Extracts Spring 2019

Deliveries, windjammers, coasters and tuna

Jon Tucker advises on yacht deliveries:

For those of us who spend time wandering oceans, there is some comfort in the old adage that God does not deduct from a man’s allotted span the time spent sailing. After due consideration, however, I am convinced that this adage does not include yacht deliveries, and that indeed the opposite may well be true.

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 Tom Cunliffe discusses health and safety at sea:

Health and Safety has ballooned from one or two official regulations, which everyone understood and managed on a commonsense basis, into a global industry. Setting aside the outcome of the Titanic disaster, the work of men like Samuel Plimsoll and the arrival of ship-to-shore radio, when I first let go my shorelines in the late 1960s any changes in personal safety equipment made since the time of Noah were of little significance.

     Reading the unimpeachable Book of Genesis, chapters 7 and 8, one finds that the Almighty handed Noah a specific design brief for his ark. Nothing but gopherwood would do, although the choice of fastenings was up to the builder...

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 The windjammer 'Pamir' is caught in a hurricane:

Some ships are full of expression, responsive to the slightest change of wind and weather, conveying in their own peculiar way just how they feel. Much of this ability to respond in this way depends upon conditions. A vessel which is taut and tuned like a violin is loud in her discordant notes and sweet in harmony. The Pamir is such a ship, the product of man's skill and ingenuity handed down from generation to generation, inanimate yet full of living quality, a vibrant personality, wise in the ways of the sea to whom wind alone is the breath of life.

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 Peter Davies skippers a superyacht across the Pacific:

I was on the twentieth floor of a skyscraper building in Panama City collecting $150,000 in cash from a bank. I loaded the money into my briefcase and turned to leave. Who knew I had all this cash? Certainly all the staff in the cashiers' section, and possibly all their dodgy relatives, taxi-driving cousins and enforcer boyfriends. This was not a consoling thought. I took the lift down ten floors, dived into a stairwell, walked down two floors, caught another lift to the second floor and walked to the ground floor. One exit led to a side street where taxis were queueing. Not for me. I walked out of the air-conditioning and across the hot street, went into a large hotel lobby, took the lift up to the second floor, walked to the third floor, took another lift to the ground floor. Then I jumped into the second taxi waiting outside (never take the first, I knew from John le Carré) and spent the rest of the afternoon in various taxis until it seemed safe to instruct a driver to take me to the yacht club.

 The Harbourmaster of Wells-next-the-Sea goes longshoring:

It was a journey in itself just to walk out to the cockle grounds. The women would head out from Stiffkey on foot, crossing the muddy creeks as the tide ebbed and taking the tracks they knew over the marshes. Some of the women worked in gangs and, if they were lucky, the gang leader would ride them out on a small horse-drawn cart. The cart would be also used to carry the sacks of cockles back to the village.

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 Richard Crockatt examines the life of Humphrey Barton:

A glance at the profiles of leading small boat voyagers will show that there is no fixed nautical type. There are dreamers, pragmatists, driven competitors, no-nonsense military types or various combinations of these. Humphrey Barton - ‘Hum,’ as he was almost universally known - described himself as ‘highly strung’ with an over-developed imagination. He confessed that he detested bad weather, but his sailing is associated above all with heavy weather and a hard-driving approach to passage-making. Best known for his 1950 east-west Atlantic crossing in the twenty-five foot Vertue XXXV, he sailed countless craft over a long career, showing an almost limitless appetite for taking yet another boat to sea.

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 George Hamilton tells the story of a Clyde shipping company:

About 1821 our Grandfather ordered the Packet from Fife’s of Fairlie. She was built as a smack of about 45ft and went on the packet business from Saltcoats to Arran immediately with another man from Lamlash, I think Nicol was his name. Aye, and they sailed carrying mails and all goods from Saltcoats to Brodick for 35 or 36 years until the steamers came on from Glasgow and the Clyde and run them off.

     By 1857 there wasn’t a living to be made and my father and grandfather and my uncle Bob they hauled her up at the Strathwhillan burn. Her bowsprit was so high that the carts and horses and everything was going underneath it and the bowsprit was over the road. Then father cut her through the middle, and put back the stern, and put everything level, got a new keel and filled up and made her about sixty feet long.

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 Coasting voyages in the 1920s:

The vessel itself is about the dirtiest and most dangerously neglected steamer I have ever clapped eyes upon. The ancient peeling paintwork fails to hide the mass of rust she has become; one of the masts is as rotten as an overripe pear with most of the ratlines carried away and not renewed; the fairleads for the mooring ropes appear as if they might come bodily away from the deck; and the bridge rails are hardly safe to lean against.

     A month’s stores would fit into an empty soap box, and the navigational gear consists of a few out-of-date blueback charts, a tiny pair of warped parallel rulers, some broken dividers, and a barometer always pointing to ‘very dry’. There’s not even a ship’s clock.

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 Martin Thomas looks at surgery during the Napoleonic Wars:

Surgery is brutal. At the time of Trafalgar, before anaesthesia and antibiotics, surgeons were denied the sobriquet of doctor. They had only recently separated themselves from the barbers, many were still bonesetters, and few had a university education. Fractures were set with splints, but if the broken bone ends were exposed - a compound fracture - death was almost certain. An abscess could be drained, skin lumps, cysts and some superficial tumours including breast cancers could be removed; but no attempt was made to open the abdomen, chest or head. A bullet deep in a body cavity was left; the victim stood a better chance of survival carrying it around within him than allowing a surgeon to delve for it.

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 Peter Cardy reminisces about his time running the MCA:

There is no Haynes Manual for the incoming CEO of the MCA. Not even a lifetime of obsessive interest in ships and the sea prepares you for a job that deals with almost every aspect of things that float and the medium in which they operate. I thought I knew that HM Coastguard, part of the MCA, rescues people, though there were also the Lifeboats, wherever they fitted in. I was vague about the certification of seafarers, the International Maritime Organisation, the MCA’s relationship with the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, Trinity House, the Port of London Authority, the Chamber of Shipping, the RYA, the Merchant Navy Training Board, the Met Office, UKHO and dozens more organizations. I had yet to learn about ship registries, flags of convenience and the Red Ensign Group. I listened, read, and asked questions.

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 Emily Painter gets inside the head of a bluefin tuna:

The huge shoulders tear through the water. It streams ocean-cool past the great barred flanks, spun away by the sickle tail. To the lateral fierce hot fish-mind comes a distant hum and chatter and squeak that might be noise, but it is not noise, but electricity or something like it. This vibration or current comse from a dark patch high above and far ahead in the shifting mirror of the surface. Under such dark patches animalculae swarm, food for small fish, which are food for bigger fish, which are food for bluefin.

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