The Exe – 6/6

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At the No.8 buoy the channel turns South away from the coast. These final eight buoys – (red can buoys even numbered, green conical buoys odd-numbered), lead out to the Exe Approach buoy and the sea. As I raise sail, a yacht passes, running for the channel. We raise hands, exchanging friendly waves. Ahead of me, a distant yacht is tacking along the coast towards Berry Head.

Early this morning, in the calm of the mooring at Turf Lock, I bent on the light genoa. This is now set and drawing well. The wind has got up and blows from a little West of South, the sea is choppy. The wind will increase this afternoon, but I hope not too much in the six short miles I have to cover. It will be a very close haul to Teignmouth, the contrast from this morning complete.

The yacht ahead turns off Teignmouth and heads out to sea to clear Hope’s Nose on the next tack. I watch the coast go by – Dawlish Warren, Langstone Point, Dawlish, the Parson and the Clerk, Teignmouth. The mainline trains hug the coast. The sun dips in and out behind the clouds. ‘Blue Mistress’ rides the waves with an easy motion. I concentrate on steering her towards The Ness and the entrance to the Teign.

When we get there – (in good time, around 1530), the wind has risen another notch and, if we were going further, I would have had to change the genoa for the working jib. Approaching the entrance, I feel the Captains tensing, gathering together, looking over their shoulders at me – (see ‘The Exe – 3/6’ for details of The Captains). The sea is choppier here, affected by wind over the falling tide from the estuary. Turning into the that wind to drop the sails, my usual slick procedure for dropping the genoa neatly onto the foredeck fails and the leach drops into the sea. I go forward to retrieve it, cursing mildly, my routine broken. By now the mainsail should be down. The boat is bouncing up and down in the sea, the mainsail is flapping wildly, I slip over in the cockpit like a rookie. Eventually the tangle is sorted out and the boat settles down.

In the meantime, The Captains have raised their eyebrows and looked away! But, as I say to them, when things go wrong as they will, a good sailor will deal with them quickly and calmly. So, when I get back to the mooring, (under time-pressure to be home), knowing I have to tidy ship and inflate the dinghy before I can go ashore, only to find the mooring lines tangled tightly round the buoy, you will understand my reaction. (Quickly and calmly, I say!)

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These two days have been a ‘wandering’ – some might call it a mini adventure but I don’t believe it qualifies for that. I took two days out to experience The Exe Estuary and to reflect on what it might have been like for my forebears when they took their Westcountry trading ketch up to Topsham and Exeter. I am now back in Teignmouth, which they also visited on several occasions.

For example, on 15th September 1888, the ‘Ceres’, Captain Walter Petherick, master, left Saundersoot in South Wales carrying 82 tons of coal for Teignmouth. She arrived in good time and on 29th September, she left Teignmouth for Bristol, carrying 82 tons of clay. Maybe she berthed at New Quay to offload the coal and take on clay, maybe further upstream. One day I shall find out.

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I finally get home at 1730. The day is not over. Two hours later, we are sitting in The Pavilions Teignmouth watching a simultaneous broadcast from the National Theatre. In 1966, Tom Stoppard wrote a play around two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, namely  “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. Peggy and I first saw it an unbelievable fifty years ago. The word-play is as enjoyable today as it was then.

Still buzzing from my two days on the boat, I wonder how my great grandfather would have thought of this play. Was he in a position to have seen any of Shakespeare’s plays? Would he have wanted to? And what about my great-grandchildren? Will they enjoy some future production with its fast word-play? Times change. Today we are able to share laughter and sighs with audiences across the globe simultaneously, something we never even thought of in the 1960’s. How will they be viewing such plays in future – a hologram in the round perhaps?

Or will more mundane matters concern them – the erosion of tolerance, patience and respect in our political relationships; the effect on our lives of the change in weather patterns? Speak up now, there’s plenty to do.

Images by Bill Whateley