Summer 2018 - the Baltic, harpoons, and mysterious doings in the South Seas
John Webster voyages to the Baltic and back:
In the summer of 1960 I was 22 and at University. For the previous three years I had been sailing for most of the long vacations, and too much of term time with JG, three years older than me, in business, and the owner of Fiara, a Milne-designed 46’ yawl built in 1911, fast, wet and with a comprehensive inventory of deep-sea gear, much of which may have dated from the year of her birth. This summer JG wanted to spend his limited holiday time in the Baltic, so asked me to find a crew to deliver her to Copenhagen. I agreed, of course, though I had no formal qualifications.
Arthur Ransome's cruise comes to an abrupt end:
The cruise has ended or is on the point of death. I am alone in Racundra, or rather not quite alone. I am alone with a mouse, which has sent the whole six foot three of the Cook, undaunted hitherto by anything but calms, in headlong flight to Riga. The discovery was made this morning. I woke at five and heard what I thought was unmistakeable mouse, but, believing it rather good luck, besides being a miracle, I said nothing about it, did not wake the Cook and went fishing. When I came back I mentioned it and got into rather a row for even pretending such a thing.
Nigel Sharp charts the progress of circumnavigator-to-shore communications:
Soon after Ellen MacArthur completed her record-breaking circumnavigation in her trimaran B&Q, BT put an advertisement in the national press. ‘We made sure she was never on her own,’ it read. ‘BT was proud to provide Ellen and her management team with the vital communication solutions they needed.’
Throughout her seventy-one-and-a-bit day voyage, MacArthur was constantly in touch with the outside world. She regularly communicated with her shore team, which was able to provide continuous technical support for B&Q and its skipper's personal morale and well-being. Information about rigging loads and other factors affecting the state of the boat was regularly transmitted back to base. MacArthur herself was fitted with sensors to monitor her sleep patterns, blood pressure and heart rate, the information from which was sent to a small medical team, including a doctor specialising in sleep deprivation.
She also spoke regularly to her family, so they knew what problems she was experiencing – bad weather, breakages, lack of sleep - but were helpless to solve them. All they could do was wait for further news. It is hard to escape the conclusion that however smug BT may have been about its technology, it was blinded by its greed for PR, and that this constant communication often made things harder for everyone.
Rev. Edgar Hughes sails round Britain:
The earliest well-known circumnavigation of Britain is the voyage of Richard McMullen, which took place in 1863. There is, however, no doubt that other small yachts had already completed the trip before McMullen. One largely overlooked circumnavigation was made in 1852 by the Reverend Edgar Hughes. We know about it thanks to the articles he wrote for Hunt’s Yachting Magazine, the first magazine devoted to yachting, which had started publication that year.
Like other amateur small-boat enthusiasts of the day, Hughes waxed lyrical about ‘the sense of responsibility arising from the sole command of a tiny little boat’. Compared to sailing with a professional crew on a large yacht, ‘it makes all the difference between driving a tandem and being driven in a cab’
An extract from Sam Llewellyn's new sea thriller:
The tide took us round a headland, and we were away. Traditionally at this point I should have taken stock of the situation, analysed alternative courses of action, felt quietly smug and perhaps smoked a pipe while considering a range of options. I did none of these things. I was wet to the waist, the wind was moaning, the tide was carting me out into the Minch, and I did not smoke a pipe or anything else. It was time to get some sail on. So I put the rudder into its slot, and kicked at the centreboard, and pulled out the mizzen, and hoisted the mainsail with a couple of reefs in, and hauled on the jib sheet until the jib unrolled, bang. And there I was, sailing. Sailing, in fact, too damn much. A squall tumbled out of the black land, and the side of the boat went down, and I saw a torrent of black water come over it before I could let go of the mainsheet and the thing came back on an even keel.
