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.

Two yachts, wind, tide . . . and a garden.

“Kissing will go out of fashion when the gorse ceases to bloom.”

No chance – the gorse is still looking good.

We have worked all morning and need to walk away from it. The coast path is the obvious choice – a stretch between Brixham and Dartmouth the easiest to reach. As we descend to Scabbacombe Head, a cold wind blows from north of west, sunshine intermittent.

We watch a  sloop-rigged yacht working its way up from the south towards Dartmouth. As she closes the shore, the combination of  wind and tide is taking her too far to the east of the Mew Stone – by at least a half mile. She tacks and it is immediately obvious that the strength of the tide and the direction of the wind will make the offshore tack even less beneficial. The genoa is furled, she comes about again, motoring strongly under mainsail alone.

Twenty minutes later she rounds the Mew Stone (on the left of the picture below) and lowers the mainsail in the later afternoon light. At the same time, she is joined by another yacht that completes a fast spinnaker run – with the benefit of a favourable wind and tide. She has sailed from Start Point in the background, keeping to the south of  the Skerries bank, which stretches for three miles this side of Start, parallel with her course across the bay.

Start Point is on one the great south coast headlands that the sailing ships marked as they came up-Channel –  Lizard, Start (Point), Portland (Bill) and (the Isle of) Wight, before heading through the Straights of Dover and on to the Thames Estuary or the North Sea and Baltic ports. Now, thanks to the the Traffic Separation Scheme in the Channel, it is the down-Channel traffic that marks the headlands – but, given modern navigation aids, they do so more often out of interest than necessity.

The yachts head or home, we meet two walkers keen to make the pub in Kingswear before evening, and then we drop down into one of those folds of this coastline that has generated a micro-climate of its own, a complete contrast to the scenery of a few minutes before.

This is the Coleton Fishacre garden – a tiny valley throbbing with pent-up energy – plants ready to burst into spring.

The camellias are coming into flower . . .

. . . and the tree ferns are splendid.

The steep climb takes us level with the house and the stunning rill.

But we have visited before and walk on – intent on a cream tea before the final 3/4 mile climb back to the car. As we drive home, we remember the two yachts that should now be berthed safely in their Dartmouth marina. Only one of us wishes he had been on board!

Short Story

Google captured Teignmouth entrance at low spring tide. At high tide the  sand bars are covered. Teignmouth is a working port. Several ships a week safely navigate this channel.

On 30th January, a large wave picked up the Girl Rona, a local trawler and dropped her onto the sandbank to the north of the channel. The fishing boat capsized and the five crewmen took to the water, to be rescued within half an hour by the local lifeboat. The wind was easterly and strong and remained so for the next three or four days.

The picture below was taken on 4th February. The main hatch had been opened and the catch had floated free,  to be consumed by thousands of seagulls – to the relief of the local council

The sand is constantly moving as river meets sea and the channel is continually dredged for shipping to enter and leave the port. The longer the boat lies there, the more the sand will build up around her and fill her hold.

At the first opportunity, a salvage operation must get under way.

Sunday, 5th February, the gear has been unloaded and fuel pumped out.

Lines were attached . . .

. . . and tested

The strain is taken and the boat begins to upright.

There is much discussion. Several hundred ‘experts’ watching from the shore all know how to do this better.

The afternoon wears on.  The salvage boats are in the channel. It would seem that the sand has built up between them and the trawler.

As the late afternoon sun catches the pier. . .

. . . she begins to move . . . but rolls over again.

By now the tide has ebbed and the operation is finished for the night.

The boat was finally freed the following night, “floating and stable at 0300 and back in harbour at 0430 on Tuesday morning.”.

This afternoon, there were five men on board . . . working hard. For them the story continues.

A Quiet Morning

Saturday Feb 04, 2012 UT/GMT
▲ 02:40 4.6m
▼ 08:50 2.3m
▲ 15:20 4.6m
▼ 21:20 2.1m

0600 UTC Sat 04 Feb – 0600 UTC Sun 05 Feb
Wind Variable, becoming south or southwest, 3 or 4, increasing 5 to 7, veering north later.
Sea state Moderate or rough, but slight for a time in east.
Weather Rain and drizzle for a time.
Visibility Moderate or good, becoming poor for a time.


