An elderly pencil

We have had the decorators in and everything but everything has been boxed up. The job has been so long that all our cardboard boxes are now hidden wells of discovery,  Looking through one such box. I found this pencil.


Walter Brennan taught me to sail. I was 13 or 14 at the time – so the pencil is a little over 50 years old.

It was inexpensive – free, in fact, because he gave them away. It hasn’t been used constantly but it has survived over the years where a number of expensive and increasingly sophisticated computers have not. And whereas those computers became obsolete, this piece of kit will still do what it was designed to do – act as a printer for whatever is going on in my head.

2013-11-08 15.34.56a

Obviously it is ancient hardware and I don’t offer it as an alternative to a computer – (certainly not with my brain!), but as a design that stands the test of time.

Having found it again, I am able to use it instantly – no recharging,  no cables, no wireless router, no waiting for startup, no searching for software and apps, no need to update.  It is portable and versatile. So is my mobile phone – but I guarantee my pencil will outlive my mobile too. (And I can’t chew the end of my mobile).

On the boat, I have three versions of gps – plus a clutch of 2B pencils.

If you’re younger than thirty you possibly don’t care. That’s ok. But at the weekend I watched my three year-old grandson climb the stairs while watching a television programme on the iPad he was holding. He had found the app and opened the programme himself. I don’t suppose he will be impressed if I leave him my pencil in my will. However, my pencil will last longer than his iPad.

2013-11-08 15.34.45a

Perhaps the pencil will be the shape of computers to come.

Who knew they would reduce a computer to look like a large postcard?

Who knew a smart phone would become the size of a small chocolate bar?

All power to the pencil.

Steeple Point

It has been well over a year since I last posted here. There are reasons for this and I will talk about them in time.

But now that I am ready to start again, I find that the title  ‘bill’s boatblog’ does not adequately cover what I want to say.  I want to reflect wider horizons. However, I don’t want to start a new blog – life’s too short.  Hence the new title.

I have changed the font but kept the general layout – there is a lot of historical material that I have posted over the past six or seven years that I would like to keep and one or two readers may find  the book references useful.

WordPress has developed into a much more sophisticated software package since my first timid attempts at posting.  This is a good thing – we all like to move forward. My first thoughts were that more sophistication means more complication – the process taking over the content. In fact, the changes have made it easier to post on this site. I look forward to more posts.


Steeple Point - standard

I have chosen Steeple Point – a place I have mentioned often. It plays an important part in my story and now that I am moving on from my day job, I want to have a physical base with a long personal connection from which to develop the blog.  I could have used a street we have lived in – Belle Vue or Cavendish Road or South Pallant or Martins Lane  or Clonbern Road or Nayland Rd South or Stockbridge Gardens or Paradise Road or others. Yes, there are more but none have the nautical connection I am looking for. Steeple Point stretches into the sea. I knew this place before I was old enough to know I knew it.

And there’s more. If the Earth were flat and your eye a perfect instrument, you could stand on Steeple Point, look due west, and see, first of all, very slightly to the north, Cape Clear Island and Fastnet Rock and then, on the southern tip of Ireland, Mizen Head , followed by no land at all until Quirpon Island with L’Anse aux Meadows beyond on the very northern tip of Newfoundland some 1,900 nautical miles away. All between is sea and ocean, wide horizons swept by wind and weather,



I will still talk about the boat, and I still have an eye for Greek fishing boats particularly those in Crete. They will feature, as will the past, especially the trading ketches of North Cornwall and the Bristol Channel. But there will also be occasional notes about what is going on around me as a I age in an increasingly complex world. Like it or not, all our horizons are changing. We need to recognise those changes.

