Extracts Winter 2019


Olympics, shipwrecks, sail training, the High Seas Fleet...

 Hamish Hardie sails in the 1948 Olympics:

Life in the UK in 1948 was still much affected by the War. There was food and clothes rationing, and travel abroad was virtually impossible. There were no gap years for students.

     There were other differences. The Official Report of the Games was sponsored by Abdulla cigarettes, and it is interesting to see how many officials smoked. Horlicks was made available to every competitor in London, but I do not think much of it filtered down to Torquay. Nor do I remember getting the sponsored two pairs of Y-fronts.

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Lord Dufferin heads north:

Down went the heavy hawsers into the sea, up fluttered the staysail, then, poising for a moment on the waves with the startled hesitation of a bird suddenly set free, the little creature spread her wings, thrice dipped her ensign n token of adieu and glided like a phantom into the north. Ten minutes more, and we were the only denizens of that misty sea. It was with the deepest regret I watched the fog close round the magnificent corvette, and bury her and all whom she contained-within its bosom.

     Our own situation, too, was not altogether without causing me a little anxiety. We had not seen the sun for two days; it was very thick, with a heavy sea, and dodging about as we had been among the ice, our dead reckoning was not very much to be depended upon. The best plan I thought, would be to stretch away at once clear of the ice, then run up into the latitude of Jan Mayen.

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The life of a far from simple sailor:

The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava was born Frederick Temple Blackwood in 1826. When he was fifteen his father died and the boy inherited the title of Baron Dufferin and the 18,000-acre family estate in Ulster.  He was now one of the major landowners in Ireland, and grew up strikingly handsome, immaculately dressed and with a carefully-cultivated charm.  One of his mother’s influential friends arranged for him to become a courtier to Queen Victoria, who enjoyed his company, commenting that he was 'much too goodlooking and captivating'.  It was the start of a lifelong friendship. 

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A storm and a shipwreck:

At the moment of waking, the boards under his shoulder twitched like a thrower's arm and flung him out of the bunk. He brought up with a crash against a bulkhead. There was shouting on deck, the frenzied rattle of canvas. The Edward and Rose gave a sort of struggling wallow and fell sideways off a wave. Jones crawled up the companion ladder, hauled the hatch open and clambered out. 'Shut that!' yelled a voice in the dark. A wall of icy water smacked him in the chops. The hatch slammed.

The lugger's deck was a pale leaf writhing in the grip of the black sea. Up she went; up, up, a long hill of water. As she came to the summit, Jones heard a rumble and saw a gleam of white. The crest burst like a bomb against the lugger's windward bow, and another wall of water came down the deck. She shuddered, and shook herself, and started down the long slope into the trough. A body crashed into Jones. The hatch opened, sang a brief bottleneck note in the wind, then slammed. In a moment of quiet he heard the rattle of the bolt. 'Oh Denzil, you bastard!' roared Pembarra. 'Come back, wait'll I tells your mother on you!'

But the hatch stayed mute and closed.

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Peter Cardy writes a brief history of sail training:

Twenty-first century sail training is a form of seafaring where the voyage is more important than the destination, the crew is also the high-value cargo, training is less important than living the experience, the sailors know little about sailing, effort is more prized than efficiency, labour-saving devices are studiously ignored, language is archaic, obsolete ship designs are prized, rope is everywhere, sails are the main propulsion, and every voyage makes a loss.

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Samson Evans sails on a Thames barge:

Essex, innit. Girls with rococo nail jobs and lads on the run from the law after a little contretemps with a cash machine, a roundabout and some pills. So at the end of the road from, well, Billericay, home of Dicky, the town of Maldon comes as a bit of a shock. There is a charming High Street crowded with jettied buildings. At the bottom of the hill, past the church with an odd little fleche growing out of its tower, the river Chelmer flows, a crowd of curlews yodelling on the polished chocolate mud running down to the water. Along the southern bank of the river runs Hythe Quay. Alongside the quay the barges lie, gigantic, tied up two and three deep.

     These are not your boring old Dutch barges, with wheelhouses and the skipper's Daihatsu on the wheelhouse roof. These are proper spritsail barges, around a hundred feet long, displacing some hundred tons, crammed together in the muddy creek like whale-sized sardines in a gigantic tin. Their masts and sprits scratch the drifting Essex clouds. They have beautiful champagne-glass sterns, names in gold: Kitty, Xylonite, Hydrogen, and on one, bright, beautiful, brand-new, Blue Mermaid.

