” Strong winds are forecast. Southwest 4 or 5 veering west 5 to 7. Slight or moderate becoming moderate or rough. Rain for a time, then showers. Good becoming moderate or poor for a time.”

I have been busy with the day job and haven’t been aboard for the past two weeks.

So, with the weather forecast in mind, I rowed out to Blue Mistress this morning and, as you do, turned to admire her and check her over from a distance.

The camera was in the bag so I drifted a while – took a couple of pictures.

Something wasn’t right but it took a few moments to see it.

The weed-covered line rope is the trot line which joins the buoys together and doesn’t take any strain.

The line of buoys are laid in line with the river current, but the tides are strong – especially the spring tides, and though the two stern lines theoretically hold the boat evenly onto the buoy, at different states of the tide cross currents and cross winds contrive to push the boats one way or another.

Logic says the line caught on the self-steering gear. I worried about this possibility when we set it up last year.  However, we stayed on the water through the winter storms  and this is the first sign of chafe.

There is plastic tubing where the lines cross the sten and its tempting to add another length mid-line. But this may make the lines cumbersome to retrieve single-handed where a certain amount of deftness and speed is called for to get at least one aft line and one fore line aboard before the current takes her.

The splicing practice will be good.


The rain set in shortly after I went aboard.

Ceres – a suitable resting place

On 24th November 1936, Ceres went down in Bideford Bay.

“The 125 years old “Ceres”, veteran of the merchant service, her course now run, lies at the bottom of Bideford Bay, somewhere off Baggy Point.

The “Ceres” sprang a leak on Tuesday night while on a voyage from South Wales to Bude, and foundered after her crew had put off in her boat and had been picked up by the Appledore lifeboat. The Captain is Mr Oswald Jeffery, a married man, whose home is in Richmond Road, Appledore, and the mate Mr Walter Ford, a married man of Irsha Street,  Appledore. They reached Appledore in the lifeboat at about 11 o’clock, and on arrival the Rev Muller offered a short prayer of thanksgiving for their safety.

Captain Jeffery said,” We left Swansea on Tuesday bound for Bude with a cargo of slag.  Because of the weather we intended to go in over the Bar for the night as it was too rough to venture on to Bude.  At 8 o’clock I went below to rest for an hour, leaving the mate in charge.  An hour later he told me there was water in the engine room. We manned the pumps. We tried to get the ship over the Bar, but the water made her roll badly, and I gave the order for the ship’s rowing boat to be launched. I fired two rockets, and we abandoned the vessel. We lay in the shelter of the “Ceres” which was sinking, and were taken onboard the lifeboat.”

Dr. Valentine stood by in case medical assistance was needed, but although wet through, neither the captain nor his mate appeared any the worse for this ordeal.

The “Ceres” was owed by a Bude firm of coal merchants, and was built in Salcombe.


“. . . lies at the bottom of Bideford Bay, somewhere off Baggy Point.”

On 12th March 2011, 74 years and 108 days after she went down, we took a walk on Baggy Point.

The day was hazy with rain forecast for the afternoon.  The air was warm for March – the sea calm, Lundy Island almost lost in the haze.

There is a green navigation buoy off the Point, guiding ships away from the rocks that mark this coast.

I wondered if it was there the day Ceres went down.

(Which reminds me, the original charts still exist. I will check and let you know.)

You have to get close to the Point and then start to climb down before you discover just how spectacular it is.

The sea and the weather whittle away at this coast hour on hour, day on day, year on year, century on century.

The climbers on the rock face are lost in the sculpture.


This is no place to be late at night in a westerly gale.

“. . . Because of the weather we intended to go in over the Bar for the night as it was too rough to venture on to Bude.”

It is approximately 12 nautical miles across Bideford Bay from Baggy Point to Hartland Point and another 12 nautical miles or so down an inhospitable, west-facing coast to the difficult entrance to Bude Haven.

Better to make for shelter inside Bideford Bar and accept the twelve nautical miles from there back to Hartland Point as a cost worth bearing.

In noting the features of navigating the Bristol Channel  the Cruising Almanac states:

“There are races off many headlands in particular Hartland Point and Bull Point on the S side and St Gowans Head, Oxwich Point and Mumbles Head on the N, together with dangerous races, the Hen and Chickens and White Horses off the NW and NE of Lundy and also S of Lundy. Overfalls are widespread, sometimes in mid-channel and a short, steep sea sets up quickly with wind against tide . . .”


There are two footpaths from Baggy Point to Croyde.

The lower one gives a perfect view of the Bay across to Bideford Bar.