The Voyage of the Storm Petrel

I am writing this on Blue Mistress. It’s 1230 on Saturday. There is a constant flow of traffic across Laire Bridge half a mile upstream, and, earlier, someone decided to try out his hovercraft.These must be the noisiest vessels ever invented.
It’s overcast and slightly cold and I am considering lighting the stove. Today is the top of the spring tides and the tide is going down fast. Low tide is around 1430. The mud along the rivers edge is rapidly increasing. Boats nearby are aground. We should have just enough water to float.
There is little wind for sailing. I have cleaned up below and have some jobs on deck to do later. In the meantime, I prefer to write.
– – – –
Three years ago I had an email from a Clarissa Vincent commenting on the blog site. I was pleased  she had contacted me because she owned a Folkdancer and had noticed the reference to a Folkboat derivative. Well, at the time, I barely knew what a Folksong was, let alone a Folkdancer (which was why I had set up the blog in the first place). So I appreciated the photograph and learnt about Folkdancers . Clarissa’s boat was called Storm Petrel, which I thought was a great name for a boat.
She also suggested that I start a Folksong Association. Now, it so happens that the last thing I want to do is to start a formal group in anything, but particularly where my boat is concerned. Call me stand-offish if you like, but organising clubs is no longer my scene. People run away to sea to avoid that sort of thing. So, having appreciated Clarissa’s comments, I felt that, if she was intent on forming clubs, then we were going in different directions. That is how blogs go. Some contacts are single comments, some continue for a while, and others result in genuine appreciation and a long-term relationship. But you are aware of where the contacts come from and why – or you think you are . . .
A couple of weeks ago, Bill’s log – (yes, I know), mentioned a book written by the same Clarissa Vincent – The Voyage of Storm Petrel, Britain to Senegal Alone in a Boat. Bill wrote a good review. You can read his account on the link above. I remembered Clarissa’s comments and enthusiasm about Storm Petrel. I bought the book and have been enjoying it ever since – enjoying it and realising that I owe her an apology. Clubby?? Certainly not. I got it wrong, Clarissa. I’m sorry.
– – –
I’ve lit the stove. We have about .5 metre beneath the keel. The tide is slackening but still dropping.
I want to tell you why I like this book.
Between 2002 and 2004, Storm Petrel made a voyage that began in Bristol to sail far enough south to enjoy a climate warm enough for a gecko. Clarissa found her geckos in Portugal and she eventually reached Dakar taking in Spain, Portugal etc. on the way.  When she contacted me in 2006, this was all behind her. I knew nothing of it and was too ‘slow’ to find out.
Somebody once said that everyone has one novel inside them. We all have one great voyage inside us too. A few – very few, have the ken to carry it out. By ‘voyage’ I don’t mean a shiny cruise, I mean a journey. Some people become hooked on travel and are always on the move, but nine times out of ten, just one journey stands out. It has nothing to do with where they go, it is all about the getting there.
Not surprisingly I leap at books that feature boats similar in size to Blue Mistress because I’m interested in what other people do and whether I can use it on the boat. I learnt some technical stuff from this one, but I learnt even more about the people Clarissa met and the places she visited and her insight from the experience. I particularly sympathise with her contrasting Peniche and Castrais in Portugal. I have been to neither but would recognise the difference between the working town and the tourist resort – and which was the more interesting for the single-hander.
Also, her description of the traditional Portuguese working craft. Her comment: “The expression of diverse and extreme forms was largely eradicated from our over-rational and technologically dominated lives.” (p.155) sounds far more formal here than it does in the book but it chimes perfectly with the ‘For love of a boat’ series in this blog.
More than this, in her candour, she has brought out that aspect of single-handed sailing which should be translated as ‘a journey made single-handed’. Yes, there’s the boat and the sea and all the things that have to be joined up to make them work together – sails and rope and navigation and engines and sleep and weather and ports and so on, but amongst all this is a person growing.
“The gecko hunter must have solitude and a delicate process of organisation and problem solving went on in my thoughts whenever I strolled alone. The winding ways of my gecko hunting and sailing were a carefully trodden path, a solitary fairy path of balance between letting go of and holding on to the world. Selfish? – completely. Content? – deeply.” (p. 167)
Clarissa has written the music of her journey. If you listen to the words, you will learn from her book. Mendelsohn wrote that ‘music cannot be expressed in words, not because it is vague  but because it is more precise for words’. Many try, few succeed. This book gets closer than most. That the author plays both saxophone and guitar is no surprise.
In the years since she has moved on – a neglected yacht rescued and turned into a great houseboat . . . Storm Petrel sold, a different sort of trip hinted at. But my guess is that this voyage will always remain special. I wish her well.
– – –
The tide’s turned, we didn’t touch bottom.
– – –
“. . . sailing away in search of paradise will not make one happy and content if one is not already happy and content.” Clarissa Vincent 2003.

On being left-handed

On being left-handed

Have you ever been shown how to tie a knot by a right-handed person? “The end goes round this, over that, round again and under the other.OK? . . . Now you do it.”  Good teaching, useful learning – if you’re right-handed.

But it can be a real trial if you’re left-handed. A left-hander will pick up the rope and find that what s/he sees in front of him/her is different from the demonstration. It’s not necessarily the fault of the teacher, from the start it just doesn’t “look right”. S/he has to think it through again. Sometimes this takes time and the student appears slow, sometimes not.

I have spent most of my life bemused by the gap between how I am told I should be doing this or that task and how I end up doing it. I have driven several severely right-handed teachers wild with frustration. Older now and hopefully a little wiser, I am still left-handed and that gap between theory and action has not diminished.