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Alan Stoney remembers an old boathouse:

     In January, after the oyster dredging season had finished and the boat had been cleaned of the sand and mud that in spite of our best efforts had made its way into every crevice of the bilge, it was time to turn attention to the overhaul of the lobster gear. The light for this work came through the open doorway in the end gable of the boathouse, from which a modest concrete slip faced across the strand that at half tide dried out between the inner islands further to the east. When chill easterly winds blew unchecked across the strand they made the shed almost uninhabitable. An old cooking-oil can had been converted into a sort of brazier in which smouldered a handful of turf sods. It drove out the worst of the cold, but filled the boathouse with a bitter smoke.

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Nicholas Jellicoe follows a group of schoolchildren on an excursion in Scapa Flow:

Saturday, 21 June was the summer solstice, a perfect Orkney day, blue skies, light breeze.

To the Imperial Defence Minister, 21st June

In the English papers, I have today perceived that... the Government intends to use the interned ships as an object of trade... my feelings of patriotism and honour cannot accommodate themselves to such treatment of the interned German Fleet. In this view of the matter I am assured of the support of all the officers of the Squadron.

Rear Admiral von Reuter.

 In the Flow, only a few British ships were left behind. Moving among the German ships were a number of guard trawlers, plus the two Admiralty tugs and the water tender Flying Kestrel. On this Saturday, Flying Kestrel was picking up a group of Stromness schoolchildren for an outing on the Flow.

     At around 1000 the final signal was hoisted on Emden:

To all Commanding officers and the Leader of Torpedo Boats. Paragraph eleven. Confirm.

The hoist looked innocent enough. But behind the signal lay its meaning: to execute the scuttle.

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Andrew Linington examines the Costa Concordia affair:

The capsize of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy in January 2012 resulted in the deaths of thirty-two people. In the scramble to attribute blame for the accident, the media found a convenient pantomime villain in Captain Francesco Schettino, the ship’s master, who was repeatedly dubbed ‘Captain Coward’ and ‘Captain Calamity’ in the acres of headlines that followed the disaster.

     Captain Schettino effectively took the sole legal responsibility for the incident, which occurred a century after the Titanic disaster and echoed many of its features. He is now more than two years into a sixteen-year sentence, which was upheld by an Italian appeals court in May 2016.

     Important questions continue to be raised, however, about the fairness of the trial that saw Schettino convicted of multiple manslaughter.

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Jon Tucker meditates on animals at sea:

Arthur Ransome’s Sinbad captured generations of young hearts when as a feeble kitten he was scooped from a floating crate in the North Sea. Fiction often parallels fact, and during our years of wandering oceans, we have met many a ship’s cat which has managed to endear itself to a boating family as a scrawny waif, mewing feebly on the dockside. Each one is a tale in itself - not always with a happy ending, as nine lives tend to get used up rapidly at sea.

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Ian Nicolson reminisces about a good client:

As Joe watched he saw a seaman tilt a wooden box in the middle of the boat to reveal a six-cylinder Leyland diesel - a marinised version of the engines in his lorries. Immediately he was down the quay steps and in the launch, discussing the quirks of Leyland diesels. The conversation turned to money, and Joe asked how much the launchman made on a good day. The launchman told him. Joe added twenty-five per cent to the sum, and asked if that would charter the boat for the whole of the next day for him and his family and no-one else.

      The launchman agreed. Next day the sun shone, the wind was never over F2, and the mackerel committed suicide in quantities. As the launch headed back to harbour Joe chartered the launch for his family for the rest of the week. The boat owner was thrilled. The remainder of the week was spent exploring Salcombe and nearby harbours, and the fishing continued excellent.

     Early on the first day back in the office Joe phoned a friend who was a member of the Royal Gourock Yacht Club. ‘I want a yacht,’ Joe said.

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Emily Painter describes the private life of the gannet:

Up, up, with hardly a flap, the sea blue and crawling with a long Atlantic swell, the white rock shrinking below. Tilt the wings and slide down a long slope of air. Over to landward lies the island people call Skokholm. Up ahead are the Bishops and Clerks, little brown and green patches fringed with white surf, and the whorls of tide sweeping out of Ramsey Sound. None of this means anything in gannet world, of course. He knows where he is without charts, because somewhere in his pea-sized brain is an atlas of the planet drawn not with coastlines but with an infinitely complex mesh of smells.

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…. and of course there are Flotsam and Jetsam, books, sage advice and the deeply unreliable thoughts of Ray Doggett, tugboat skipper and Golden Virginia entrepreneur. Welcome aboard!