What’s it for?

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. “ Rear-Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.

In my last post, I talked about the boat as a space for writing. Of course, that’s not what ships are built for but it’s now part of how I use her when I’m not sailing or ‘messing about . . .’ It’s an added asset.

For many people, including me, a sailing vessel is an object of sentiment.  I cannot look at a boat without the heart lifting to a jumble of special moments – the moment the mooring drops, the lift of the bow to a swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water. However, there is a reason to be cautious, a reason to stand back and ponder.

Deep in this computer is a file with a detailed record of my expenditure for each of the ten years since I bought ‘Blue Mistress’ all of it . . . The sum is high and it’s still rising! The bottom line overshadows the sentiment. This does not mean I should sell her, but it does mean I should make absolutely the most of her I possibly can.

Plenty of others have thought the same. I have been studying the sailing vessels – the smacks, the ketches and schooners which used to trade into Bude in North Cornwall. I will discuss why I am doing this in a later post but, in comparing then and now, I have been noting attitudes from those days, (highlighted by authors I rate highly), that seem useful for today. Remember, these were trading vessel,  nevertheless:

“(A vessel) was not usually an object of sentiment to a degree that influenced the amount of money spent on her. She was a capital asset, used to earn a number of people’s livings and her success and that of the men who operated her and sailed her was judged not in terms of wonderful speed or seaworthiness, skillful seamanship or hard sailing, but in terms of money earned, first and foremost. She was not an object of romance but of everyday utility.”1

I wonder how that fits with our current thinking. The modern racing yacht would certainly fit the ‘utility’ description, whether a Vendee Globe yacht or an America’s Cup yacht. Used briefly for its build-function – then what? Some have a greater future, some a lesser one. The ‘romance’ in the desire to keep them sailing is tempered by hard fact. Some are successful. For example, below, an America’s Cup trial trial yacht earns its keep in Auckland.imag0570aHowever, older vessels may spend time idle, like ‘British Steel’ – a famous yacht of its time, waiting in Dartmouth. Nevertheless, if a reason can be found, then there’s a will to  keep them sailing.

A grand example of this is  the important and exciting project to bring a much older vessel back to life, ‘Rhoda Mary’. Once again, the success of this will be measured more than in terms of ‘wonderful speed and seaworthiness, skillful seamanship and hard sailing’, which will undoubtedly be there, more than in the romance of the idea, but in careful financial input and the promise of a sound financial future geared towards the young people of Cornwall and youngsters from well beyond its borders.

On gear:

“When gear grows old, they had always rather make shift than get new, and being seaman, they have usually the handiness to do it. How often one is told, on remarking that a rope, or a strake, or a spar ought to be replaced, ‘Ah, let it bide, let it break. ‘Tis different wi’ the likes o’us from what ‘tis with gentleman’s boats. When they sees summat be wore, or a rope’s lost its nature, they orders a new ‘un, but the likes o’us us lets it bide, till summat carries away, an’ then us knows ‘tis done for, an’ nowt more to say about it.’”2

I don’t tend to wait until gear breaks but I have learned over the years that most gear lasts a lot longer than my previous inexperience suggested.

On longevity:

“. . . schooners on the whole, if they survived the hazards of sea and shore, were very durable products. By the 1920s, the survivors had earned their initial investment many times over. The owners found themselves in possession of obsolete capital equipment which with expert management still had marginal earning potential. The owners, or some of them, profited several times over from the vessels’ continued operation. Shareholders who were chandlers, sail-makers, shipbuilders, provision merchants, brokers, all benefited in two or more ways from their interest and the connection with the vessel it gave them. Moreover, as long as freight rates covered the out-of-pocket expenses of operation, owners of old vessels did better by operating their vessels for what they could bring in rather than by laying-up and scrapping them. Old vessels were scrapped only when the discounted present value they could be reasonably expected to earn minus their out-of-pocket costs from continued operation represented less than the anticipated earnings of the alternative investment of capital acquired by the sale of the vessel at scrap value. Old wooden ships had a very low scrap value.”3

Well, there is little probably even less scrap value in my grp boat. There may be some resale value, but the market is large. So, not a financial asset then – but an asset nevertheless, and on several fronts  . . . an asset in which to sail alone, to spend time with family and friends, to experience and to learn about boats and harbours and the sea, to write in and about, and, above all, to enjoy . . . the mooring dropping, the lift of the bow to the swell, the mainsail filling to the wind, the slope of the deck, the momentum through the water . . .

