5/7: A touch obsessed . . .

from John: Lovely boats Bill, they all seem to be double enders, is that cos they are the most common or are you touch obsessed?”

The answer is yes and no – yes, I am a touch obsessed, but not about canoe sterns. As you say, canoe sterns are common to these boats.

My ‘obsession’, such that it is, is for the individual boat builders, the fisherman and all those who work these boats.

I became fascinated by small boat design when I read Edgar March’s book ‘Inshore Craft of Britain in the days of sail and oar’, published in 1970.

“. . . before the days of marine engines, scores of picturesquely-named craft, worked out of tiny harbours and off open beaches around the coasts of Britain.” It was the differences in the boats that I found so interesting.

For example, these were all designed to be fishing boats. Why did this one evolve like this?

(Click image to enlarge)

. . . .when, only 150 miles east as the crow flies, this one evolved like this?

. . .  and some 300 miles north this one like this?

Obviously, the differences came about to suit the the needs of the people who worked them. Therefore the design of working boats tells us  a great deal about the coasts they are found in and the  knowledge, skills and attitudes of the people who live there.

But local boat design is disappearing. Fishing is being discouraged, fewer people work in the industry, boat production has moved to the factories. There is no a need for the local boat-builders who were found all along the coasts in the days Edgar March was describing. There are fewer and fewer true examples of local working boats in the UK.

Similarly in Crete and mainland Greece. The local fishing boats are disappearing.  Apparently, the average working life of these wooden fishing boats is 26 years. They come, they go – they are no longer replaced. Tourism is taking over (and, yes, I am obviously part of that).

The real tragedy is the loss of the local knowledge behind the boats. If the boats are no longer needed in this form, certainly the knowledge, skills and attitudes behind them are. The local population, not the tourist, lies at the heart of  a coastal community. However important tourism may be  for a local economy, it’s influence is negative if it takes away the character of the area it occupies.


John, that’s a long way for canoe sterns. I will come back to them, I promise.

There are at least two more in the short series of fishing boats in Crete.

For Love of a Boat.

3/7: Eight fishing boats – no longer fishing

These are beautiful boats. If I  lived in the Mediterranean I would be proud to own one. But, as I mentioned before, there is something missing.

They were surely built for fishing. Where’s all the fishing gear?

(Click image to enlarge)

It isn’t that they don’t give pleasure to their owners – or to those of us looking on. What is missing is the original purpose – the drive that created them in the first place.

Perhaps they have been saved the fate mentioned in my last post, but I can’t help thinking that Captain George would have thought the same thing.

In the For Love of a Boat series.

2/7: Nine bow posts

I don’t know the Greek for bow post.

They are very distinctive to the small inshore boats in Crete and throughout Greece.

(Click image to enlarge)

“Greek island fishing boats destroyed”.  The website is Greek Island Travel and there is an understandable slant  towards preserving these boats for people to enjoy their holidays in Greece. OK, if that what it takes. But these are essentially work boats.

I have plenty of images of boats that are no longer used for fishing, many of them fine-looking craft in their own right.

But it is the fishermen himself that gives life to his boat – gives it its unique character.  Lose the fisherman, you lose the character.

I will try and demonstrate this in later posts.

in the For Love of  a Boat series.

1/7: Four tillers

This is a continuation of the For Love of a Boat series.

From my last post, you can see I have been thinking about Crete.

Here – and in a number of posts to come (I don’t know how many yet), I am putting together groups of ‘boat pictures’ taken in Crete over the past ten years.

Time goes on. Political, economic and social pressures mean that some (many?) boats will end up like this:

This boat happened to be in Crete, but there are boats like this all over the world. They become neglected, then irreparable – and then they disappear. Whatever the reasons for it – and there are reasons aplenty, most of us would prefer to see boats maintained and cared for. There follows a record of some of these :


Four tillers (click on an image to enlarge it)


Thank you

We went to Crete at the end of May. We have been there several times, We like it a lot – the island, the people, the food, the climate.

We go with friends and we walk – on the rather relaxed principle that to get to know a place you walk in it rather than drive over it.

We linger – enjoying the stony paths, the smell of herbs in the air, the depth of the gorges, the occasional eagle (and the vultures), the warmth of the sea at the end of the day.

One of us lingers a lot around quays and harbours and fishing boats.

We usually find a taverna at certain points in the day. We talk about this and that.

This year we did it all  . . .

except . . .

in the second week, a broken ankle changed the routine.

And something kicked in that most people only experience occasionally – the kindness of strangers.


I approve of the guidelines for the Jester Azores Challenge:

  • no regulations: skippers will be entirely responsible for the equipment they take, based on their own experience
  • only hint of bureaucracy will be the signing of a form of indemnity accepting the skipper’s full duty of care for himself, his dependants and his fellow seafarers during his participation in the JAC.

To travel on land or sea is to accept responsibility for yourself, your own safety and, if accompanied, the safety of those with you.

If you get into trouble, you may not be able to deal with it all yourself, then you turn to others for help, but that help is at their disecretion, it is not your right.


So, one morning in June, on Gramvousa Island off north west Crete, on a long descent of sometimes uneven steps, an ankle turned and, by the angle of the foot, it was obvious bones were broken.