The Cruising Almanac again: ” Bideford Bar has about 1m (at LAT – the lowest depth at the lowest of low spring tides). Bar and sands are continuously shifting and buoys may be moved to allow for this. It is dangerous if a heavy ground swell is running. Oc Ldg Lts are moved to suit the fairway. If a sea is running on the bar a good rise of tide should be waited. Under bad conditions the entrance may be difficult and dangerous . . . The tide may be awaited in Clovelly Bay with winds S of W. . . 

“Approach: In thick weather make Downend or Westward Ho! and thence shape a course for Bideford Fairway RWVS with sph topmark Fl.10s NNW of Rock Nose, Westward Ho! . . .”

So there it is: in the middle of the thin line of sunlit water across the Bay, the Bideford Fairway buoy can be faintly seen . . .

. . . and somewhere beneath this Bay lies Ceres.


The others walk on and I sit for a while . . .

forget the photographs, forget the newspaper cuttings, forget the family stories, this is here and now.

She’s been down there for nearly 75 years . . .

. . . . and I am left wondering how the loss of a sailing vessel so long ago can be so deeply moving to someone who wasn’t even born then.

What was it about those ships?


But time it comes to ships and men when sailing days are past,

Even such as hail from Devon where they mostly build to last,

And her seams began to open and the Severn tide came through

And the water kept on gaining spite of all that they could do.

They did their best to beach her but they couldn’t do no more

And she foundered at the finish there in sight of Appledore.

And her bones’ll never flicker blue on any ‘longshore fire,

For she’ll lie there and she’ll moulder as an old ship might desire

And hear the vessels passing by, and dream about the past,

And the great old times in Devon where they built her once to last.

from The Ketch “Ceres” 1811 – 1936 by C.Fox Smith

Ceres – putting to sea


Watching the merchant ships leaving Bude must always have been a event


On the back of this photograph, my grandfather has written, “Can see her noble shape in this.”



From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

For the previous sets hereherehere and here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

Ceres – between trips

Taking advantage of low tide.

Enjoy the detail in this photograph – rudder, blocks, hobble boat, people on beach, men working.

“Mr Health and Mr Safety, all of these children gained from the experience.”

The definition is not so good in the photo, but the sentiment is.


From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

For the previous set herehere and here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

Ceres offloading

The turn-around had to be quick and slick between tides . . .

. . . with an eye on the weather


Horses worked better then vehicles on the beach, but . . .


. . . here, on the lower wharf in Bude Canal Basin, the trains are preparing to take over.


From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

For the previous set here and here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

    Ceres at anchor

    These photographs were taken at full tide.

    A few hours later, she would be high and dry on the sand.

    The hobble boat taking a line to the mooring post





    From a series of recently rediscovered photographs that had lain pressed in a book for the past ten years.

    For the previous set here, for an overview of the harbour at Bude here

    The ketch ‘Ceres’ entering Bude

    Six pictures of Ceres found recently – pressed between the pages of an old volume.

    Several years ago years, a sudden flood swamped the old leather suitcase they’d been lying in. They were all damaged – water-marked and curled. The flattening-them-out-in-an-old-book trick seems to have worked.


    Here she is rounding Barrel Rock. A hobble boat is waiting just inside Chapel Rock

    The crew are working hard, preparing mooring lines; the helmsman barely visible in the stern.

    On another occasion, she enters Bude with her mainsail set.

    Bude seawater swimming pool is to the right of the picture

    By the size of the bow wave, the main seems to be helping the engine, perhaps on a falling tide.

    With hobble boat in tow


    There were several more old photos of Ceres in those pages.

    I will group together and post them as a series.

    From Steeple Point – the music of a gale

    Following my last post,  let’s up the tempo and orchestrate a gale:

    First, change the season to winter;

    Then darken the light with heavy cloud;

    Now add two, perhaps three major storms over the Atlantic, each in a different area, each several days previously;

    Let’s have an onshore gale blowing – (the cameraman can barely stand upright);

    And the first ebb of a high spring tide, the full flood just beginning to flow out of the river;

    Add backwash to develop an undertow – the water has to go somewhere once it reaches the beach;

    With cross-currents from a tide now heading down the coast;

    And sound – the wind hammering in ears, the sea thundering and crashing, the snatched cry of seagulls.

    Now we have music – a climactic moment in a symphony without a beginning or an end, composed by Nature and performed by The Elements.


    But how to describe it for those who sail in small boats.

    There is probably a scientific explanation, with each molecule of water predicted to a particular position with regard to every other molecule and the surrounding conditions.