In fact, I have come to enjoy it. Within what I always think of as a deceptively slow approach, life neither follows a straight line nor flashes by in black and white. There is an opportunity to stand back and observe. And there is an opportunity to be creative.

On the boat, it is not the left or right hand that is so important, it is the wish to observe, and, from that, the desire to create.



Ceres – a suitable resting place

On 24th November 1936, Ceres went down in Bideford Bay.

“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 too 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.


“. . . lies at the bottom of Bideford Bay, somewhere off Baggy Point.”

On 12th March 2011, 74 years and 108 days after she went down, we took a walk on Baggy Point.

The day was hazy with rain forecast for the afternoon.  The air was warm for March – the sea calm, Lundy Island almost lost in the haze.

There is a green navigation buoy off the Point, guiding ships away from the rocks that mark this coast.

I wondered if it was there the day Ceres went down.

(Which reminds me, the original charts still exist. I will check and let you know.)

You have to get close to the Point and then start to climb down before you discover just how spectacular it is.

The sea and the weather whittle away at this coast hour on hour, day on day, year on year, century on century.

The climbers on the rock face are lost in the sculpture.


This is no place to be late at night in a westerly gale.

“. . . Because of the weather we intended to go in over the Bar for the night as it was too rough to venture on to Bude.”

It is approximately 12 nautical miles across Bideford Bay from Baggy Point to Hartland Point and another 12 nautical miles or so down an inhospitable, west-facing coast to the difficult entrance to Bude Haven.

Better to make for shelter inside Bideford Bar and accept the twelve nautical miles from there back to Hartland Point as a cost worth bearing.

In noting the features of navigating the Bristol Channel  the Cruising Almanac states:

“There are races off many headlands in particular Hartland Point and Bull Point on the S side and St Gowans Head, Oxwich Point and Mumbles Head on the N, together with dangerous races, the Hen and Chickens and White Horses off the NW and NE of Lundy and also S of Lundy. Overfalls are widespread, sometimes in mid-channel and a short, steep sea sets up quickly with wind against tide . . .”


There are two footpaths from Baggy Point to Croyde.

The lower one gives a perfect view of the Bay across to Bideford Bar.

The Cruising Almanac again: ” Bideford Bar has about 1m (at LAT – the lowest depth at the lowest of low spring tides). Bar and sands are continuously shifting and buoys may be moved to allow for this. It is dangerous if a heavy ground swell is running. Oc Ldg Lts are moved to suit the fairway. If a sea is running on the bar a good rise of tide should be waited. Under bad conditions the entrance may be difficult and dangerous . . . The tide may be awaited in Clovelly Bay with winds S of W. . . 

“Approach: In thick weather make Downend or Westward Ho! and thence shape a course for Bideford Fairway RWVS with sph topmark Fl.10s NNW of Rock Nose, Westward Ho! . . .”

So there it is: in the middle of the thin line of sunlit water across the Bay, the Bideford Fairway buoy can be faintly seen . . .

. . . and somewhere beneath this Bay lies Ceres.


The others walk on and I sit for a while . . .

forget the photographs, forget the newspaper cuttings, forget the family stories, this is here and now.

She’s been down there for nearly 75 years . . .

. . . . and I am left wondering how the loss of a sailing vessel so long ago can be so deeply moving to someone who wasn’t even born then.

What was it about those ships?


But time it comes to ships and men when sailing days are past,

Even such as hail from Devon where they mostly build to last,

And her seams began to open and the Severn tide came through

And the water kept on gaining spite of all that they could do.

They did their best to beach her but they couldn’t do no more

And she foundered at the finish there in sight of Appledore.

And her bones’ll never flicker blue on any ‘longshore fire,

For she’ll lie there and she’ll moulder as an old ship might desire

And hear the vessels passing by, and dream about the past,

And the great old times in Devon where they built her once to last.

from The Ketch “Ceres” 1811 – 1936 by C.Fox Smith

Ceres – between trips

Taking advantage of low tide.

Enjoy the detail in this photograph – rudder, blocks, hobble boat, people on beach, men working.

“Mr Health and Mr Safety, all of these children gained from the experience.”

The definition is not so good in the photo, but the sentiment is.


From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

For the previous set herehere and here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

Ceres offloading

The turn-around had to be quick and slick between tides . . .

. . . with an eye on the weather


Horses worked better then vehicles on the beach, but . . .


. . . here, on the lower wharf in Bude Canal Basin, the trains are preparing to take over.


From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

For the previous set here and here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

    Ceres at anchor

    These photographs were taken at full tide.

    A few hours later, she would be high and dry on the sand.

    The hobble boat taking a line to the mooring post





    From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

    For the previous set here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

    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.