Spring 2016 – sailing in the ice, racing clippers, new short fiction, America’s cup foilers, circumnavigation and skulduggery
Roger Taylor explores the islands of the ice:
There are moments in every voyage that become indelibly etched into the memory. At twenty minutes past two on the morning of Tuesday the twenty-second of July, after we had been at sea for seventeen and a half days,. I stuck my head out of the hatch. Oh! The fog had gone. Ahead of us, brilliantly irradiated by the low-angled light of an Arctic early morning, the southern cliffs of Bjørnøya stood high and proud. Nothing more than a few narrow wisps of cloud, cutting horizontally across the rock and the greensward that topped it, marred the perfection of the scene. I could see the basic topography of the island: the tall southern cape; the higher peaks to the northeast, and between the two a protrusion of low whalebacks that marked the island’s sole anchorage, and the lowlands trailing off to the northwest.
Sam Jefferson tells the story of the last great tea clipper race:
The Pagoda Anchorage was a broad, glassy sheet of water off Foochow many miles up the treacherous Min River, hemmed in by towering hills trimmed with curls of mist and lush foliage. Here the clippers gathered as spring brought the fragrant tea harvest down from the interior. In 1869, there was a notable absentee – the Sir Lancelot. She was a clipper feared by all. Her skipper, Richard Robinson, a tough Cumbrian, had won the China race on three separate occasions – more times than anyone else. He had attained command of the clipper Fiery Cross in 1860. In 1866, perceiving that the Fiery Cross was being outclassed, he switched to the beautiful new Sir Lancelot and overhauled the entire China fleet to win the 1867 race. A close finish in 1868 had seen him narrowly beaten by the Spindrift. As 1869 came around he was hungry for revenge.
Jon Tucker participates in an international incident in Antarctica:
There is something very wrong aboard our ship this evening. The sensation is distinctly different from the rhythmic lift-halt-crunch of an icebreaker on a regular day. It is impossible to ignore the shuddering vibration of both labouring engines, or the unpredictable jolting motion. In the compact passenger lounge, nervous laughter and uneasy glances accompany each violent sideways lurch, and voices are raised to be heard over the screech of tortured steel. Not everyone knows it, but tonight Akademik Shokalskiyis fighting for her life.
Original short fiction from Graeme Stones:
Coming ashore’s not like you think. Weeks and weeks cooped up with a dozen other blokes, twelve hours on, twelve off, work and eat and sleep and work. Lie about for an hour when you come off shift, watching blue videos, all the same, same faces, same tricks, but we can have a few laughs watching, crack a few jokes. It gets tight as the days go by, like everything is shrinking. When you go on board, when the trip starts, you can feel how it is for the blokes already there, you have to tidy yourself down because you’re still blown out and soft and full of all the other things you could be. But soon the job takes over and does it for you, and then there isn’t anything else. I like that bit, the feeling you can give up thinking about who you are off the ship because you’ve got real worries instead….
Surgeon Rear Admiral John Muir sails with the Bristol Channel pilots:
For some years I had been deeply interested in Bristol Channel pilot boats and the possibility of their adaption for yachting purposes. By all accounts they were wonderful sea boats, cheap to build and maintain, and could be handled with only one man to crew. After donning my oldest yachting suit, I looked the complete ruffian when I purchased a third-class rail ticket for a little village on the Avon not far from Bristol. In the back of my mind was the hope that I might have the chance of getting inside information usually denied to the lordly yachtsman before I decided to spend several hundred pounds, which I hadn’t got but hoped I might be able to raise, in buying one of them. Above everything I wanted to make sure that they were really within the power of two men.
In due time and in pitch darkness I was deposited as the sole passenger at the village station.
Nigel Sharp tells the parallel stories of two races half a world apart:
America’s Cup boats have evolved from the vast gaff schooners and cutters of the late 19th century, through the majestic Js of the 1930s and the relatively small 12-Metres in the post-war years, to the competition’s own International America’s Cup Class, and then to the 72ft foiling wing-masted catamarans of 2013.
Falmouth Working Boats have developed less dramatically. Two of them had a brief flirtation with Bermudan rigs in the 1950s, but now they are all now gaff cutters again, as this is still considered the most efficient rig for oyster dredging.
Adrian Morgan relates a famous collision:
While all hands on deck watched every shiver of jib or topsail luff, Valkyrie’s steward was down below, busily squaring away his pantry. He paid no attention to an outbreak of shouting on deck. Then, suddenly, the hull planking in front of his eyes burst inwards, and amid a huge splintering of timber and a rush of cold water the monstrous black bow of Satanita appeared.
Eric Hiscock and his wife sail round the world:
Our plan to make a voyage round the world had been maturing for a good many years, and after making a trip out to the Azores and back in our 4-ton cutter Wanderer II, Susan (my wife) and I decided the time had come to put our plan into action and see a little of the world and its people before growing too old and fussy to enjoy the experience.
Lesley Jameson, retired ocean sailor, makes a voyage on a container ship:
The technology [on the bridge] is totally beyond me, with too many screens etc. I was never very good at finding my way at sea without buoys and charts. It was fun when my brother and I were children and given a penny or two for seeing the next buoy in the Thames estuary, perhaps in thick fog. My husband tried to teach me to use our sextant when we were sailing in the South Pacific, but I often ended up in tears! I would rather be helming. On the ships, usually an officer will know how to use a sextant, and that is reassuring
Sam Llewellyn describes the skulduggerous arrival of the telegraph on Scilly
Scilly had no telegraph, and nobody was very keen to make the enormous investment required to lay thirty-odd miles of undersea cable across the notoriously difficult waters separating Scilly from the mainland. In the late 1860s, however, attitudes underwent a mysterious change. Telegraph boosters began to stalk the streets of St Mary’s, talking cable.
Robert S Fairweather gives an expert’s account of sustainable fishing:
I had considered fishing, as far as I thought about it at all, a straightforward task. Sustainable fishing was simply a case of not taking too much, and its problems came from the fact that this aim was the polar opposite of the greed of industry. … I discovered that this was a simplistic view. Conservation of fisheries, it became apparent, involves a tangle of economic, cultural and personal stories.
Jim Ring reviews a new history of Britain’s submarine service:
With the exception of the sinking of the Belgrano in the course of the Falklands War more than thirty years ago, just what our submarines and submariners have done for us is hardly known. It is difficult to switch on Radio 4 without hearing General Lord Dannatt extolling the virtues of the Army in which he served; and no sooner had the House of Commons given the ‘chocks away’ to bombing Syria than we had raf Tornados all over the News at Ten and even the Sun. No such publicity is accorded to submarines. This is a pity, for the Flotilla’s service in the years since the end of the Second World War can justly be compared to that of Bomber and Fighter Command during Churchill’s ‘finest hour’.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the thoughts of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.