Summer 2015 – cruising Brittany, dodging ice, chasing Zeppelins, the origins of fishing boats, Highways to Hell, Missions to Seafarers…
George Millar takes advantage of local knowledge:
When we had cleared the southern entry we saw most of the other craft turn to port for the harbours of Brest, while we continued south across the great bay called l’Iroise, making for a second race, the Raz de Sein. The Jean Jaurès had reduced speed, idling, we assumed, because the tide was setting through the Raz against us. My friend the drunk cooked on a charcoal deck stove. While the fishermen ate they passed from hand to hand pearly binoculars resembling grossly-swollen opera glasses. With the aid of that impressive device they made a close study of Isabel and Serica. We kept some distance astern of them, for we wondered what the captain would do at the entry to the Raz.
What he did was to veer to port into the cliff-hung Baie des Trépassés (which contains many submerged rocks). The race roared past at eight knots, carrying a brutal sea with it, and pushing a swell at an angle into the bay. The Jean Jaurès pottered about in zigzags. Isabel pushed Serica up close to them and, hanging on by our shrouds against the rolling, I asked them what they intended.
‘We’ll go through in an hour,’ the captain answered.
David Cowper transits the North West passage – several times:
What a night! The Gressingham duck breasts were rejected as being unsuitable for the conditions – (just as I had seasoned and scored them, and made an apple sauce). The ice pack was on the move with a strong southeasterly wind. To start with there was not even the ghost of a breeze, but gradually the open area of water took on a ruffled appearance, and before long the wavelets gave way to bigger seas. When I re-emerged after a couple of hours’ sleep, it was like a scene from Dante’s inferno – there was a full gale blowing on the beam, and the entire frozen sea appeared to be on the march, with great rafts of pack ice proceeding with remorseless power on their individual trajectories – some in full sail like huge, delicate lotus flowers, others looking like stacked-up railway sleepers; and then there were fantasies of the funfair – giant gondolas, and rocking ducks, floats from carnival days and even a double pedalo with a circular viewing hole through the centre, for all the world like an old fashioned plate camera – Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the Land of Oz all intertwined; Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth creations, and every conceivable resemblance to something or other imaginable.
Flight-Lieutenant Culley hunts a Zeppelin:
At about 0830, Culley suddenly saw the Zeppelin in the sky at a great height – estimated then to be about 10,000 ft. After that things moved very quickly but with absolute precision under the calm direction of Colonel Samson in the lighter and Commander Holt in hms Redoubt. Soon the lighter was approaching full speed, and with Culley already in the cockpit, the extremely tricky operation of starting the [Sopwith Camel’s] engine by means of swinging the propeller by hand was undertaken. The airman who had been appointed for this work was a magnificent type, tall and powerful and absolutely calm. He was fitted with a special belt around his waist, which was anchored to the deck at a point that just permitted him to reach the propeller. He performed this operation with a 30 knot wind in his back as though nothing exceptional at all, and as soon as the engine started he carefully pulled himself back by the anchor cord, unclipped the hook and disappeared below deck. Now only Colonel Samson was visible, with his head just showing, to give the pilot the all-clear signal when he was completely satisfied that the aircraft could take off.
Culley then pulled the release fitted in the cockpit of the Camel and after a run forward of less than 5ft the Camel literally leaped into the air and was safely launched.
Charles Style takes command of HMS ‘Illustrious’:
I am driven past sandy French colonial fortifications to the harbour. It is already hot. On the pallet-littered quay, two dockyard workers in grey shorts and t-shirts sit motionless in front of their hut. I head for the big British tanker/stores ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, where all is cleanliness and smart white uniforms. Generators hum, and air blows lightly from the punkah louvres. We go to sea around midday and head south across an idly rolling tropical ocean, flying fish bursting outwards from the bow wave.
On the third morning I wake to the sight of hms Illustrious at three miles on the port bow. Her 686ft of length and high flight deck give a sense of solidity, and her grey paintwork looks dark against a cloudless sky. She is in 8º42’n, twenty-five miles off the Sierra Leonian coast,and I can just see aircraft being moved on deck.
