The ketch ‘Ceres’ entering Bude

Six pictures of Ceres found recently – pressed between the pages of an old volume.

Several years ago years, a sudden flood swamped the old leather suitcase they’d been lying in. They were all damaged – water-marked and curled. The flattening-them-out-in-an-old-book trick seems to have worked.


Here she is rounding Barrel Rock. A hobble boat is waiting just inside Chapel Rock

The crew are working hard, preparing mooring lines; the helmsman barely visible in the stern.

On another occasion, she enters Bude with her mainsail set.

Bude seawater swimming pool is to the right of the picture

By the size of the bow wave, the main seems to be helping the engine, perhaps on a falling tide.

With hobble boat in tow


There were several more old photos of Ceres in those pages.

I will group together and post them as a series.

From Steeple Point – the music of a gale

Following my last post,  let’s up the tempo and orchestrate a gale:

First, change the season to winter;

Then darken the light with heavy cloud;

Now add two, perhaps three major storms over the Atlantic, each in a different area, each several days previously;

Let’s have an onshore gale blowing – (the cameraman can barely stand upright);

And the first ebb of a high spring tide, the full flood just beginning to flow out of the river;

Add backwash to develop an undertow – the water has to go somewhere once it reaches the beach;

With cross-currents from a tide now heading down the coast;

And sound – the wind hammering in ears, the sea thundering and crashing, the snatched cry of seagulls.

Now we have music – a climactic moment in a symphony without a beginning or an end, composed by Nature and performed by The Elements.


But how to describe it for those who sail in small boats.

There is probably a scientific explanation, with each molecule of water predicted to a particular position with regard to every other molecule and the surrounding conditions.

Perhaps there is, but it is far too confusing, too complex for we mere mortals, so we rely on words.

And finding words is an art.

These days, we might try “Awesome“, but it is short-hand and doesn’t really express a storm  properly.

Some have described storms with first-hand reportage . . .

“The Spray neared Cap Pillar rapidly and, nothing loath, plunged into the Pacific Ocean at once, taking her first bath of it in the gathering storm. There was no turning back even had I wished to do so. for the land was now shut out by the darkness of light. The wind freshened and I took in a third reef. The sea was confused and treacherous. In such a time as this the old fisherman prayed, “Remember, Lord, my ship is small and thy sea is so wide.”  Joshua Slocum

Some with extreme drama . . .

“Poor naked wretches, where so’er are you / That hide the pelting of this pitiless storm.” William Shakespeare (King Lear).

Some with more rhythm . . .

“And large blue seas each other chased, / Cascading over down the waist.  / At every pitch he held his breath; / As if he saw the face of death. / “She’s pitched away a topmast, smash!” / All hands to clear away the wreck, / Were in an instant turned on deck; / From hammock starting out alert, / Up flew each seaman in his shirt! / And up the straining shrouds they swarm, / Growling and swearing at the storm.  / The wreck secured or cut away, / She snug beneath a trysail lay.” Capt J. Mitford RN, from Adventures of Johnny Newsome.

Of course, there are always those who see it in an entirely different way . . .

“At night came on a hurricane, the sea was mountains rolling / As Barney Buntline chewed his quid and spake to Billy Bowline: / “A strong nor’wester’s blowing, Bill, can’t ye hear it roar now? / Lor’ love me how I pities them unhappy folks ashore now. / As comfortably you and I upon the deck are lying, / Lord knows what tiles and chimney pots about their ears are flying.” Dibdin


And if poetry doesn’t work for you, then Adlard Coles’  “Heavy Weather Sailing” , now in its 30th edition, is the definitive work.

With acknowledgement to John Irving for the poetry, quoted by him in a Yachtsman’s Week-end Book, 1938.

From Steeple Point – a hatful of wind

The wind increases, the foam begins to streak, the Atlantic swell presses home.

Force 7: “In which a well-conditioned man-o’-war could just carry topsails, jib, etc in chase. And smacks remain in harbour, or, if at sea, lie to. And ashore, whole trees are in motion.” (Beaufort)

The North Cornwall coast, from Millook Haven

The images were taken in March and it’s not the “snowing gale” mentioned below but a fresh south easterly, blowing off this west-facing shore, the southern edge of a high pressure area, a low somewhere to the south, the wind funnelling between the two.


But how to describe weather?

Beaufort’s original description of Force 7 is one way – (and the accepted one when first introduced – and now modified), but the poets can be  more vivid.

