Winter 2015 – cruising the Med and the North Atlantic, baiting the French Navy, racing from New York to Cowes, brewing megawatts from the tides….
Sam Jefferson tells the story of the first Transatlantic race:
As the evening wore on, the arguments became increasingly incoherent. At some point someone proposed a race across the Atlantic, to decide the matter once and for all. The stakes were almost as high as the owners’ blood alcohol. The entrance fee was to be $30,000 per yacht, winner takes all, making a final pot of $90,000 – about $15 million in today’s terms. If the stakes were rash, the start date, 11 December, was borderline crazy. Yet when the revellers awoke the following day they took their hangovers to the New York Yacht Club, of which they were all members, and formalised the race.
George Millar cruises from Malta to Falmouth:
We seethed past the wine port of Marsala before 2300. The naval authorities there (Marsala used to have strong connexions with our own Royal Navy, before gin ousted wine from the wardrooms) were annoyed or intrigued by our display of lights – we carried port, starboard, stern, and masthead lights, and when it came to gybing I would turn on the spreader lights too – and a searchlight poked out at us. There was a blue flash, and all the lights of Marsala fused, leaving only the lighthouse, which was most necessary for my cross bearings. Sweeping round Favignana, we beat gingerly up into the easternmost bay of the north coast.
David Keswick gives an account of a peculiar cutting-out expedition in Fernando Po:
Work went forward through the autumn of 1941, and with increasing urgency into the winter. SOE officers undertook the duties of Vice-Consul at Santa Isabel and at Bata in Rio Muni on the mainland of Spanish Guinea. Another SOE officer passed between these two as Consular Courier, making the forty-mile crossing from the mainland to the island once a week in a leaky and ancient launch, noting the shoals, currents and buoys of the harbour approaches. The Vice-Consul at Santa Isabel found himself on friendly terms with the Spanish pilot of the Governor’s private aircraft, and his joyrides over the harbour provided a series of admirably detailed photographs.
Captain Colin Darch remembers his ship’s captivity off Somalia:
The pirates attacked around 1600 on Friday 1 February 2008. We saw a white plastic skiff approaching fast. I changed from auto to manual steering control, increased engine speed and propeller pitch to maximum, pressed the secret button which would activate a tracking device, and put out a mayday call on the VHF (which nobody answered).
They approached fast on the starboard quarter, five dark men, heads swathed in white rags, armed with Kalashnikovs. As they came level with our stern I turned the port thruster control 90 degrees to give our stern a 3000hp lurch towards them. Just in time they veered away. On the next attempt they fired shots. We all ducked. I was relieved to note no broken glass. Then Ted shouted that only four pirates were in the boat. Had the other boarded us? No! The bowman with boarding ladder had fallen into the sea and was swimming back to his mates. I considered running back over him, but I was not yet mad enough to kill. They appeared to give up, and we lumbered away east. Then to our dismay we saw a second boat arrive with four gunmen.
Jon Tucker sailed to Moruroa with the New Zealand Peace Flotilla:
When Jacques Chirac announced in 1995 that France would resume underground nuclear testing at Moruroa, a roar of angry disbelief rose from Oceania and Australasia. I still vividly remember Greenpeace’s David McTaggart on NZ TV: ‘I hope that the Kiwis, who are the best sailors in the world, get together all the boats they can and just wander over to Moruroa. You don’t have to go inside the 12-mile zone, as even when you are outside the 12-mile limit they have to put a warship on to you and it bothers them. The more that can get there the better. Please come.’
‘Just wander over,’ he said. He was talking about a winter Southern Pacific voyage of some 3000 nautical miles, equivalent to a North Atlantic crossing.
The Kelvin auxiliary engine arrives in the New World:
On 29 November 1929 the engineless three-masted schooner Neptune II left St John’s, Newfoundland, on what was normally a twelve-hour hop over to Bonavista Bay.
They were almost in sight of Bonavista Bay when a terrific gale sprang up, with blinding snow. They had to run under bare poles for 220 miles. One huge wave washed away the wheelhouse, poop and lifeboats and wrecked the steering gear. For several days they wallowed, sometimes making westing, but mostly forced to the eastward by the weather. After more than three weeks at sea they decided enough was enough. Armed only with a compass, they attempted to set a course for the English Channel.
