From Steeple Point – coincidence

This afternoon I finished reading John Howlett’s book – ‘ Mostly About Boats’.

In the last chapter, acknowledging the experience at his disposal – (a lifetime sailing and having designed a number of his own boats), he describes the boat that he would now build for himself. One that he could sail single-handed if need be.

Remember, he was writing in 1956, when he was in his sixties.

He gives a sail plan:

I looked at the plan and thought, *Surely, I’ve seen a boat with a sail plan like that recently. . .”

From Steeple Point – character and individuality

I found John Howlett’s book in my favourite second-hand bookshop – Books by the Sea in Bude.

‘Mostly About Boats’ could have been the title of this blog.

Three pages in: “We are so controlled and directed and generally bedevilled from the cradle to the grave, that any activity engendering personal initiative and self-reliance – qualities in serious danger of extinction, is surely laudable in itself . . .”

I’m beginning to like this man.

Talking of a trip to Flushing and the Scheldt, “. . . we were so fortunate as to see a Schevingen Bom. Nearly as broad as she was long and completely rectangular, save that the angles were rounded off, she was immensely strong, and was built to run in anywhere on the sands, where she was loaded or unloaded from carts at low water. Like so many things of character and individuality, they are now extinct.

. . . and about cruising: “Escapism? Well, that is an easy taunt to throw at those who ignore the values of the herd; but if we seek contentment and, perhaps, some enlightenment on those same values, here is a road for those who will take it.”

. . . and then a sentence that resonates: “The flood of man’s ingenuity has overwhelmed his power to create beauty.”

I looked at the short biography of the author on the cover – Mr Howlett, the Editor of the Cruising Association Bulletin, who calls his book a “hydrobiograpy” . . .

The date of publication? – 1956.

He must have been more or less the same age as I am now.

What would he think of 2010?

For love of a boat – Kalkan 2010

The purpose of this series is to observe the small, traditional working boats that are still out there.

And to do so without being too sentimental – times change – the world moves on.  Most of the boats I am looking at will have disappeared within a generation.

However,  it’s not just the boats that are disappearing.  There is a human element to this.

Local skills that have evolved over many lifetimes are being lost in favour of shorter-term technical skills designed to serve a blander, more uniform world – one that demands quicker and quicker solutions. I am not knocking  technical skills – I am using their product as a write.  However, the fact is that within a remarkably short time (years? no . . . months) this laptop will have been superceded by a more technically advanced unit. I will never really get to grips with this one because it will not last long enough for me to master it. It’s the speed (and, often, shallowness) of this continuous innovation and change that is the problem.

For each one of us, trying to keep up with change puts a permanent pressure on the deeper human values that bind individuals, families and communities. We have to continually adjust. The pressure will always be there. It’s the failure to acknowledge it that’s the mistake.


For example, this boat moored in the harbour of Kalkan.

How many men did it take to build it – one, two? How many men fish from it – three? How many people will it feed? Not many.

It has a small engine, but the thole pin positions would indicate a time before the engine . . .

Four nets are ready to set . . .

In the early evening, two men come out to lay the nets – one to work it, one to man the oars . . .

Early the following morning, they come back to bring raise them again, bringing an extra crew member . . .

Now there is now one man to raise the net, one to clear and stow it, one to steady the boat with the oars . . .


I hope these men will forgive my intrusion on their work, but their’s is part of a story that runs deeper than my images show. Like many people, they live in an area where the local skills to build a boat, to work with it and to make a living for their family is becoming less viable.

Tourism is now sweeping along this coast, and with it an infrastructure of villas, apartments and restaurants plus the inevitable increase in living costs. Local craft is caught up in the need to satisfy a universal demand.

I appreciate the economic benefits of tourism. For many, it is a good thing. A lifestyle becomes affordable that was never there before. But deeper down there is surely a change of identity as local attitudes are reshaped to cope with the new commercial reality.

As far as fishing is concerned,  the tourist industry needs all the fish it can get to cater for the fickle tastes of  the visitors – but on such a scale that the viability of the smaller boat is compromised.

Now bigger boats with their enormous nets moor snugly in the same harbour – travelling further, catching more fish, more often.

This is a worldwide phenomenon – the number of places where small scale fishing is still viable is decreasing, and with it the boats and the skills of the boat-builders. It is not necessarily that people find it a dissatisfying occupation, it is because it is more and more difficult to make a living from it.

I wonder if the young man on the tiller will be available next year to help the gentleman (his grandfather?) . . . or will he like so many others be swallowed into the tourist industry?

