Autumn 2016 – Summer cruising in Antarctica, exploding derelicts, sunken forests and one of yachting’s great myths examined.
Jon Tucker’s sons take him to the windiest place in the world:
Fifteen hundred miles south of Tasmania, nestled into the Antarctic promontory of Cape Denison, is a tiny boat harbour less than two fathoms deep and half a cable wide. For roughly four weeks after each summer solstice the fast-ice breaks out, leaving enough room for a single yacht, trussed on every quarter with shorelines stropped to boulders. It is a unique anchorage in a coastline dominated by thousands of miles of giant ice-cliffs. The Pilot shows that the only months of significant reprieve from incessant katabatics are December and January, when summer anticyclones reduce the chance of being hammered to one day in two.
This was the little meteorological lottery for which my son Ben had decided to take a ticket. He had recruited his youngest brother Matt as crew, and allowed me to tag along as cabin boy on a promise of good behaviour….
Morgan Robertson tells the story of a dream salvage that turns into a nightmare:
On a bright morning in November 1894, a curious-looking craft floated into the branch current which, skirting Cuba, flows westward through the Bahama Channel. A man standing on the highest of two points enclosing a small bay near Cape Maisi, after a critical examination through a telescope, disappeared from the rocks, and in a few moments a light boat emerged from the mouth of the bay, containing this man and another. In the boat besides was a coil of rope.
The boat soon passed the fringing reef and came in sight of the strange craft, which lay about a mile east and half a mile offshore. ‘You see,’ resumed the younger man, called Boston, ‘there’s a back-water inside Point Mulas, and if she gets into it she may come ashore right here.’
‘Where we can loot her. Nice business for a respectable practitioner and a man who calls himself a retired naval officer.’
David Lewis explores the mysteries of South Seas navigation:
In the 1960s academic controversies were rife concerning the navigational feasibility of prehistoric canoe voyages. A voyage between Tahiti, Rarotonga and New Zealand using book-learned Polynesian non-instrumental navigation (with a safety officer aboard) was therefore undertaken in the catamaran Reha Moana in 1965.A later (1969) project in [the ketch] Isbjorn stemmed from the realization that a scattered remnant of heirs to a 2,000-year-old navigation tradition still survived. The obvious step was to seek to become their pupils aboard ocean-going canoes, where these were still in commission, or alternatively to voyage under their command in an Isbjorn temporarily stripped of compass, sextant, patent log, clocks, radio and charts. The quality of the master navigators we encountered and the inherent accuracy of their art rendered a safety officer entirely redundant. The only time one would have been appreciated was when, after a month in the Carolines without instruments, my son Barry and I replaced the compass and set out for Truk, a mere 135 miles away. The noon sight next day appeared little more than a formality – until it revealed that we had been heading a good 25º off course. No Island navigator would have been more than 2º or 3º out; dismay and puzzlement reigned. Frantic searching brought the culprit to light – a knife tucked away unnoticed under the compass bracket. We would have been better off, we reflected ruefully, had we relied on the Tongan saying ‘the compass may go wrong, the stars never.’
Martyn Murray voyages to St Kilda:
I started the engine and hauled in the anchor, which had snared a large ball of kelp. I cleared the kelp ball and secured the anchor firmly on deck. This was easier said than done as Molio was being pushed by wind and tide; it meant rushing back and forth from anchor to engine controls so as to adjust her position in the tight confines of the harbour. Once ready, I hauled up the mainsail and steered Molio round the red buoy at the entrance from where I followed the Leverburgh Channel to the northwest. Passing through the outer channel that lies between the isles of Stromay and Ensay, I put her onto a more westerly course and let fly the yankee, keeping five turns furled. As we cleared the sheltering arm of Harris, the gusts grew stronger; there was no need to raise the mizzen as Molio had plenty of sail up. With the engine off she surged forward at over six knots, passing little gatherings of guillemots and razorbills. I looked westward across the lonely sea. Beyond this gateway, there were another forty-three nautical miles to go. With luck, I would be on a close reach all the way.
J P W Mallalieu’s convoy gathers:
Williams arrived at the ship from his three days’ leave simultaneously with Sub-Lieutenant Carr. ‘Had a good leave?’ said Carr.
