Welcome to the Summer 2013 issue – warm water sailing, with a dash of disaster, Americana, U-boats and octopus hunting.
Mr and Mrs Ken Duxbury cruise the Greek islands in their Drascombe lugger:
It was not more than ten minutes later that we both got a severe shock. In a blast of silver spray a whacking swordfish – its spike all of three feet in length – burst clear of the water, took a quick look at us, and disappeared with a crack like a pistol shot. It was so sudden that only gradually did the full possibilities sink into our minds. For a full hour B sat in our thick galvanised washbowl as a precaution. Meanwhile, we drifted.
Don Street jr rounds up a scratch crew for a passage to Bermuda:
I had three crew arriving from the States. I was happy to take on other crew as apprentices, food, booze and bedding found, as long as they were willing to learn, work and pay for the privilege. With this in mind, I signed on a guy whose name was Hunter S Thompson. We called him Swagger Stick, because he carried one, claiming that it was a habit left over from his service as a Marine lieutenant. I figured that as an ex-Marine he would have been through boot camp, and would therefore be tough, able to learn fast and pull his weight. This was an error. He was no more a Marine than I was. His girlfriend did not know too much, but she was a good sport, pitched in, and learned fast. There was a third member of the group, who had managed to sail a small open boat from Puerto Rico to St Thomas, though he knew so little about sailing that nobody could figure out how he had done it.
David Masiel lives though a nightmare off Alaska:
The tug laboured up the face of a wave. Only the short bulwark separated him from a thousand feet of dark water. He saw the wire stretching downward, disappearing into the catenary – the long bow-shaped arc of the heavy tow wire, submerged for most of its half mile, then rising to the thick chain of the tow bridle and, at last, black against the deepening grey water of dusk, the blunt bow of Early Warning, a remote, distant slab of responsibility.
Tom Cunliffe tells the story of pilots under sail:
It has often been said that a boat which looks right on a mooring will be fine at sea, and few sailors would argue with this proposition. In the case of pilot boats, however, it rather puts the cart before the horse. Pilots were usually hard-bitten businessmen as well as thoroughgoing seamen. Their prime motivation was to serve their calling and earn a good living, so the way a boat functioned was a lot higher up their list of priorities than whether she was admired for a smart sheerline. With a few notable exceptions, no yacht designer with an artist’s flair laid pen on paper to create a sailing pilot cutter. They were built in the vernacular by men who left school early, if they went at all, and served long apprenticeships. The fact that many of the boats achieved an enduring loveliness says more than words ever could about a race of men who, without the benefits of formal education, were taught by time and experience to work successfully with nature.
A short story by Alfred F Loomis:
I met Tommy Wiley for the first time on the French coast, off the shifting entrance to Trouville. The tide was at the top of the flood, all but turned, the wind was slight, and I didn’t want to be locked out of the wet basin, so I was entering under power. Ahead of me I saw a lovely cutter – slender, low of hull, tall of rig, gracefully proportioned for speed. She was finished bright, and in the warm sunlight her pine deck and mahogany sides lent a creamy glow to the rippling whiteness of her sails. Coming to the western edge of the narrow channel she tacked and slowly gathered way on the other board.
Nat Benjamin builds a schooner for his family:
When Ross Gannon and I started our boatyard in 1980 on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, we hoped that we would not have too much spare time (otherwise known as unemployment). We needed to feed our families. A couple of quiet months each winter might of course be acceptable. We could deliver a boat to the Caribbean, go skiing, fix the house (note the order of priority) and, of course, build our own boats.
Twenty-three years later, the dream of building our own boats in idle hours remained as elusive as it was persistent. Then in October 2003 the Gannon and Benjamin boatbuilding shed stood empty for the first time. I had about a month before the space would be taken over by our next commission. I unrolled the plans for the fifty-foot schooner whose design I’d been working on over years of spare time.
