Summer 2016 – passage to Haiti, helicopter salvage, Jutland, Severn trows, and the world’s most incompetent smuggler
John Maclean and crew sail the 1979 Fastnet race:
The steady westerly swell of the sea had been temporarily flattened by the wind coming in from the south, and Fluter was training along superbly, her lee rail occasionally dipping under, the phosphorescence flying to leeward. This was exhilarating, but we all knew it was just part of the blow beginning to work itself up. By midnight we were down to the No. 1 jib and 7 rolls in the mainsail. At the change of watch we decided it was a good moment to put the storm jib. Shortly after this there was a gust with more than a hint of a Force 7 and the strop on the head of the storm jib broke, the halyard disappearing up the mast. We reset it using the spinnaker halyard, saying that in the morning someone would have to go up the mast to retrieve the other halyard, which was flying out horizontally in the near gale. Little did we know there would be no hope of this. When Simon took the weather at 0015, the forecaster announced a severe gale SW Force 9 was on its way.
Captain Edmund Eglinton begins a long career carrying cargo under sail:
Came the day when the Jane was loaded and ready to leave the River Axe for her first cargo to the Kingston walls. It was a very low spring tide, however, and the Jane, to save time, actually had to be sailed into the mud berth and ‘dumpted’ as Capt Smart termed it, and her anchors carried off after the tide had ebbed. Of course, my father took me with him, for I already had quite a lot of experience in mooring the various trows, and the heavy ‘anchor drill’ that went with it. I was conversant also with the hoisting and furling of the sails. But this was my first trip! The first time ever in a vessel under sail from one place to another! It was only a few miles but I was thrilled beyond measure.
Kenneth Michell fights Bolsheviks on the Dvina in 1919:
b hgnbbThe Medical Department now recommended me to the Admiralty to receive an appointment to a ship in a warm climate and in order to have their little joke they appointed me in command of HM Monitor M33, which was fitting out at Chatham to relieve the garrison at Archangel and endeavour to make contact with, and rescue, Admiral Kolchak, which meant passing up through the Norwegian fjords, round the North Cape and through the ice to the White Sea and the River Dwina.
I found the M33 in a state of chaos, having returned after the war from bombarding the Belgian coast. I was warned that as they were such shallow draught ships they were very unmanageable in a seaway and to get ready for a passage of more than a thousand miles through the North Sea and Arctic Ocean, I prepared for the worst.
Nat Benjamin sails his schooner ‘Charlotte’ to Haiti:
A moderate night wind slid down the high volcanic slopes and across the water, wafting us through the Passage with sheets eased. Shortly after midnight we rounded Cap Dame Marie and set our course for Île-à-Vache, some 20 nautical miles to the ENE. Cooperatively, the breeze backed a few points to the north, allowing us to make our heading in one tack. At about 0300 we rounded up in the lee of an uninhabited cove and set our anchor in white sand under 20 feet of clear, moonlit water. When the sails were stowed and Charlotte finally at rest, all hands walked about the deck in quiet conversation. This was the natural world, unchanged by man, and for all of us a landfall like no other.
Graeme Stones hunts a ditched helicopter in the North Sea:
The helicopter we were looking for had gone down in the dark a week earlier, in a rising gale. We had been working on a Dive Support Vessel in the same field until the wind got up and late in the afternoon we had to let go the platform and steam into it. By 2200 it was blowing 7 gusting 8. The last flight of the day took off from the rig we’d been diving on with the two pilots and a solitary passenger. Soon afterwards there was one transmission, with only these words: ‘Mayday, we’re ditching.’
Nicholas Jellicoe remembers his grandfather’s part in the battle of Jutland:
In 1911, commanding the 2nd Battle Squadron from HMS Hercules, Jellicoe was able to successfully attack Sir George Callaghan’s rear by breaking with the rules and moving his squadron as an independent force. In the summer of 1913, Jellicoe again outmanoeuvred his commander-in-chief in a battle exercise where Jellicoe’s Red Fleet simulated a possible German invasion. Having lured his opponent south towards Flamborough Head, Jellicoe managed to land his 2,500-strong force either side of the Tyne. The exercise had been too successful. It was cut short lest it give the Germans ideas. It was this action that some say identified Jellicoe as the future war commander of the Grand Fleet.