‘Yes; but I’ve come back with a hell of an overdraft and a hangover.’
‘Any idea where we’re going?’
‘Iceland, I’m afraid.’
They arrived in their old fjord three days later. It seemed colder. White clouds always threatened to drop snow, and frequently did. They had leisure to notice some ominous signs. The anchorage had filled considerably. There were several more merchant ships flying the hammer and sickle, and one of these spent the morning practising with an Oerlikon gun which she had just fitted.
Adrian Morgan goes in search of the real ‘America’:
On March 28, 1942, an unusually heavy snowfall smothered the New England countryside. At the height of the blizzard, the roof of a nondescript shed on the waterfront at Trumpy’s Yard in Annapolis collapsed. The incident was scarcely newsworthy. America was at war and had other, far more pressing, matters on its mind. But to the historians of the America’s Cup it was a tragedy, for the shed was the final resting place of a low, black schooner whose legacy has inspired controversy ever since.
Sam Jefferson describes a hideous rounding of the Horn:
The Southern Ocean was in a fury. Three weeks of hurricane-force winds had been hurling spume along the surface of moving grey mountains whose peaks were lost in cloud. Lashed by this rage was the sailing ship British Isles, listing to port, boats gone, deck gear smashed. Aloft, tattered rags of canvas cracked in the gale. She had been hove-to for three weeks, and had drifted to within 66º 32′ S, perilously close to the icefields, a mere 105 miles from the Antarctic Circle. Her spars were frosted white, her steel hull, rubbed raw by brash ice, bleeding great welts of rust.
James Barker, her Captain, had doubled the Horn fifteen times. Yet even he must have harboured grave doubts as he watched his depleted crew grow weaker by the day. Three men were already dead, many more incapacitated in their bunks. The world was grey and stormy, as it had been for days. But at this moment Barker spotted something new. He roared, ‘STAND BY FOR YOUR LIVES!’
Hugh Aldersey-Williams explains how Galileo got it right about the planet, but wrong about the tides:
Galileo was not a Copernican when he left Pisa – he had not seen for himself any compelling evidence to support the idea that the earth rotates around the sun – but by the time he left Venice he was. What did he see there that made him change his mind? In the first place, his investigation of projectiles indicated to him that bodies could move under the influence of more than one force at a time – in this case the propulsive force of the explosion to launch a missile and the still unrecognized force of gravity pulling it off its path and back to earth. Second, there was the persistent impression of the journeys on the barges that supplied Venice with water. He had seen how their vital cargo lay still when the boat was proceeding at a steady speed but would slop about when the boat changed speed or direction. When a barge slowed as it came in to dock, for example, its load of water would rise up in the bow and fall in the stern.
Lisa Woollett wanders among drowned forests:
I go to the beach of Millendreath because I’ve heard about the trees. It is the third Monday in January — the most depressing day of the year according to the radio — but after months of wind and rain sweeping in relentlessly from the Atlantic, the sun is shining from cloudless blue. The trees were uncovered a week ago, when violent storm waves stripped the beach of much of its sand. It is low tide when I get there and several part-exposed trunks lie at the half-tide mark where the sand turns to mud, some drying in the faint warmth of the sun.
Claudia Myatt explains the techniques of sketching at sea:
Almost every harbour has at least one artist on the quayside on a summer’s day, and every village-hall art exhibition displays coastal scenes full of boats of varying degrees of seaworthiness.
So why, in an age of cameras, do we still do it? Perhaps John Ruskin had a point, when he wrote in 1857:
‘… I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing than my pupils may learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at Nature that they may learn to draw.’
Jim Ring discusses ‘The Riddle of the Sands’:
No book published either before or since better captures the peculiar pains and pleasures of sailing and living in small boats. The flog of wet canvas, the tattoo of halyards on the mast, the relentless degradation of food, drink, comfort, convenience and personal hygiene, coupled with the uniquely rewarding challenge of bending wind, tide and weather to the service of your will. It is also a book that established the whole genre of the spy novel, of the individual pitted against the state, of David against Goliath.
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.