watch the lagoon, turquoise, never more than three metres deep, spread out to the reef about sixty metres offshore. After the reef there is deep blue East China Sea. This sea aches to be sailed on.
In meetings at work I disassociate myself from my body and drift off. I dream of hot passages, lost beaches, diving in warm, gin-clear sea, turtles, flying fish and the heeling of the boat as the wind comes off the land. I have to get a boat.
I obtain an American 14.6 sailboat and I call her Dileas, ‘faithful one’ in Gaelic, a name normally reserved for sheepdogs. She is heavy, stable, and broad in the beam, like all the best companions.
Nigel Sharp tells an oddly topical story of unpreparedness remedied by lateral thinking:
When war broke out in September 1939, the Admiralty thought it was well prepared: the Royal Navy was, after all, the largest in the world by some margin. It was only after hostilities began that the Admiralty realised that the war would not be won by its huge fleet of heavily-armed aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers and battleships alone, and started to place orders for smaller craft, mostly with the seven hundred-odd British companies whose pre-war business had been the building of boats for leisure purposes. At the beginning of the war, the Navy’s small-boat forces amounted to about two dozen small coastal motorboats. By the end of the hostilities, these firms would have produced vast numbers of military vessels: 1500 for the Coastal Forces alone, as well as Air Sea Rescue boats, raf pinnaces, water ambulances, motor fishing vessels, minesweepers, landing craft and a myriad of other craft for specialised roles.
Daniel Cotton jumps ship and faces the consequences:
Being young and full of romantic notions, I fancied I could better my position by staying on shore. So I agreed with some negroes to pull me on shore after dark for the sum of 6/6d. After landing on the wharf I made straight for the country and slept my first night in a sugar mill where I was half eaten alive by mosquitoes, starting next morning to walk to the opposite side of the island, leaving the main road as being too public, I crossed the fields. . . .
Janie Hampton takes us steaming on Lake Malawi:
The Rev Chauncy Maples went to Oxford University to study law, but was inspired by Dr David Livingstone to renounce a career as a lawyer and join the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (umca). In 1876, aged twenty-one, he sailed for East Africa, where he set up clinics and schools for escaped slaves, and founded an Anglican Mission in Nyasaland (now Malawi).
Missionaries in Africa were usually killed by malaria, lions, warriors or lightning within a couple of years. Maples, however, was a survivor. After twenty years promoting Christianity and fighting slavery, Maples was consecrated Bishop of Nyasaland. But on his journey back across Lake Malawi, his sailing boat capsized in a storm. His cassock dragged him down and he drowned.*
Lake Malawi is part of the Rift Valley. It is 365 miles long and fifty-two miles wide, and is surrounded by Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. In 1895 the umca commissioned Henry Brunel, son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and John Wolfe Barry, the architect of Tower Bridge, to design a steamship for the lake. The ship would be called after Chauncy Maples.
Arthur Lane gives notes on his career as one of the more unconventional lighthouse keepers:
I went up to Scotland, to John o’ Groats. Nearby is Duncansby Head and the lighthouse, open to visitors. The keeper showed me round and I asked him what he had to do. ‘Nothing,’ he said morosely. I had already taken in the cold, impersonal magnificence of the sea, the vastness of the sky, the absence of people, the drama of the coastline, the landscapes discouraging to vendors of household comprehensive insurance, and the remoteness from Birmingham. Probably it was at that moment that I decided, ‘This is for me.’ I returned the 450 miles from Drumnadrochit to Birmingham in one ride of twenty-one hours on my underpowered motorcycle, falling asleep in the saddle towards the end and waking up in unexpected parts of the road. Then I wrote off to Trinity House, London, offering my services as a lighthouse keeper.
Adrian Morgan tells the story of a significant night in the life of ‘Bods’ Bodsworth:
Torpedoman Cyril ‘Bods’ Bodsworth, RN, sank a royal yacht. Under orders, you understand; a King’s orders, though he had no idea that was where they came from. But come they did, on a July night in 1936, detailing him to make up the four charges which would send Edward VIII’s yacht Britannia, inherited from his father, to the bottom of a deep trench south of the Isle of Wight.
William Firebrace discusses the literature of subaqueous habitation:
My interest in reading and writing about the sea comes from a book I have just completed, titled Memo for Nemo, about the habitation of the sea both in reality and fiction, from the time of Jules Verne’s fictional submarine Nautilus up until today. The 12,000-volume library of the submarine is the first travelling library of the sea, a vast personal collection assembled before Nemo, the submarine’s captain, bid farewell to the land.
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.