Extracts Spring 2018

Spring 2018 - leaky boats, Erskine Childers and Ming dockyard skulduggery.

 Farley Mowat goes to sea in a boat that wouldn't float:

We had no charts of the east coast of Newfoundland. The lack of charts, combined with a misleading compass and the dead certainty of running into fog, suggested we would do well to ship a pilot until we could make a port where charts could be bought and the compass adjusted.

The obvious choice for a pilot was Enos. Like most Newfoundland seamen he possessed, we presumed, special senses which are lost to modern man. He had sailed these waters all his life, often without a compass and usually without charts. When you asked him how he managed to find his way to some distant place he would look baffled and reply: 'Well, me son, I knows where it's at.'

We needed somebody like that. However, when we broached the matter to Enos he showed no enthusiasm. For a man who was usually as garrulous as an entire pack of politicians, his response was spectacularly succinct. 'No!' he grunted, and for emphasis spat a gob of tobacco juice on our newly painted cabin top.

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Erskine Childers heads for the Baltic:

It seemed hopeless to wait for suitable weather for going west, so we regretfully pulled out the North Sea charts and prepared to run east before the prevailing winds. We left Boulogne on August 24, a dirty south-west windy day. The weather was now hopelessly demoralized, and the North Sea was out of the question. A study of the charts showed us the long line of the Dutch and German Frisian Islands, stretching away for a hundred sea miles, and separated from the mainland by from five to eight miles of sand in great patches which are mostly dry at low water and intersected by well-marked channels of varying depth, but themselves dry in certain places at low ·water.

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Adrian Morgan explores the lives of Sir Thomas Sopwith:

To call Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith a keen yachtsman is not unlike suggesting that his contemporary Winston Churchill was a talented painter; for Sopwith was first and foremost a pioneer aviator. He obtained the 31st British Aviator’s Certificate in 1910, after ten hours flying and became an innovative aircraft constructor. He originated a series of successful aircraft, from the Camel biplane to the jump-jet Harrier; but he will perhaps be chiefly remembered as the man whose 1936 decision to tool up at his own expense for 1,000 Hurricane fighters gave his country the wherewithal to face the Luftwaffe. (Contrary to popular belief it was the simple and rugged  Hurricane, not the more complex but beautiful Spitfire, that shot down the overwhelming majority of enemy planes in the desperate summer of 1940).

         In spite of his achievements in aviation, what Sopwith most regretted when asked much later (he died in 1989 at the age of 101) was 'that I didn’t bring home the America’s Cup. I really might have done and I ought to have been allowed to do it.’

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Arthur John Lucas narrates a chapter of accidents:

I sat in the club room of the old London Corinthian Sailing Club in Hammersmith on the evening of the 20th October 1921 washing my sins with ‘Club Barrel’ and patiently awaiting the arrival of the skipper of the Capel. The whole idea of this voyage was to set off down the Thames Estuary, making our way via the river Crouch to Fambridge. Here we were to collect and bring back the Lottie and her skipper Joe and also my Dreadnought, and sail or tow these back home to the Club.

  Having put all necessary stores aboard I slid down the causeway in the mud to get the Capel off her moorings. The skipper (whom I will refer to as 'Sam' during this narrative) arrived at last, looking worn, tired and ill, carrying a lunch bag resembling a pantechnicon which contained various articles of apparel and some accumulators which weighed nearly a hundredweight. We had a parting drink to start us on our voyage and our adventures commenced at 9.30 p.m.

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Jo Stanley tells the story of the Boats' Crew Wrens:

If you were a young woman avid for adventure afloat in WW2 then there was only one thing to do: become a boats’ crew Wren. Joining this gang of 573 ‘musketeers’ in the Women's Royal Naval Service meant you could spend your war messing about in boats, visiting every sort of ship, meeting endless sailors and being more directly part of the Navy than any other woman in Britain.

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Stan Grayson tries to understand the last voyage of Joshua Slocum:

Slocum’s demeanor changed dramatically when his visitors, all experienced yachtsmen, asked if they could go for a sail by paying a dollar each. Slocum assented after the young men agreed they wouldn’t mind anchoring at New Bedford on the way back so Slocum could row ashore to fetch some supplies. Perking up, Slocum ‘stayed by the wheel and gave his orders in a very crisp, sharp fashion without shouting - a far cry from his earlier hesitant mumbling.’

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Jim Ring explains who really won WWI:

On 24 November 1918, within a fortnight of the Armistice, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet was piped on board his old flagship, the great battle-scared 26,000 tonne battlecruiser HMS Lion. To the ship’s company Admiral Sir David Beatty set out the decisive role he felt they had played in victory.

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Humphrey Barton goes open-boat sailing in the Hebrides:

The first time I saw Foula was from the bridge of an 800-ton cargo steamer bound from Stromness in the Orkneys to Lerwick in the Shetlands. It was getting dusk and we had just left Fair Island a mile or two to starboard, and were rolling heavily to a long swell, when I sighted away to the northwest a small high island, jet black against a pale violet sky. I could not for the life of me think of any island that lay right out there in the Atlantic, so mysterious and so lonely. Finally I asked the captain.

‘That is Foula,’ he replied. ‘It lies twenty-six miles west of Scalloway and it is the most western of the Shetlands.’

         This sounded interesting....

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Ian Dear tells the story of a vital but under-reported service:

Tugs do not immediately spring to mind as fighting vessels; yet during two world wars the Admiralty's armed Rescue Tug Service saved many lives, nearly three million tons of merchant shipping, and a lot of valuable cargo. It also assisted scores of damaged warships - one of which was the destroyer HMS Javelin, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, when German destroyers blew off her bow and stern sections in the southwest approaches in November 1940. Only 155ft of her original length of 335ft remained to be towed into Plymouth by the rescue tug Caroline Moller. The mission took over thirty hours, and was continuously harassed by enemy aircraft, which the tug helped repel with her 12-pounder dual-purpose gun.

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Dr Sally K Church, Ming expert, explains that there is nothing new under the sun:

There is an established rule of thumb that there should be three nails for every foot of board. But the workshop foremen are unable to prevent the temporary unskilled workers from stealing nails. When they are worried about running out of [nails], there is a simple solution: use fewer nails. However, they are afraid of being caught by the inspectors. So they drill the right number of holes, and just insert fewer nails. This is what is called 'drilling the holes close together, while inserting the nails far apart'. Once [the holes] have all been caulked over, [the inspectors] cannot tell the difference.

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Annie Hill is caught on the horns of a dilemma:

I was in Nova Scotia, staying in Halifax. My old friend Jim wanted me to go and see a boat he had seen for sale and had made an offer on, subject to further consideration. They weren’t queuing up to buy, so the owner, who was also the builder, had said yes. The boat in question was a smaller sister of the Perfect Boat, that I had lived aboard and loved for many years. She had been sold, and I really hadn’t got over her loss. Seeing her little sister might be twisting the knife; on the other hand my curiosity was piqued....

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Peter Willis discusses Arthur Ransome's greatest book:

In 1935, Arthur Ransome was having a classic mid-life crisis - not that he was aware of it, as the condition was not identified or named until 1965; but all the symptoms were there. There was dissatisfaction with things as they were, a tendency to take his achievements for granted, an inclination for impulsive, radical change, and an attempt to revisit his youth by buying a big toy.


And of course there are North Sea News, Flotsam and Jetsam, book reviews, seamanship, eccentricity, 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.


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