The Ceres

On Saturday, I was at Bude Museum to leave some old photographs of the town. These came from a time when the photographer would make a postcard out of his/her photographs in order to sell them. So he/she would  produce sets around a particular subject, e.g. a building or an event or whatever.

I am ashamed to say that it is over twenty years since I was last in the museum. The subjects are, of course, familiar (as Bude is the place I was born) and they brought back good memories.

Specifically, there is a display based around the Ceres.

The Ceres was originally an Azores smack, built in Salcombe in 1811. She was bought by the Pethericks in 1856 and was in our family for five generations. In 1868, she was lengthened to 64ft and converted into a ketch, registered as 52 tons. She traded in the Bristol Channel and beyond.

On 24th November, 1937, she sprang a leak and went down off Baggy Point in Bideford Bay. At the time, she was the oldest boat on Lloyds Register.

Now, imagine this. I am talking about a boat that began life during the Peninsular War -(she carried arms supplies to the troops in Spain); sailed while the Battle of Waterloo was being fought, was over twenty five years old when Victoria came to the throne; was trading through the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the First World War, the discovery of electricity, the first motor car, the first aeroplane,  the first film.

When I was a small boy, my grandfather, who sailed in her as owner and skipper whenever he could , would speak of the Ceres with unquenchable enthusiasm. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I learnt ‘enthusiasm’ from him.

It was the sailing, and the ports they entered under sail alone that made it for him. 

Entering Bude through the surf

Bude is one such case.  On the North Cornish coast, facing west towards Newfoundland, the Atlantic rollers piling onto its beaches, Bude has a difficult entrance in most weathers.

There is a painting by John Chancellor of the Ceres “Taking Bude After A Blow”. He has depicted her passing close to Barrel Rock, with a large wave passing under her, her bowsprit in the air. As in the image above, she is carrying main and mizzen sails and two foresails. The wind is from the South West, meaning she is on a broad reach, but it also means the surf is breaking on the rocks beside her. The sky is overcast. Her small crew are completely concentrated on every shift in movement of wind, boat and sea.

She is about to ’round the barrel’ and come under the shelter of Chapel Rock and the Breakwater, where the crew will downsails and her lines will be taken by men in rowing boats – the hobblers -who will lead her to a mooring in the river or to the sea lock at the entrance to Bude Canal.


If she stays on the mooring, the tide will drop and leave her high and dry. Horse-drawn carts will come onto the beach, and the crew will crane her cargo onto the carts using the main boom as a crane. She may load a small cargo on this tide as well.

The tide will come in and, the weather being favourable and the sea reasonably flat, she will, with the help of the hobblers and her own sails, go back to sea and make up the Bristol Channel towards Swansea or perhaps down Channel towards Trevose Head and beyond.

Nowadays, we sail for pleasure and use our engines at will; and we avoid the conditions that, less than a hundred years ago, those who made an engineless living from the sea took on daily. They had no chart plotters, gps, weather forecasts – faxed, texted or otherwise, no DSC/VHF.

As I write this, I find that I have no nostalgia for their difficulties, or wish to repeat them, but I do have an unquenchable enthusiasm for the attitudes that drove them to take those challenges on in the first place.

This is one of a number of posts on the Ketch “Ceres”. They have been presented in a random order as and when I have found, or been given, new material. They represent steps in a personal quest to find out more about one branch of my family.

If you are interested in maritime history or would like to read more, please use the Search facility at the top right hand side of this page (‘Ceres’). If this is not available on your current screen, then click on ‘Bill’s Boat Blog’ – (or the title of this entry, then ‘Bill’s Boat Blog’), to be taken to the correct page.

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