For example, Stevenson’s few words on a gale bring life to the scene. I particularly like the “flash of sun” and “the passion of the gale”.

It blows a snowing gale in the winter of the year;

The boats are on the sea and the crews are on the pier.

The needle of the vane, it is veering to and fro,

A flash of sun is on the veering of the vane.

Autumn leaves and rain,

The passion of the gale.”

It Blows A Snowing Gale, by Robert Louis Stevenson


Previous posts on this – waves, waves (cont), a question of scale.

From Steeple Point – waves (cont.)

The previous afternoon the weather was similar. . .

a light swell is coming off the Atlantic.

Waves are in motion, just visible, moving towards us across the surface of the water – at speed.

The actual water they pass through is barely changing position, describing small, slow, circular, vertical orbits.

Finally, almost at the last moment, a small section of a wave is cut off  by the rocks-  guided into a gully.

Forced into the tight space, it loses speed as it drags against the sides. But it retains its energy.

Thus gaining height, it trips over itself, breaking on some underwater obstruction.

And now it is the water itself  – (at a ton per cubic metre), that is surfing down the face of the wave, accelerating towards us.

In speeding up, it quickly reaches its end, dashing itself with abandon on the Breakwater – while, a few seconds later, the rest of the wave, still in the freedom of comparatively open water only a few feet away, rolls sedately up the stones.

And here, it is lifted by the swell above the surrounding sea, only to sluice downhill across the rocks, seeking balance with the main body of water.

On the Ceres – 73 years ago today – not forgotten

Ceres 1811 – 1936

As I write, I can hear the wind hammering the trees in front of the house.

The inshore waters forecast for here gives southwesterly 6 to gale 8.

For the Bristol Channel it gives:

Lands End to St Davids Head including the Bristol Channel

The outlook for the 24 hours following 1200 Tuesday 24th November

Strong winds are forecast

Wind: Southwesterly 6 to gale 8, increasing severe gale 9 at times, perhaps storm 10 later in west

Sea state: Rough or very rough, occasionally high in west

Weather: Squally showers.

Visibility: Moderate or good, occasionally poor in west.

I mention this because 73 years ago today, off Baggy Point on the north coast of Devon at the western end of the Bristol Channel, on a quieter, fog-ridden day, the Ceres foundered.

The report in the Bideford Weekly Gazette on 1st December 1936 is recorded below.


The following year, my grandfather commissioned Pelham Jones to commemorate her on canvas (above). The painting is a wonderfully optimistic depiction of a coasting ketch, albeit with her competition lurking in the background. It is a painting for her owner to enjoy.

I find John Chancellor’s painting of the Ceres to be equally optimistic. I suspect he painted her purely because he enjoyed painting ships and boats. This is a painting for the artist himself to enjoy.

Taking Bude After a Blow, by John Chancellor


Taken from an article in the Bideford Weekly Gazette dated December 1st.1936.


The 125 years old “Ceres”, veteran of the merchant service, her course now run, lies at the bottom of Bideford Bay, somewhere off Baggy Point.

The “Ceres” sprang a leak on Tuesday night while on a voyage from South Wales to Bude, and foundered after her crew had put off in her boat and had been picked up by the Appledore lifeboat. The Captain is Mr Oswald Jeffery, a married man, whose home is in Richmond Road, Appledore, and the mate Mr Walter Ford, a married man of Irsha Street,, Appledore. They reached Appledore in the lifeboat at about 11 o’clock, and on arrival the Rev Muller offered a short prayer of thanksgiving for their safety.

Captain Jeffery said,” We left Swansea on Tuesday bound for Bude with a cargo of slag. Because of the weather we intended to go in over the Bar for the night as it was to rough to venture on to Bude. At 8 o’clock I went below to rest for an hour, leaving the mate in charge. An hour later he told me there was water in the engine room. We manned the pumps. We tried to get the ship over the Bar, but the water made her roll badly, and I gave the order for the ship’s rowing boat to be launched. I fired two rockets, and we abandoned the vessel. We lay in the shelter of the “Ceres” which was sinking, and were taken onboard the lifeboat.

Dr. Valentine stood by in case medical assistance was needed, but although wet through, neither the captain nor his mate appeared any the worse for this ordeal.

The “Ceres” was owed by a Bude firm of coal merchants, and was built in Salcombe.

Ketch Ceres 1811 – 1936.