Peggy, Chris, Mike and I looked at Peggy’s ankle, then at each other, then at the tourist boat some distance away. All with the same thoughts: what should we do immediately, how should we get her to the boat, and how were we going to get the medical help she so obviously needed?

From that moment on, people appeared:

  • French ladies who insisted Mike and I carried her ‘correctly’ – (messieurs!), and insisted on taking our gear;
  • the young French rep who made two splints out of driftwood  and carefully bandaged the ankle;
  • the boats crew who made ice packs;
  • the many fellow passengers who came to express their sympathy and talk to her;
  • Manolis, our hotel manager, who, after a phone call from the boat,organised the taxi driver;
  • the taxi driver himself, who took us to the local hospital in Kastelli and insisted on finding a wheelchair and looking for the doctor;
  • the doctor, her assistant and the nurse who examined and properly splinted the ankle;
  • the radiologist the following morning who promptly provided the x-rays that showed the extent of the injury and the need to go to the regional hospital in Chania;
  • the taxi driver who came to our aid once again and delivered us to the Accident and Emergency Department at Chania General Hospital, where the x-rays were viewed, the ankle examined, the bones manipulated gently into a better position, the ankle resplinted and more x-rays taken;
  • the orthopaedic surgeon who did all this and explained the problem.

There followed a week in hospital, including an operation to place plates and screws on the day we were supposed to fly back to the UK.

And more people:

  • the clinical nursing staff;
  • the nursing care staff who helped us when they could despite being assigned to particular patients;
  • the elderly lady in the same ward
  • the Belgian couple, she run down by a motorbike, he shocked at what had happened;
  • Stelios and Costas of the Cellar Tavern in Kastelli-Kissamos. We ate there most nights, enjoying the stunning view of the sea and the excellent food. Valuing our independence, we didn’t go on Stelios’ walking tours – perhaps it would have been sensible if we had done. However, every evening we saw those that had walked with him  and were impressed by the way they had so obviously enjoyed the experience.
  • But above all, Manolis, manager of the Galini Beach Hotel, who went far beyond the call of duty to make sure that we were managing in the hospital ok and were as happy as possible in that situation. He found a wheelchair for us, organised a car for me to drive to Chania, taxis when we needed them. Hotels are as much about the management as they are about anything else. He was superb. We will stay there again.

Greece, of which Crete is a part, has had difficult time over the past years. A lot has been said, and politics has taken its toll. The national self-interest of many countries have led to sometimes misleading comments, designed to satisfy a home audience rather than allowing a balanced view. But we were reminded of something important in the week that we were sorting out the ankle problem: the deep well of humanity in Crete – a willingness to help each other on a person-to-person level.

Throughout Europe we are buying into regulation, as if this is ‘the answer’.  The very existence of the regulatory bodies  allows them to regulate more and more. This is what they do, with the tendency to depersonalise the organisations that they are intended to monitor. It is not that regulation itself is wrong. It is that it has been overdone and, in doing so, diminished those involved.

The values they espouse are shorter-term economic ones. But where are the longer-term values of  trust, goodwill, generosity of spirit – vital ingredients in the complex range of values that drive people forward? Where will they be in ten years time?

In Crete, we felt those values in action and were lifted by them.

Thank you to all those mentioned above. We will come back.

Bude, Sunday

Bude, Sunday, cloudy skies, low tide

Beginning of the season, the RNLI out in force


The beach crew were checking their gear


The lifeboat crew were about to launch on exercise.


Elsewhere, the surf school was in full swing.


I had just been to my favourite bookshop, Books by the Sea, which was fatal. I was walking across a beach carrying two books having narrowly avoided buying a third.

The first was a good copy of Eric Hiscock’s Voyaging Under Sail, a 1977 edition of a book originally published in 1959. It is a companion to Cruising Under Sail which I bought many years ago.

Eye-brows are usually raised when I return home with more ‘boat books’. The question has even been asked, “Why buy books when you can get most of the information for free in easily digested packages via Google?” Well, maybe you can, but you don’t get the author.

Even if the technology is outdated,( and it certainly is in the chapters on electrics and photography), Eric and Susan Hiscock’s books reflect their day-to-day learning from their own experience and their continual application of other ideas that they have picked up in their travels. The knowledge, skills and attitudes reflected here are hard won,

Put glibly, their’s is on-the-job learning. Those of us who spend a lot of time book learning a) should get out more, and b), as importantly, should very carefully pick the authors we learn from. With that in mind, the Hiscock’s books should be compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to put their nose beyond the breakwater.


I was dubious about the second book, then bought it anyway – The Design of Sailing Yachts, by Pierre Gutelle.

This is technical stuff. “The author first considers the air, wind, water and wave and then goes on to the theory of aero- abnd hydro-dynamics and such topics as friction, form-drag, cavitation and viscosity. There follow chapters on the equilibrium of both transverse and longitudinal stability of sailing yachts . . .”

It is full of diagrams, graphs and formulae, a combination that I would normally run a mile to avoid. However, I made myself comfortable in my mother-in-law’s front room, ignored the football on the television and had a go. A while later, I realised I was absorbed. This was physics at a much higher level than I normally tackle, put in a way that I can understand. Extraordinary!

Sailing Blue Mistress has taken on a new dimension.

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.