A new short story by Julia Jones:
So there was Joe and Eli, that bitter cold day in December 1981, dredging somewhere between Ray Creek and Colne Point. The wind was easterly, so they should have had a bit of a lee, but still the wind came whipping round, and there had been a few flurries of wet snow chucked in their faces, and the shoals were white-topped and churning, and the short afternoon was beginning to fade.
They was both tough boys, and they knew that moving around the deck at work keeps you warmer than hunched over the tiller in the cockpit of a yacht. But there weren’t no shelter on the Igraine, none of your deck houses or spray hoods, just the forward hatch with the sliding cover that would lead you down into her cabin with the Primus ready to fire up, you hoped, and the aft hatch to the fish hold…
Mike Smylie teases out the origins of fishing vessels:
In a harbour on the western fringes of Ireland there is a boat I know. She was built by James Noble of Fraserburgh in 1926, registered as cn196 and named Fairy Queen. She is undoubtedly a Loch Fyne skiff, one of the last of the line; I can be certain, because I have owned one of her sister ships. Yet over the years I have seen her referred to as a fifie yawl and a Thames bawley. This highlights a problem we seem to have in identifying particular types of fishing boat. In order to get around this difficulty, I thought I would try to tease out the various areas of influence which during the past thousand years or so have contributed to fishing boat design in Britain and the near Continent.
Jonathon Green takes us sailing on the moral sewer that was the Ratcliffe Highway:
The Ratcliffe Highway, nineteenth-century London’s sailor central, has gone. Like a house that has borne witness to a killing of more than usual foulness, it has been razed, the site buried under concrete and tarmac… Not a vestige remains. The almshouses, the schools, the merchants’ houses and the warehouses, have gone. So have the avenue of elms that once lined the street, and the minatory gallows erected on a hill in neighbouring Limehouse in 1440 for the hanging in chains of water-thieves (known as ark ruffians), their rotting corpses visible, London’s Elizabethan chronicler John Stow tells us, ‘farre into the riuer Thames’.
This was once the site of the William, the Bear, the Gunboat, the Angel & Crown, the Sailor’s Saloon, the Hole in the Wall, the Mahogany Bar and a host of other sailors’ pubs, lodging-houses and semi-brothels that gave the place its nineteenth-century notoriety.
Horatio Clare meets the good people who founded and continued the work of the Missions to Seafarers:
[At a] meeting in Salthouse Lane, Hull… ‘a few friends’ resolved to fit out a ship for missions to seafarers. Among the scheme’s subscribers was the great William Wilberforce. The ship chosen was ‘a bluff old craft with no figurehead but a splendidly-carved stern on which remained the name Valiant.’ Twenty-seven years later, by which time Valiant was known as ‘the floating chapel’, John Hall Oliver began work aboard her in Hull Docks.
Mike Peyton remembers the good old days:
When you are ninety-three, as I am, you have a tendency to think of the old days as the good old days. This is partly untrue, of course – I had friends drowned then who could be alive now if they had had a mobile phone. Nevertheless, you had to put more into sailing then, and I am sure you got more back. Yachts were often engineless. There were very few marinas, and anchoring off was normal – I still remember the satisfaction I got when I first anchored off, admittedly with some apprehension, by the Wallet Spitway one night, waiting for water. When I turned out later I found a working barge had joined me, which confirmed that I had done the right thing.
Annie Hill discusses the joys of living on a small boat:
Living on a boat, large or small, means that you are close to the natural world, attuned to small changes in the weather and aware of the fact that your surroundings are shared with a myriad of animals and plants. I live on a small boat called Fantail, and am rarely more than a yard or so away from the Great Outdoors.
Oscar Branson leads a plunge into a California kelp forest:
We descend, swimming down a steep wall of rock that drops away into the blue. Sharp shafts of sunlight dance over the rock, lighting up foot-wide pale pink sea fans hanging from the face, and glinting off the eyes of Pacific lobsters hiding in the cracks. The world is full of breathing and bubbling, and a constant background crackling hiss. It tastes of salt and neoprene. As you get closer the hiss becomes the urgent crackle and pop of snapping shrimp, with their special, enlarged claw that they can slam shut to cause an astonishing shockwave, making cavitation bubbles – one of the loudest noises in the ocean.
Closer still, and the bare rock comes alive.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.