Extracts from the The Marine Quarterly - Winter 2013

The Winter 2013 issue is here, with tales from Greenland, Bermuda, cruising boats’ galleys and the wilder shores of Renaissance charts.

Trevor Robertson winters in Greenland:
The next day I went on to the small port of Qeqertarsuaq. The harbourmaster was welcoming but blessedly uninterested in formalities. A minke whale, one of the local quota of four, was being butchered on the foreshore and I was given a chunk. After buying fuel I continued northwards. A gale warning broadcast as we crossed the Vaigat sent me scuttling for shelter. The Vaigat separates Disko Island from the mainland and always has hundreds of bergs, now hidden by fog. It is no place to be in a gale. I sheltered for two days in an anchorage called Nuussuaq where there is a stone ruin called Bjørnefælde, ‘the bear trap’, supposedly a thirteenth-century Norse chapel. It looks like a bear trap.

Mike and Colin McMullen decide to make landings on the southernmost and northernmost points of the British Isles:
Contrary to popular belief, [the southernmost point] is neither the Lizard nor Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is Le Faucheur, a rock eleven feet above high water springs, in the notorious Plateau des Minquiers. The tidal range at springs is 36’, and the current roars between the rocks at up to 6 knots. In any weather this complex presents a terrifying lee shore, and has accounted for hundreds of ships over the centuries.

To achieve a landing on Le Faucheur we would need some rather unusual conditions. First, the weather – good visibility and little wind, so the sea surface would be unruffled, allowing rock-spotting from the vessel. Second, the tide must be at neaps. Finally, we needed the right crew assembled on the right boat at the right time.

Gavin Maxwell chooses a boat and an associate for his basking shark fishery:
When at last the Dove arrived from Stornoway in February, it became clear that we were still at the very beginning of our troubles. From the moment I set eyes on her I knew, and at the same time tried to conceal from myself, that I had made a really gigantic blunder. She was in roughly the condition one might expect of Noah’s Ark were it thrown up now by some subterranean upheaval, nor would the engines have made one marvel at Noah’s mechanical genius. With her arrival I engaged the very first employee of the shark fishery, Tex Geddes.

Graham Faiella tells the story of a whale that turned on its pursuers:
In August 1851, around the same time that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published, a sperm whale attacked and sank the Yankee whaling ship Ann Alexander in the Pacific on the same whaling grounds where a sperm whale had sunk the whaler Essex almost thirty years before (the incident that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick). Upon hearing about the Ann Alexander, Melville remarked to a friend, ‘It is really and truly a surprising coincidence…I have no doubt it is Moby Dick. Ye Gods, what a commentator is this Ann Alexander whale…I wonder if my evil art has raised the monster.’

James Adair and Ben Stenning set out to row across the Indian Ocean:
We had no previous sailing, rowing or sea experience of any note. There were further reasons for staying in a comfortable armchair somewhere deep in the Home Counties. Foremost among these was the high rate of failure for ocean rowers on the Indian Ocean. Many boats have successfully crossed the Atlantic on the well-known Canaries-to-Caribbean route; but only a handful of people have made it across the Indian. By the time we set off, only two pairs had ever made it – both in 2009, with a support yacht following in case of emergencies. Six pairs had made the attempt starting in Australia, but all had had to be rescued at some point.

Hannah Cunliffe explores a childhood spent at sea:
My first memory is of a blue deck. When a curious friend asked for more details, I was unable to give any. I simply knew that at a very early stage in my life I had spent some considerable time looking at a pale blue canvas deck. Puzzled, I turned to my parents for enlightenment. They looked surprised and slightly shamefaced. Then they admitted that when I had been very small they had tied me to the mast of our 27’ gaff cutter Marishka to keep me out of trouble while they were busy working on board.

Annie Hill explains the joy of sea cooking:
Much prose, poetry and song has been devoted to the sailor’s love affair with grog. But apart from references to weevilly ships’ biscuit and ‘salt horse’, consisting more of gristle and bone than flesh, precious little attention has been given to sailors’ food.

Virginia Crowell Jones remembers the highs and lows of the yawl ‘Zorra’
Back in the late ’80s and the early ’90s I was working at Gannon and Benjamin’s Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. This boatyard had the somewhat dubious distinction of owning the 72’ yawl Zorra, built in the ’60s in Italy to a design by Renato ‘Sonny’ Levi. The boatyard partners had bought Zorra at a Federal Marshals’ Auction. As far as we could determine, she had never been a drug-smuggling boat, but in those days there was a lot of illegal import activity of certain types of plant materials. She seemed to have been used to launder money for a purchaser who perhaps intended to use her for future projects. Unfortunately for him, not only did he get arrested, but while the boat was tied to the dock in Virginia, she had caught fire.

Philip Marsden explores Joseph Conrad’s relationship with the sea:
In 1874 Joseph Conrad arrived in Marseilles from Poland, a dreamy orphan, his head full of the literature of adventure and exploration. ‘The principal thing was to get away,’ he wrote – and he had long ago decided that the way to do it was on ships. His elders considered it  ‘a stupid obstinacy or a fantastic caprice’. But Marseilles did exactly what Conrad hoped it would. It allowed him to shake off the landlocked constraints of his upbringing, and offered a route out into the wide world. It gave him the sea.

Chet van Duzer finds strange creatures in the watery margins of ancient charts:
When I opened the manuscript [of Ptolemy’s Geography] and turned to the maps, I saw that the seas were painted a curious yellow-brown, with wavy lines indicating the motion of the water. I also saw that the seas were heavily populated with sea monsters.

The variety of monsters was remarkable. There were (among others) several types of sirens, an aquatic pig, an aquatic lion, an aquatic rabbit, and a dolphin with a human face. I immediately decided that I needed to write something about those monsters.

Mike Peyton reveals navigational arts that predate GPS:
Three of us were sailing up the Kentish shore. It was foggy and visibility was nil. We slipped along on the tide, relying on the log but not entirely sure of our position, until out of the fog was wafted to us the unmistakable aroma of fish and chips. At this point we all realised we were definitely off Whitstable.

Charles Frederick Holder tells a fishy story:
One morning I sailed out into the vermilion-tinted sea, just at dawn. Patience sat at the helm, and expectation crowned the prow, such is the usual custom among anglers; yet we had hardly cast off before the tunas charged into the little bay, and we began to dodge flying fishes, which were in the air, while the tunas were boiling around the boat.


And of course there are books, the musings of the reprehensible Captain Ray Doggett, and (among many other things) a sideways look at pirate fishing and the disastrous decline of UK shipbuilding.