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.

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)


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.

Seb and Maya

Back in the fifties, my dad bought an LP. He played it a lot – Uffa Sings.

As a young boy, I remember being fascinated by Uffa’s introduction to one of the sea shanties:

“‘A Roving’ – that’s a rollicking song but you can only sing about the first three verses of that because this is a song the sailors sung at sea and they weren’t always virtuous in their words.”

How I longed to hear the fourth verse!

I was reminded of this while watching Seb’s clips on You Tube.

Earlier in the year, Seb and I met at Newbury train station. He bought Blue Mistress’ old spray hood which is now attached to Maya somewhere in the Mediterranean.

I mentioned Seb at the start of his voyage. He is on a great adventure that he should one day look back on with pride. The lessons learnt will be there for ever.

He is sharing those lessons with us via short video clips from his phone. Perhaps, one of those lessons should be that because he is ‘less than virtuous in his words’, what works at sea doesn’t necessarily work for those us on land, sitting on our comfortable chairs gazing at glasses screens. (To be fair he has toned it down as time has gone on).

Here is the dilemma in the use of language. Is he recording events for himself and a small group of friends, in which case he has the right to say what he likes – (always remembering it’s difficult to put anything on media without someone misunderstanding you –  it’s totally unrealistic to think that no one else will see it – and better your friends see it first), or for a wider group – us.

I am sure we can all handle the language individually, but I would have avoided watching the clips with my mother if she were still with us – and I am certain my children would prefer to watch with me out of the room.

All the above because I, for one, am fascinated by these clips, firstly because Seb is sailing a boat like mine, secondly because he is doing something I’ve always wanted to do, and thirdly because he has found a way of recording the voyage with an intense immediacy. If he takes care in putting it all together it will be a valuable resource to him in future.

Here is Maya rounding Cabo Vincente:

You can find the rest of his clips by searching Sebinasia on You Tube.

Be(a)ware and enjoy

When all is said and done,  I’m home here talking about it, Seb’s out there doing it.

Wherever they go, I wish him and Maya fair winds  – (whenever they blow).