The “Ceres”: A Wonderful Record.

(An extract from an article in the journal ‘Sea Breezes’ – published in 1928)

“The following information concerning the 117 year old Ketch “Ceres” has been kindly given to us by Capt W.W.Petherick, her owner, and he has consented to our using this in writing her history in ‘Sea Breezes’.

There seems to be no doubt that the “Ceres” is the oldest sailing vessel still in active service and that, after 117 years of strenuous work, she is still in perfect condition, and good for many more years, speaks equally well for her builder and owner.

“Ceres” was built in Salcombe in 1811, where she belonged until 1830, and while owned there several times crossed the Bay of Biscay to Spain for cargoes of fruit, nuts etc, and in these days was considered to be the fastest vessel in the three Channels. She was then Smack-rigged and registered 34 tons, burthen 54 tons.

She first came to Bude where she is now owned in 1826 with a cargo of timber from Plymouth and was first owned in Bude by Captain Knowles, who, in 1830, brought in and discharged at Bude 20 cargoes of coal from Wales. In 1842, Captain W.Lewis purchased her and still traded to Bude.

In 1852, she was purchased by Captain Petherick’s father and has been owned by the family ever since. In 1866, Captain W.W.Petherick took over the command of the little vessel and found that she wanted dry docking for repairs. While in dry dock, Capt Petherick was persuaded to have her lengthened, which he did. Fifteen feet was put in her amidships. When completed she was Ketch-rigged, registered 52 tons and carried 85 tons.

Ceres of Bude

Captain Petherick then took her in the General Coasting Trade. She carried many cargoes of barley for the whisky distilleries from Cornwall to the Western Islands of Scotland, Campbeltown, Ardrossan, Troon, Ayr and visited near every port in Ireland from Londonderry in the north to “south about” to Limerick in the west. From there it was generally oats to the English Channel ports, the Channel Islands, London, Maldon, Ipswich etc.

As to the seaworthiness on the latter vessel, I can do no better than quote Capt Petherick’s own words. He says “I have weathered out many storms and hurricanes in her and she was always all there. Everyone who went in her considered her to be one of the best sea boats afloat.”

In 1884, Capt Petherick left sea to take over his father’s business and he was succeeded in command of the “Ceres” by his brother, Capt R.W.Petherick, who is her skipper today, having been in her over 50 years.

On the 7th November 1900, she was caught in Bude Bay in a heavy north west gale. A larger Italian barque, the “Congiziona”, who was miles to windward of the “Ceres” in the evening, came ashore close to Bude in the night. “Ceres” worked out of the Bay and ran for Padstow. She entered the harbour safely but with an ebb tide and an eddy wind, she had to let go both anchors when under the dangerous Steppe Point. She struck the rocks but the crew managed to get ashore at low water. They were able to get onboard again, and that night she was towed to Padstow Harbour where she was repaired.

In 1912, a bold step was taken by her owner who had the vessel fitted with a semi-diesel engine of 30hp, and this has turned out a complete success.

During the war, when Bude Bay was a hotbed of German submarines. most of the coasters were penned in harbour. “Ceres” with the aid of the engine was able to make regular trips to Bristol and South Wales ports and bring back cargoes of grain, flour, groceries etc. Her shallow draft allowed her to keep near the rocks and sands where the submarines could not submerge and she was then able to successfully evade them.

That “Ceres” is standing the test of time is evident from the fact that, in the last five years, she has carried forty cargoes of basic slag and thirty of flour in all weather without damaging a plank.

She made the record number of passages for any ship between Bude, Cardiff, Port Talbot etc. during October 1927 as follows:

Saturday, October 8th, arrived Bude, discharged and sailed for Port Talbot;

Sunday, October 9th, arrived Port Talbot;

Monday, 10th October, loaded slag and sailed for Bude;

Tuesday 11th, arrived Bude, discharged and sailed for Port Talbot;

Wednesday 12th, arrived Port Talbot, loaded and sailed;

Thursday 13th arrived Bude, discharged and sailed for Cardiff;

Friday 14th, arrived Cardiff, loaded and sailed on Saturday;

Sunday October 16th, arrived at Bude from Cardiff in one tide.

Bude harbour is 14 miles south west of Hartland Point. There is water in Bude for three hours on spring tides and those who know the difficulty of a small coaster rounding Hartland Point with its strong race of tides on springs will appreciate the last mentioned passage from Cardiff dock to Bude in one passage.

I am sure all readers of Sea Breezes will join me in wishing “Ceres” a further long lease of active service.”

and it is signed: R.P.Hirst,Liverpool.


The above article was taken from my grandfather’s (Captain Alfred Petherick) notebook.  His notes then go on to list passages made by “Ceres” over many years, although it does not cover every year of her active service.

As examples, the entries for 1870 note the following ports visited in order:

Bude, Newport, Plymouth, Penryn, Porthcawl, Truro, Newport, Truro, Newport, Bude, Newport, Waterford, Newport, Malpas, Newport, New Ross, Newport, Bude, Newport, New Ross, Wexford, Newport, Falmouth, Newport, The Yealm, Newport, Bude, Truro, Newport, Bude, Newport, Bude.

And in 1878:

Bude, Wexford, Dublin, Fishguard, Porthgain, Gloucester, Looe, Plymouth, Maldon, Ipswich, Bideford, Port Talbot, Bude, Saundersfoot, Waterford, Saundersfoot, The Yealm, Saundersfoot, Portland, London, Newry, Newport, Bude, Boscastle, Plymouth, Bude, Newport, Bude.

A random selection of cargoes include:

80 tons manure, 85 tons slate, 70 tons salt, 80 tons granite, 82 tons cement, 85 tons limestone, 377 barrels of resin, 84 tons china clay, 80 tons iron ore, 2000 fire bricks, general cargo, scrap iron, 83 tons potash, 40 tons pine wood, 82 tons pipe clay, 82 tons blue clay; 673 barrels oats, 404 quarters barley, 10 tons potatoes.

In 1868, there is a note:

“Ceres” lengthened by fifteen feet from Dec 7th 1868 to July 20th 1869.

At the end of these lists is a record of the skippers who sailed her:

1826: Captain G.Barrett

1842: Captain Lewis

1852: Captain W.W.Petherick

1884: Captain R.W.Petherick

1929: Captain Ben Stainton

1933: Captain A.Petherick

1935: Captain O.G.Jeffery

And the final entry reads:

“Foundered midnight Nov 24 1936. Bideford Bay, Crew saved by lifeboat.”

“Ceres” was 125 years old when she went down.

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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