Built in Salcombe, Devon in 1811.She carried stores as a revitaling ship at the blockade of Brest during the Napoleonic wars. Was the oldest sea-going vessel afloat until she sank in Croyde Bay one November evening in 1936. My late father Walter Ford always maintained that she sank because the vessel had recently had a new timber set in, and this had swollen and had displaced the much older timbers which surrounded it.

The night she sank was flat calm and the sky clear.”

For further posts on the Ceres here.

On Steeple Point – prevailing wind

AA comments:

It has been proved that the weather is unpredictable in the short term. One more reason for Britain lying directly below a jet stream delivering storms from the Atlantic. (If only Fitzroy knew that 🙂 )We can only establish some long term (seasonal) trends.
For example, in Greece it is known that “The ‘weather’ always comes from the West” whereas over here (UK) the direction is SW….There is evidence for this on the way that older trees are bent.

Do you mean bent like this? 🙂

Stowe Barton, Christmas 2009

On Steeple Point – two images from Duckpool

Two images from Duckpool.

The first taken last Christmas – the pebble ridge in winter:

This one taken in heavy rain at 1045 this morning – the pebble ridge in summer:

Lands End to St Davids Head including the Bristol Channel
Strong winds are forecast
Inshore waters forecast
24 hour forecast:    1900 Fri 17 Jul     1900 Sat 18 Jul
Wind     Westerly or northwesterly becoming cyclonic, 5 to 7, decreasing 4 in north.
Sea state     Moderate or rough, but slight in east.
Weather     Rain or showers.
Visibility     Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

This is this evening’s inshore waters forecast.  It was right for the whole day.

The heavy rain has swollen the river and once again altered the shape of the pebble ridge, the same ridge that presented such a peaceful scene last December.

This is the weather that makes this coast exciting and invigorating.

The only problem is that this is July. Why can’t it wait until the Autumn?

On Steeple Point – a shared world

I was climbing the path to Steeple Point.

Towards the top, the land falls steeply away, rapidly becoming a cliff face that drops vertically to the rocks below.

With the tide in, these rocks are covered by sea – Atlantic rollers reaching their nemesis on the Cornish coast.

From up here, you watch those big swells roll in.

They build, curl and crash forward in a welter of foam, sparkling in the sunshine. Piling over the back-tow of their predecessors, they waste themselves on the pebble ridge.

There are intricate patterns of foam, constantly changing, highlighting myriad currents and cross-currents.

That morning, there was nobody in sight.

I was enjoying the aloneness. . . the warmth of the sun . . . the smell of salt in the air. . .  the sound of waves on rocks.

The sea was still heavy from an earlier gale

There was a slight breeze, I remember.

And then this guy appears below me on a surf board.

The waves were sweeping in from around the Point. He had been hidden out there as I climbed.

So, it wasn’t my sole world after all. There were two of us – the one holding a camera and idly watching, the other intently doing.

It was so totally unexpected. I felt a little shocked – a bit put-out.

Then I felt admiration – what a great ride in such a beautiful place.

And then a change of mood –  sudden concern because of what I could see from my vantage point.

A moment of doubt burst into this memorable day.

The concern was all mine, of course.

Whatever I saw, whatever I thought might happen, was way beyond my control.

He didn’t care. He knew what he was doing. He was having a ball.

I could only watch, my concern pointless.

Let him get on with it.

He paddled out to catch another wave. I continued my walk.

Two separate lives enjoying  the same space, viewing it through different eyes.

Acknowledging the past

On Boxing Day, at low tide, we walked on the beach.

Empty quay, Bude, Boxing Day, 2008

The weather was one of blue skies and crystal-clear visibility.

The views were amazing, but there is always more to a view than meets the eye – there is a history that rides with it.

Ceres, Bude

This is not a request to  focus on the past, but to share it – to acknowledge that the past existed and that those who lived through it were no different from us.

They too saw the world change before their eyes and their old certainties lost to an unknown future.

Low tide, Bude, Boxing Day, 2008

Thus the toast this Christmas is the toast of Christmas’ past –  “Absent Friends”.

Ceres, waiting for the tide, Bude

For more on Ceres here, here and here

On Steeple Point – Low tide, Duckpool

Here are four images taken yesterday morning at Duckpool on the coast of North Cornwall.

A combination of low tide, bright sunshine,  and a cold, easterly, offshore wind.

This is a wreckers’ coastline – to be avoided on a lee shore.

Yesterday it was a place to take the air after Christmas.