David Higham sees the end of an era:
My time in submarines in the late Sixties and early Seventies coincided with the last hurrah of the art of the Gun Action Surface. I first served in Auriga in 1967, when she was part of the 7th Submarine Squadron based in Singapore during the Indonesian Confrontation of 1962-1966. The Royal Navy had refitted the boats in the squadron with the QF(Quick Firing) Mark viii 4in gun. While I was on board, first for training and then as Fifth Hand (the most junior officer), we practised Gun Action Surfaces as a welcome diversion from prolonged exercises playing loyal opposition to the surface ships of the Far East Fleet.
Francis Morland provides an object lesson in how not to smuggle hashish:
It was textbook, really. We drifted rather aimlessly for a day, then found the famous trade winds. For the rest of our journey an 8 to 10-knot wind blew steadily from astern. We poled out the main and foresail. A marvellous peace settled over the boat. Two dolphins joined us, skipping around us sometimes, sometimes just cruising astern, sometimes disappearing for an hour or so. We played them music to see what they liked best. Peaceful day after peaceful day went by. Then one dawn, when I was on watch, a blip appeared. During the day it turned slowly into Antigua: a perfect landfall, beginner’s luck. More ominously, our first radio contact included a speech from President Nixon, declaring war on drugs.
Suzy Annett-Brown goes fishing off Sardinia:
Head out for a mile and a half, he told us, line up the port light with the water tower to the west and the church tower of Calenzana with the beginning of the big cluster of maritime pines to the south, drop your anchor and go in reverse until it holds. Then pay out your palangrotte. The palangrotte was a length of thick nylon fishing line on to which several hooks had been bent at regular intervals, baited with pieces of squid. At the end of this line was a weighted sinker to hold it in place once it had reached the bottom. And what miraculous catch was this elaborate setup supposed to bring to the surface? ‘Ah!’ he said, rolling his eyes in ecstatic memory of a time gone by. ‘Le pageot royal!’
Matthew Engel takes the last ship to St Helena:
30 December (afternoon) Neither me nor the taxi-driver is clever enough to find either e Berth or Duncan Dock where boarding for the RMS St Helena takes place. This is because there are no signs. By a process of elimination, I eventually guess correctly, rush in breathlessly, terrified of being late for check-in, then discover I am the first to arrive. In a sense I am already in St Helena, where everyone knows the ropes. So I sit in this grim hall, watching a video screen which regularly flashes up an advert for Titanic artefacts, which seems rather tactless. Not merely have I never been to St Helena, I have never been to sea. Not properly. Cross-Channel ferries, yes, but never on an ocean. In my journalistic career I have reported from all seven continents, but I flew even to the South Pole.
Tristan Gooley reads glitter paths:
When light strikes water and then reaches the eye it must have followed one of three paths. It will either have been reflected off the bottom, or off particles in the water, or off the surface. The bottom, obviously, shows as a change of colour, and particles as a milkiness or opacity. The effect that interests us here is reflection from the surface, which produces the long line of shimmering reflections known as the ‘glitter path’. This is caused when the eye picks up thousands of tiny sun reflections on the sides of waves stretching into the distance. Its shape is a measure of the height of the sun and the roughness of the waves; the glitter path will get narrower as the sun gets lower, and broader as the waves get steeper.
Jonathon Green discovers a new sea author:
The primary myth of Simenon is the myth of Paris, with its weather, its omnipresent Seine, its cafés, its haute bourgeoisie, petits gens and criminalunderworld. Maigret is an assemblage of illustrative tics — the eternal pipe stuffed with army-strength tobacco, the rides on buses with open platforms, domestic life with Madame Maigret.
Like most myths, these hide the truth. Simenon, so quintessentially ‘French’ was, like Agatha Christie’s ‘typical French detective’ Hercule Poirot, in fact Belgian. Maigret pursued as many cases beyond Paris’s city limits as ever he did within its twenty arrondissements. And while Simenon is at first glance culturally landlocked, the sea, and on a smaller scale France’s network of canals, plays a central role in his work.
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.