Tom Jago serves on HMS Zephyr:
When I joined in Chatham she had just finished being converted for tropical service. There were fans above all berths and awnings ready to be rigged; the steam pipes that heated the open bridge (a bit) had been ripped out. Officers and crew had been issued with tropical whites, and there was much speculation about the role we would play in the continuing Pacific war. So the captain was not really surprised when he got his orders. We were to go to Londonderry, collect a German submarine and tow it to Latvia, where it would be given to the USSR as part of the Potsdam agreement.
Richard Hopton follows Richard Ryder to Antarctica:
Robert Ryder won the Victoria Cross commanding the naval forces that took part in the celebrated raid on St Nazaire in March 1942. It is less well known that he had enjoyed an unorthodox naval career before the outbreak of war in 1939. In 1933-34, Ryder and four young fellow naval officers had sailed a 54’ ketch-rigged yacht, Tai-Mo-Shan, from Hong Kong to England. With Ryder as skipper, Tai-Mo-Shan sailed from Hong Kong to Japan, past the Aleutian Islands, down the west coast of Canada and the United States, through the Panama Canal and home across the Atlantic, a voyage of more than 16,000 miles. It was a remarkable achievement considering the youth of the crew – Ryder was only twenty-five when they set off – and the fact that, as Tai-Mo-Shan had no engine, she was entirely at the mercy of wind and tide.
Claudia Myatt turns an artist’s eye on the pierhead painters:
From the seventeenth century onwards there was a strong tradition of ship portrait painters, particularly around the Mediterranean ports. But a social and cultural gulf lay between trained marine artists – with access to the official art scene and perhaps a chance of royal patronage – and the humble ‘pierhead painter’ producing commercially driven, unsophisticated ship portraits. Down at the dockside, art was being produced cheaply and quickly, ranging in quality from the awful to the sublime. Pierhead paintings never found their way into galleries or private collections. They were bought by sailors, not art collectors. They were mostly small, for they were to be hung in cottages and cabins, not galleries and great houses. When they found their way into auction rooms as part of house clearances, they were usually lumped in with the furniture rather than contaminate the ‘art’ sales.
Alastair Robertson takes a sideways look at the past and present of fish farming:
As the supermarket chill counters filled up with sides of vacuum-packed Scottish smoked salmon in the run-up to Christmas 2012, few outside the world of aquaculture noticed the arrival of yet another salmon farming company on the west coast of Scotland. This is an outfit called FishFrom – its name makes a handy prefix for any town or country you care to name – and it may well herald the end of salmon farming in Scotland as we have come to love or hate it.
FishFrom will produce 800,000 fish a year in enclosed tanks of recirculated water in a Tesco-sized warehouse on the Mull of Kintyre. The initial operation will cost £15 million. If successful, the company will roll out similar operations on sites across Europe picked for their proximity to transport hubs. The nearest a salmon of the future may ever get to the sea is the picture on the outside of the packet inside which its fillets repose.
Ben Crawshaw sets off in pursuit of the wily octopus:
In the summer months, wetsuits are unnecessary. So are flippers and the weights. If you can swim and hold your breath you can, with a little practice, get down to octopus territory. You can substitute a trident for the speargun – or do without altogether, as the tools make diving more difficult. The only things you really need are the mask and snorkel, and maybe a pair of washing-up gloves, though even these can be a hindrance when full of water. Another unnecessary thing is squeamishness. If you can handle and gut fish, you shouldn’t have a problem. If you can’t, a reluctance to shove your hand into a hole and grapple with a slimy creature with eight arms and 1600 suction cups will hamper your success.
In my local patch of Mediterranean the place to look for octopuses is an area of rock and weed 6-8m below the surface, 400m offshore. Swim out taking care not to bump into the ubiquitous rhizostoma jellyfish, the ones with pale domes and lilac frills that are always described as lampshades. Peer down through the blue and scan the gaps around rocks and boulders for a midden – a scattering of shells and stones that accumulates by the entrance to an octopus’s cave, sometimes carefully arranged.
…and of course there are book reviews, the musings of Captain Ray Doggett, poems, scuttlebutt, and even a new translation of a very short sea story by Franz Kafka.