G S Hewett remembers a North Sea Crossing with his father at the turn of the last century:
When I was nine years old and my brother was eleven, we were pronounced ‘good hands’, and it was agreed that we should all go to Norway for a holiday. A telegram was duly sent asking for the boat to be launched, and in a few days a reply came, saying, ‘Your yacht is sitting on the waves’. All was then great excitement. Several days were spent in packing, as we had to take almost everything we wanted with us. With the help of a school friend we assembled a huge heap of sails, food and other necessaries. When the great day arrived our next job was to get all the gear to the railway station. In those days there were no taxis, but we solved the problem by making the gardener load up the heavier pieces on his wheelbarrow. When everybody was loaded to the full, there was still one parcel left – a side of bacon, which I was instructed to bring. It was too heavy for me to lift on to my shoulder, but I overcame the difficulty by tying a bit of rope to it and dragging it along the road to the station.
Richard Woodman tells the story of the cargo liners:
Real liners, you may say, were the great passenger ships. When the passenger liner disappeared, she was replaced by the airliner, whose parvenu operators nicked all the maritime terminology they could lay their hands on, because liners meant the Blue Riband, the luxury of the First Class dining room, gambling on the ship’s run: glamour. There was, however, another sort of liner, less glamorous, but the true progenitor of the modern container ship. I refer to that forgotten but supremely versatile ship, the cargo liner.
Trevor Robertson sails across the Atlantic, then sails back again:
An eastward crossing of the Atlantic in June or July should be easy for a well-found gaff cutter like Iron Bark. Wind and current are generally fair, gales few and the chances of a hurricane low. Early in July 2014, we (Iron Bark and I) were on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, provisioned and ready to sail for Scotland, when Hurricane Arthur’s imminent arrival was forecast. This was disconcerting, as I was not expecting a hurricane so far north this early in the season.
Douglas Lindsay was the sailing master of a trireme:
No direct archaeological evidence of triremes has survived – the boats were built of softwood, and deteriorated quickly – but there is a good written record, which was mined extensively for the boat’s design and operation. In classical times Athenian oarsmen were skilled freemen, not slaves. Each oarsman came with his own oar, and a sheepskin to sit on. The ancient record is also full of complaints by the Thalamians, down in the bottom, about the sweat, farts and disrespect raining down from above. Similar grumblings rose constantly from the modern Thalamians, who nonetheless took a spiky pride in their position – which was none too comfortable, as they had the smallest space in which to operate, hemmed in fore and aft by cross-beams. This meant that smallest rowers went in the bottom and the tallest rowed in the comparatively spacious Thranite layer.
Alastair Robertson takes a long, hard look at sea power technology:
A few years ago, the Dutch coastal engineers Hans Hulbergen and Rob Steijn were sitting in a café overlooking the windswept sands running out to the North Sea, studying a chart weighted down with ashtrays and coffee cups. Hulbergen asked for a cigar. Steijn pulled out a four-inch cheroot and laid it on the chart. As he reached across for it, Hulbergen was struck by the way it lay perfectly at right angles to the shoreline, jutting out into the sea like a breakwater. Suddenly he saw the cheroot not as a smoke but as an open-ended concrete dam extending far out into the sea, pierced through with dozens of underwater turbines. Dynamic Tide Power (dtp) had been conceived – and it is still in gestation, for to hold back the tides sufficiently to produce a significant out- put the breakwater would need to be an astronomically expensive eighteen miles long.
This process – epiphany followed by severe practical difficulty – is typical of a long line of ingenious schemes designed to harness the energy of the oceans.
David Burnett considers the Collins New Naturalists series:
People who go to sea are even more serious students of the weather than farmers – farmers depend on forecasts for their living, sailors for their lives. The study of weather is more than mere forecast- ing. The serious student must have an understanding of the past to help him understand what might lie ahead. Next time some- one pronounces it to be the wettest British summer or coldest winter since records began, hand them a copy of John Kington’s magisterial Climate and Weather. Few books wear their learning so lightly. Even fewer offer such a multitude of pleasures to the armchair reader.
And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity and extracts from the classics, and the grim bletherings of tugmaster and tobacco smuggler Ray Doggett – all decorated with the fine drawings of Claudia Myatt. Welcome aboard once more.