On the road to Plymouth, a large neon sign “Heavy Weather Warning. Drive Carefully.”

OK, drive carefully – but ‘Heavy Weather Warning’? Not really. It was going to snow overnight in the east of the UK, but not here.

If we overstate every inkling of every risk, who will ever pay attention to the warning? And if we do pay attention every time to every organisation –  organisations whose very existence require that they constantly warn us how much danger we are in, aren’t on a fast track to mediocrity?


The rain started as I climbed aboard. It set in for the rest of the morning – light rain.

A morning of short jobs.

Both batteries were well down but the engine started first time – not always the case. I refilled the greaser for the stern gland. Grease travels!

The pair of oars I bought aboard needed stowage space. I am looking for a sweep for sculling but these are definitely too short for that.

Also, the chain locker is too small.  Feeding the rode back down the narrow hawspipe, I find the chain blocking the pipe and I am left with a length on deck. (Too much chain? Not enough locker). I have to go below and clear it. That works in a flat calm but it’s no fun having chain flaying around the deck in a sea while I struggle below. It also takes time to re-stow the anchor and rode; plus I want to keep the anchor off the deck. So I am trying out plastic bins of varying sizes (including a flexible laundry basket). We’ll see what works best.

I fixed two brass hooks. Everything gets stowed away at sea, but at anchor you need somewhere to hang things.

And then there was time to write.


A quiet morning – or so I thought . . .

. . . then 60 plus rowers appeared from nowhere.

An exhilarating blow today

Teignmouth (Approaches)
Sunday Jan 15, 2012 UT/GMT
▼  03:40 1.1m
▲  10:10 4.4m
▼  16:00 1.2m
▲  22:40 4.1m
50º33′.0N 3º29′.0W
Strong winds are forecast.
24 hour forecast
0600 UTC Sun 15 Jan – 0600 UTC Mon 16 Jan
Wind  Southeast 5 to 7, occasionally 4 later.
Sea state   Moderate or rough.
Weather     Occasional rain in far west, otherwise fair.
Visibility  Good, occasionally moderate.

10:30  Merle approaching Teignmouth on the top of the tide . . .


. . . an exhilarating ride through the entrance (missed it) . . .


. . . ending in a tricky turn and stern-first into her berth.


Can this be good for a car?


Exmouth and the entrance to the Exe Estuary in the distance


No takers for morning coffee


No wind yesterday . . .

No wind yesterday but a fine day to run the engine.

I removed the sail cover and attached the halyard but left the lazy jacks in place as I didn’t expect to set the sail. As the Sound opened up it, it was almost empty – two vessels in sight, one trying to set a sail. A little later he had given up.


It was also a perfect day to anchor and run out the rode. I dropped anchor around 1300 close to Jennycliff near the Withyhedge beacon.


Then time for lunch, and, as I had bought the dinghy with me, time for some photography.


There were three naval vessels at anchor. The village of Cawsand can be seen in the sunshine on the far side of Plymouth Sound – (just aft of the pulpit).


All the metal work makes Blue Mistress look positively industrial. The depth is 7.7 metres – it had dropped from 8.4 metres in the 3/4 hour I had been at anchor.


The washed-out colours of January.


This simple rig holds the course giving plenty of time to go fetch something from below. It works just as well under sail..


The tide was low and the water slack as I passed the Cattewater Wharves.


Flinterlinge, registered out of Groningen, was busy unloading.


After the race

I used this first picture on a ‘Dear George’ post the other day. I had forgotten the series I took of the Fastnet boats after they finished in Plymouth back in August.






I like the images. They say something about this race – the yachts involved, the numbers of crew,  the conditions.

Calm morning

This is the first time I’ve been able to get to the boat since Christmas. There have been at least three ferocious storms and I was anxious to see how Blue Mistress had fared – particularly the port stern line which chafed badly against the Windpilot during the Autumn.


Strong winds are forecast again, but this morning all was calm.


Blue Mistress is just over the stern of the red-sailed Cornish Shrimper.


The extra tubing on the stern line worked. All is slack on the incoming neap tide.


The boat cleans up well. The hand pump sucked dry – great. The no.2 battery was almost flat – not so great. But the engine started on the no 1 battery and I ran it for over an hour. We shall see how far it runs down next time.

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).