The Equinox is here, and with it the Autumn 2013 issue, with storms, disasters, and extreme oddities of language.
Colin and Morrice McMullen attempt an October Channel crossing in sailing dinghies
We had already decided that the soundest plan for re-crossing the Channel was to sail across the Baie de la Seine to the Cherbourg Peninsula, thereby reducing the final crossing distance. Accordingly we did not delay in Le Havre, but put straight to sea bound for Barfleur. It was fine, fair sailing until just before dark, when we were about halfway across the Baie. A fishing boat approached. When we told him that we were bound for Barfleur, he shouted words to the effect that ‘Barfleur Non Bon!’ and pointed out that the barometer ‘tombait…. tombait….’
So we headed south.
Rockwell Kent enjoys some fantasies – unfulfilled, alas – as he closes the coast of Greenland
Putting a cluster of islands with beacons on them to port we entered sheltered waters. Here was less wind; and the surface of the bay, save for the little ripples of the breeze, was as smooth as a freshwater pond. How sweet it was to sail so evenly, so quietly, and hear again those liquid gurglings on our sides! And see the land again so near! To feel the friendliness of that majestic wilderness, its peacefulness – immense, secure! But a few hours more and we’d go sailing into Godthåb, and drop anchor! And the people would crowd the shores to greet us! How wonderful you are, they’d say! They’d come aboard to see the ship and marvel at it. How small, how strong, how clean and neat and beautiful! How brave you are! And the men – even the hardy Danes – would admire and envy us; and the girls – sweet, gentle, blue-eyed Danish girls – they’d love us!
Harry Browne takes a long, hard look at the insanity of EU fisheries policy
In the big courthouse off the main street of Tralee, Co Kerry, in front of just one spectator, José Francisco Santamaría and his trawler, the Monte San Roque, are getting bailed out.
A few days ago the ship was boarded and inspected by the Irish Navy nearly 200 miles off Ireland’s southwest coast. It was catching monkfish, hake and prawns. The Navy watchers believed its actual fishing locations over the previous several days did not correspond with the entries in its logbook, and they took the vessel into port at Fenit, Co Kerry.
Santamaría, an olive-skinned man in early middle age, is wearing a checked shirt and sports a Groucho Marx moustache-and-glasses combination. As everyone awaits the judge, he is chatting to the heavily pregnant translator. A Garda and a fisheries inspector are here too. The prosecuting solicitor, a local man, is engaged in an elaborate welcome-to-Kerry parley with the defence man, who has been sent up from Cork by the Spanish conglomerate that owns the Monte San Roque.When sufficient niceties have been observed, the prosecutor mutters that, you know, the bail amount is about €175,000, based on a formula derived from the value of the catch.
‘I think €174,768,’ the defence solicitor replies. ‘And it should be in the account within the next half-hour, if it’s not there already.’
Ewen Southby-Tailyour goes in search of John Paul Jones’s ship
The Bonhomme Richard was cut adrift at 2230 that night. Though she was in a sinking condition, her First Lieutenant remained on board in an endeavour to sail her to the safety of Texel. His attempts, though valiant and strenuous, were in vain. At 1100 on 25 September, after a fight with the elements nearly as fierce as that with the Serapis, Jones watched with ‘inexpressible grief… the last glimpse of (my) flagship’, as she slid, bows first, beneath the North Sea.
Shortly before the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Flamborough Head, the American author Clive Cussler recruited a team to carry out academic studies in preparation for a practical search for the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard. I was appointed navigational adviser.
Captain Douglas Lindsay takes a hammering in the Pentland Firth
We left Workington bound for Oxelösund and worked our way up through the Western Isles to round Cape Wrath in the afternoon of 17 March 1969. It was filthy weather – blowing force 9 to 10 from east-southeast, and raining hard. Once round Cape Wrath our little engine could only push us along at about 4 knots, and late in the afternoon Dick Edwards decided to heave-to on the west side of the Pentland Firth and wait for the moderation forecast for the next day.