If I’m sentimental, it’s because the character of those that built and worked them are reflected in their boats – together with the coast they serve. I remember admiring such men when I was a child. Perhaps they still exist here. They are certainly less in evidence. As I say, priorities have changed now and with them a whole set of attitudes.

The friendliness, hospitality and sheer goodwill of those we met in the Kalkan were outstanding. We really enjoyed our time there as we have in so many parts of the Mediterranean and Aegean.

I wish these men in their fine boat good fishing.


For the origins and full set of images in this series, here.

For love of a boat – St Ives ‘Jumbo’

Following my ‘love of a boat’ post on 25th February, I want to speak up again for a project that I have only recently become aware of but one that so obviously meets the spirit of this series that I cannot believe it has taken me so long to find out about it.

We have spent this weekend in St Ives.

I had hoped to see the Jumbo, a replica of the smallest class of St Ives fishing lugger – (details of the project can be found here).

No chance – but I made up with it in viewing the many old photographs of the original boats available around the town.

Apart for appreciating the boat as a boat, my interest was sparked by a press release dated November 2007.

An extract from it reads:

“Our aim is to establish a racing class of these boats at St.Ives in order to regenerate a waterfront community in decline. How much more effective it would be if, in addition, these boats could be eventually used for the purpose for which they were designed whilst providing a seasonal income for a couple of individuals!

Clearly, there may come a time when, in addition to any green, carbon neutral credentials, a sail-operated fishery could become commercially viable or at least a natural way of conserving resources (as demonstrated by the Falmouth oyster fishery – much celebrated as the last in the world to be worked under sail).

In the meantime the skills required need to be developed. There’s a growing recognition that this approach would at least address some serious issues; the sustainability of fish stocks, the rising cost of fuel, the dependence on imported goods and the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas to name a few.

And if successful, the model could be readily repeated elsewhere.

Only a few months ago such a proposal would have been dismissed as romantic fantasy. So far however, my inquiries have been met with a degree of excitement.”

This is a brave start and I am sure that more than a few eyebrows have been raised.

However the project has powerful backing and a great deal of goodwill, to which I am happy to add my own small cupful.

I invite you to explore their well-managed site and appreciate the enterprise.

For the origins and full set of images in this series, here

For love of a boat – a new link

I have added Francois Vivier’s site to the “For love of a boat” links.

His small boat designs are an answer to the questions behind these posts.

Yes, there are people still designing and building ‘traditional’ boats .

In fact, there are a growing number of them finding ways and means to continue the evolutionary process and put traditional designs into a modern setting.

My thanks to Sjogin’s owner for pointing to Monsieur Vivier.

For the origins and full set of images in this series, here.

For love of a boat – reflection

Following on from yesterday’s post . . .

. . . . . . . . . . .  For the origins and full set of images in this series, here

“There’s not much sail in that collection” – Ed.

No, there’s not. There’s something else I’m  . . .

“A revival of working boats, locally-built, local materials, ‘close-to-the-sea’, preferably under sail? – Sounds pretty specialist, limitist, elitist to me.” – Ed.

No, listen, I’ve been trying to . . .

“And some of those boats look pretty badly kept. If their owners don’t look after them, why should we care?” – Ed

Listen, will you? Just listen!

I have been recording the boats for lots of reasons – (not the least being that I enjoy doing it).

For me, they reflect two things – the people who built them and the places where they were built.

When I was young, there was a song we used to sing along to. It had a verse:

“And they were all built out of ticky-tacky and they were all built just the same.”

Well, there’s plenty of ticky-tacky still around, and not only are things being built the same we are now being ‘encouraged’ to think the same.

It’s not so much about tradition, or being tied to certain materials, or blessed with certain skills (although that all comes into it).

It’s about people who set out to build boats that achieve beauty through a combination of their function, their structure and the knowledge, attitudes and skills that went into their construction.

No, they are not necessarily classical, nor tidy, nor showy, they merely reflect the lives of those immediately around them – about as far from ticky-tackiness and sameness as you can get.

That’s my take on it, anyway.

“Oh, really. What’s for tea?” – Ed.

For love of a boat – The St Ives Jumbo Association

I have added a link to the St Ives Jumbo Association.

How I missed the Boats in the Bay events I don’t know – (head down – working I should think).

Anyway, this must satisfy just about every aspect of boats that the “Love of a boat” column represents:

  • A revival of working boats,
  • ‘Locally-built’, local materials,
  • ‘Close-to-the-sea’,
  • Preferably under sail,
  • And Cornish to round it off.

Fair winds to them.

(Sit back and enjoy Alban Roinard’s video)

We shall be in St Ives next month for a weekend. I hope to follow this up with a photo at least.

For the origins and full set of images in this series, here