1 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches, Conway Maritime Press 1974, p.32
2 W.J. Slade and Basil Greenhill, Westcountry Coasting Ketches,  Conway Maritime Press 1974,  p.20
3 Basil Greenhill, Merchant Schooners, Conway Maritime Press 1988, p.256
Images by Bill Whateley

Somewhere to write

I have been reading ‘A Space to Write’, a series of illustrated interviews with Cornish writers by Amanda Harris, with photography by Steve Tanner and a forward by Michael Morpurgo, (published by KEAP, the Kernow Education Arts Project). Of course, it made me consider the room I am in now, with its books, souvenirs and references to Steeple Point, I thought it would be a good place to restart this blog. However, there is another place. If my space at home is a place where everything is gathered round, then the space on the boat is free for inspiration.

I am concerned that overstating the case may kill the process. How often I have become jammed by too much thought, too much research. The trick has been to get something into written form before ‘killing it with too much love’. So I don’t want to spoil my boat space by talking directly about why it inspires me. Maybe it will become obvious if I describe the space.

To give you a contrast, we recently chartered a yacht in the Southern Ionian. Three couples, three double cabins, a large saloon, and a galley with double sink, two burner hob, oven and a microwave. As far as accommodation was concerned, if this had been on land it would be called a chalet. There was plenty of space to share, the sailing was perfect. We had a great holiday, returned happy – all still speaking to one other.

The space on my boat is very different. For a start, there is no headroom. I am 5ft 8in, I have to bend to stand. There is a trick to putting on trousers and zipping them up, even more so to putting heavy weather gear on.

When I bought the boat, ten years ago, I spent the first six or seven years developing it the way I wanted to sail it – as a single-hander, (left-handed to boot!). There was no question of a ‘writing mode’ in those days. This has evolved.

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Below deck, it was important for me to retain a sense on space. I used the quarter berths and lockers under the side berths for stowage, everything packed in named waterproof bags – easy to access. I have built a small bookcase that fits into the entrance of the port quarter berth. This is be secured with a lanyard and can be pulled forward when I want to get behind it. The fore cabin can be closed off with a white canvas ‘curtain’.

The galley stows beneath a hinge locker lid. I inherited a gimballed paraffin stove but removed it to make more space – first in favour of a JetBoil stove which I liked very much. Unfortunately, I irreparably damaged it one fateful day, dismantling it in a lumpy sea. I currently use a standard ‘picnic’ gas stove which works well, can be used instantly, the kettle boils quickly – (very important. I drink a lot of coffee and tea), and is small enough to have all the ingredients stowed with it (coffee, tea, dare I say “biscuits”) in the galley locker.

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To create the impression of space, the bulkheads and exposed surfaces were painted white, the floor a light grey.  Varnish was left where varnish does.  Because there had been a lot of leakage through deck fittings over the years, the ceiling was in a terrible state and we lined it with fabric which both insulates and reduces condensation – cosy’s not the word but it’s comfortable!

A removable chart table was fitted crossways over the starboard berth. Charts are slung below the table. There is enough space between it and the port berth to move around. It can be dismantled and stowed forward when the starboard berth is in use.

Initially, when writing at the table, I sat askew. The cushions are relatively thick – I am told the material is used in the Princess yachts – (I can be sold almost anything). One day I was worrying about working with tools on deck and wondered whether I could run to some sort of separate worktop that could take scrapes and knocks. In my shed at home was an old shelf which might do, and could it do more?