Graeme Stones explores the life of Tex Geddes:
Tucked away in a corner of the island of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides the original harbour is crumbling, silted up and obscured behind the unlovely barricade of CalMac’s new ro-ro pier. One vessel still leans against the stonework of the old harbour wall, an ex-Admiralty launch retired long ago from any form of active service. Drawn up to the top of the tideline nearby is a ferro-cement hulk that was the last boat belonging to Tex Geddes - bayonet-fencer, boxer, commando and, along with much else rumoured or proven, Hebridean harpooneer.
Martin Woolls recalls past times in the Bristol Channel:
.Methods of fishing here were by trammel nets, used to fish for ground feeders such as dabs and the odd plaice or Dover sole if you were lucky. Special boats called Weston flatners were built for this. Then there were longlines, several hundred yards long with a baited hook every 15ft or so, with which you would hope to catch cod or skate, but would often end up with dogfish or conger eel. We also used stall nets, staked out along a short manmade sort of causeway made of boulders and stones jutting out at roughly at right angles to the tide parallel to Weston’s Old Pier about 100ft off the end of the boating slip at Anchor Head. The target catch here was shrimps. These sorts of nets were in earlier days staked out along the ‘cassy’, a shingle spit connecting the Old Pier’s Birnbeck Island and the mainland, and at Steep Holm and Flat Holm Islands. When I was a youngster I used to help Alfred ‘Juicy’ Payne to fish these nets. (He was nicknamed Juicy when a boy because he always had a runny nose). We would sometimes catch a good dustbin full of shrimps, which we would take back to Juicy’s base, an old stable round the back of Palmer Street.
Peter King sails the South Seas:
My path to command in the Gilbert Islands had an inexorable quality. At the age of six I gave up a promising career as a train driver in favour of becoming a pirate. Two years later my ambition refined itself somewhat to becoming a master mariner. An interlude at a minor public school was something of a necessary evil – scouts were far more useful and practical. But the senior geography master would read us as an end of term treat chapters from Sir Arthur Grimble’s A Pattern of Islands. The spell was cast.
Heinz Schaffer torpedoes a merchantman:
The Iceland Passage was behind us and we entered the area designated for operations by U-boat Command. 'Mast-top on starboard bow!' The lookout had very sharp eyesight; we could only make it out vaguely even through our excellent binoculars, but when the commander arrived at the bridge he saw it at once. His eyes were more practised than ours. A good lookout is the result of experience and long practice. Not every man can become one, not even if he is gifted with excellent eyesight. Novices wouldn't credit it at first, but on their first voyage it was very seldom that they saw something before the 'veterans' did.
The commander told the watchkeeping officer that he wanted to bring the boat closer. 'Hard to port, half ahead both.'
Tom Colville follows the travels of 'Eduardo':
Following the Anzio landings in the summer of 1943, the Allied offensive to liberate Italy had almost reached stalemate in the mountains. A fresh landing that might outflank Axis forces became necessary. To support planning for the main force, the island of Ischia, off Naples, had been selected for a clandestine base. Covert missions to insert and recover agents, beach reconnaissance teams and Commando sabotage missions, were needed. A small flotilla was acquired. Operated under Special Royal Naval command, three fast motor torpedo boats were taken over from the Italian navy. Their capability was supplemented by “country craft” - local fishing boats and coastal trading vessels - which did not resemble fighting ships. One of these was the large deep-sea trawler Eduardo, lying idle in Ischia harbour.
Mike Bender visits early Yacht Clubs:
Yachting in the United Kingdom is sometimes thought to have taken off in the nineteenth century. But its foundations, with ownership, building, broking and fitted out, are in fact to be found a century earlier, and not in Britain but in Ireland.
By the early eighteenth century Cork harbour had been a stopping-off point for Royal Naval and merchant ships. The first yacht club in the whole of Britain and Ireland was the Water Club of the Harbour of Cork, was created in 1720, postdating by a mere two years Peter the Great's founding of the Neva Yacht Club of St Petersburg, the first yacht club in the world.
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.