The Master of the ‘Albion’ tells the hitherto unpublished tale of the loss of his ship and much of his crew in 1810
On the morning of 6th, we hove-to under close reefed main-topsail, the wind at ENE. The pump was sucked out at 8 am and we went to breakfast. The carpenter examined the lee dark light, which as the ship dipped aft, was observed to make a little water. He left the cabin, and had scarcely done so, ere he returned & informed me that the ship had sprung a leak, and was filling with water; & that the chests in the half deck were afloat. Terror appeared in every countenance at the report, which was increased by the water then shewing itself at the foot of the cabin ladder. Lord have mercy on us! Issued from every mouth, & for a moment all was confusion. I instantly quitted the cabin, ran on deck, & found the ship going down forward. I ordered the main mast to be cut away, to keep the ship before the wind, and endeavour to free her with both pumps, but she would not wear. Finding the ship going down very fast, cut the lee rigging, but before three inches in depth was cut in the main mast she was completely on her side.
Captain Graham Torrible faces some unusual navigational problems on the Yangtze in the 1930s
When the river is high, the scene as one approaches the town of Kweifu from up-river resembles a wide lake, with the famous Windbox Gorge and its hidden entrance acting as a majestic backdrop.
A different picture emerges during low level when a great shingle bank is exposed. This is covered by family groups of salt-boilers, who boil brine, brought up through bamboo pipes from wells many generations old, in great cauldrons. The scene, with smoke and steam rising from a hundred fires and cauldrons, never ceases to surprise newcomers, especially when they come upon it unexpectedly, as in an up-bound steamer clearing the Windbox Gorge.
During the high-water season the rapid current, checked by the entrance to the narrow gorge below, spreads out and thereby loses some of its momentum. This causes heavy precipitation from the huge amount of silt held in suspension. The silt build-up on the riverbed offers no hindrance to shipping while the river rides high above the sha-shui, or quicksands. When the river falls to a lower level, the current will scour out a channel which the practiced eye of the pilot will have no difficulty in locating. But there is a day or two when there is no channel, and the sha-shui is too close to the surface to allow a steamer to pass safely across. Approaching it, the pilot is for once nonplussed. The whole area presents the same picture – a mass of curling water like a huge sheepskin rug. His ability to read the water is useless; there is nothing to read.
Peter Willis investigates the exact extent of Arthur Ransome’s seafaring
Two of Arthur Ransome’s twelve Swallows and Amazons books hit significant birthdays last November (publishing dates were always fixed to catch the Christmas trade). Peter Duck came out eighty years ago, and We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea seventy-five. What they have in common, apart from blue dust jackets, is that these are the only two of the series into which Ransome distilled in significant quantities his own passion for seafaring. What is interesting is to see the very different ways in which each relates to his own sailing experience, and his much earlier, autobiographical account of his first ‘proper’ boat, Racundra’s First Cruise.
Nigel Sharp examines the behaviour of the yachting press during the Second World War
Paper was officially rationed from the very beginning of the war. All the magazines were affected by this. Yachting World and Motor Boat and Yachting had always been published weekly but became monthly in the latter part of 1939; while The Yachtsman went from monthly to bi-monthly to quarterly during the course of the hostilities. In the 1914-18 war, Yachting Monthly had also been the official journal of the rnvr, and in the May 1940 issue the wartime Editor announced ‘with a certain amount of modest pride’ that it would again assume the role. Consequently it was less affected by paper rationing and so was able to maintain its frequency – just as well, given its title.
Jonathon Green explains the lexicographer’s relationship with sea slang on a tour that takes in plenty of low life
Sea slang was first acknowledged in the eighteenth century – its origins must be older – and known as altumal, from Latin’s altum mare, the deep sea. Its abundance is daunting, and poses an important question: where does jargon, the local naming of parts, end, and where does the slang that seagoing has introduced in the non-seagoing language begin? Partridge, my lexicographical predecessor, offers Jimmy-the-One for a First Lieutenant, and Jimmy Ducks for the (early to mid-nineteenth century) rating in charge of the ships’ poultry. I have chosen to omit both, and many more representing what I see as limited usage. I have, on the other hand, included Jimmy Round, a Frenchman (from je me rends, I surrender, and attributed to the Napoleonic Wars).
And of course there are book reviews, the musings of the reprehensible Captain Ray Doggett, and even a scholarly breakthrough in the history of trawling, proving that it was recognized as a threat to marine ecosystems as early as the 14th century.