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Sanded, varnished, with pads either end (for stability and to protect various surfaces), and two eyes for lanyards when used on deck, I now have:

  • a small worktop which will take a simple vice.
  • a thwart for the cockpit
  • when on a mooring or pontoon, an extra worktop for the galley, and
  • a seat for sitting at the chart table – either facing forward or, more usually, facing aft, with a simple cushion lashed to it.

Facing aft, the view is out through the companion way, I can look port and starboard through the windows.

So, head just clearing the ceiling, iPad, paper and pencil, coffee to hand . . .

The view varying with wind and tide . . .

The music of a vessel on the water . . .

A short passage along the Jurassic Coast in images – day one

On Wednesday,  I sailed from Teignmouth towards Lyme Regis on a planned four-day visit along the Jurassic Coast. The object was to view the coast from the sea – to see red cliffs, white cliffs, yellow cliffs, grey cliffs, and the small communities in between – to try and photograph them regardless of the weather.

(Click on image for slide show)

To be continued . . .

Images by Bill Whateley

The windvane – four short clips

The windvane on Blue Mistress was damaged at the end of last year. A small yacht misjudged leaving the visitors’ pontoon in Dartmouth and ran onto it – “altering the shape” of it. This year I have been watching it closely in different conditions to check there has been no lasting damage. I took these short clips off Teignmouth earlier this month.

The wind was gusting strongly – (note the untidy lines), and I thought I’d record the effect of the gusts on the self-steering gear. In the second clip, the boat is heading higher than I wanted. In the third clip,  I have adjusted the windvane to correct direction. A stronger gust then brings the boat up into the wind. In the fourth clip, I have adjusted the sails slightly. This works.

 Video clips by Bill Whateley

A boat in Teignmouth

I have been getting used to new surroundings – new for Blue Mistress that is. No longer the city of Plymouth, but the town of Teignmouth – two ports, different aspects.

We too have wharves . . .

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and buildings along the water’s edge . . .

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and good pubs.

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The entrance is interesting with shifting sandbanks meaning work for the dredger . . .

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The sailing is less crowded . . .

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Teignmouth is not only a holiday resort but a working port . . .

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Vessels negotiate an awkward entrance.

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Once in, their presence “alters the shape” of the town.

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They continue the long tradition with this as with every other port – looking outwards, trading with other ports, both home, as with Celtic Ambassador, and abroad . . .

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I am going to enjoy sailing from here.

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(Images by Bill Whateley)

 

 

An Evolution

The old . . .

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The new . . .

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The very new . . .

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Note the bystanders on the pontoon.

These vessels will sail for New York on Monday, 2nd May 2016 – no passengers.

(Images by Bill Whateley)

From Plymouth to Teignmouth – a new mooring

Blue Mistress and I left Plymouth early on Saturday morning.

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The wind was favourable but the tide was still ebbing at the Great Mew Stone . . .

P1080026. . . and would be against us until Bolt Head, where the tide would turn but the wind would begin to head us. Both wind and sea rose at Start Point and pushed us further out sea before we tacked back towards Dartmouth, arriving just over nine hours after leaving Plymouth.

Overnight in Kingswear, looking across to Dartmouth, then the following morning . . .

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. . . with little wind, and joined by my son, we motor-sailed to Teignmouth, an amiable passage, arriving around 1400.

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Monday morning, we have a swing mooring – and a fresh start.

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(Images by Bill Whateley)

A short passage to Dartmouth

7 – A brief moment on the passage home

I had plenty of time to reflect on single-handed sailing during the week away. I passed many yachts, some with large sociable crews, more with large racing crews. They are the norm. So what about single-handed? Is it about sailing from A to B with no crew or is it something else – sailing for the sake of it, a little of which can be illustrated on camera but most of which remains in the mind of the sailor? The following records a few moments on the passage back from Dartmouth to Plymouth on that Friday evening.


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