    Perhaps there is, but it is far too confusing, too complex for we mere mortals, so we rely on words.

    And finding words is an art.

    These days, we might try “Awesome“, but it is short-hand and doesn’t really express a storm  properly.

    Some have described storms with first-hand reportage . . .

    “The Spray neared Cap Pillar rapidly and, nothing loath, plunged into the Pacific Ocean at once, taking her first bath of it in the gathering storm. There was no turning back even had I wished to do so. for the land was now shut out by the darkness of light. The wind freshened and I took in a third reef. The sea was confused and treacherous. In such a time as this the old fisherman prayed, “Remember, Lord, my ship is small and thy sea is so wide.”  Joshua Slocum

    Some with extreme drama . . .

    “Poor naked wretches, where so’er are you / That hide the pelting of this pitiless storm.” William Shakespeare (King Lear).

    Some with more rhythm . . .

    “And large blue seas each other chased, / Cascading over down the waist.  / At every pitch he held his breath; / As if he saw the face of death. / “She’s pitched away a topmast, smash!” / All hands to clear away the wreck, / Were in an instant turned on deck; / From hammock starting out alert, / Up flew each seaman in his shirt! / And up the straining shrouds they swarm, / Growling and swearing at the storm.  / The wreck secured or cut away, / She snug beneath a trysail lay.” Capt J. Mitford RN, from Adventures of Johnny Newsome.

    Of course, there are always those who see it in an entirely different way . . .

    “At night came on a hurricane, the sea was mountains rolling / As Barney Buntline chewed his quid and spake to Billy Bowline: / “A strong nor’wester’s blowing, Bill, can’t ye hear it roar now? / Lor’ love me how I pities them unhappy folks ashore now. / As comfortably you and I upon the deck are lying, / Lord knows what tiles and chimney pots about their ears are flying.” Dibdin


    And if poetry doesn’t work for you, then Adlard Coles’  “Heavy Weather Sailing” , now in its 30th edition, is the definitive work.

    With acknowledgement to John Irving for the poetry, quoted by him in a Yachtsman’s Week-end Book, 1938.

    From Steeple Point – a hatful of wind

    The wind increases, the foam begins to streak, the Atlantic swell presses home.

    Force 7: “In which a well-conditioned man-o’-war could just carry topsails, jib, etc in chase. And smacks remain in harbour, or, if at sea, lie to. And ashore, whole trees are in motion.” (Beaufort)

    The North Cornwall coast, from Millook Haven

    The images were taken in March and it’s not the “snowing gale” mentioned below but a fresh south easterly, blowing off this west-facing shore, the southern edge of a high pressure area, a low somewhere to the south, the wind funnelling between the two.


    But how to describe weather?

    Beaufort’s original description of Force 7 is one way – (and the accepted one when first introduced – and now modified), but the poets can be  more vivid.

    For example, Stevenson’s few words on a gale bring life to the scene. I particularly like the “flash of sun” and “the passion of the gale”.

    It blows a snowing gale in the winter of the year;

    The boats are on the sea and the crews are on the pier.

    The needle of the vane, it is veering to and fro,

    A flash of sun is on the veering of the vane.

    Autumn leaves and rain,

    The passion of the gale.”

    It Blows A Snowing Gale, by Robert Louis Stevenson


    Previous posts on this – waves, waves (cont), a question of scale.

    From Steeple Point – a question of scale

    Talking of tides and waves (here and here):

    The ebb tide is running fast leaving wakes trailing from both the buoy and the fixed mark.

    The buoy is floating, attached only by its anchor line. The water is passing more or less unimpeded below it, leaving a clean wake; whereas the fixed mark totally disrupts the flow, resulting in very confused water downtide.

    Between the two, you can see the wake from another buoy – dying down but still confusing both of the above wakes.

    A short while later, the tide has built up enough to submerge the buoy.

    In the foreground are eddies from the uneven bottom, causing smooth upwellings of water.

    Should we be interested in this?

    Aren’t the two images merely pictures of a spring tide ebbing?

    Well, it’s a matter of scale. If we want to know more about the sea, this is a good place to be.

    Now we move on.

    Below is a an image of Ham Stone, between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail on the South Devon Coast.

    The effect of the rock on the tide can clearly be seen. Although the tide is not running as fast as in the images above, the water will be confused here especially at the border with the main flow. However, for a small boat, there will be temporary shelter from the main flow of the tide.

    In fact, this boat is fishing downtide of a wreck on the sea floor, the disturbing currents attracting food for the fish, the fish attracting the fishermen.

    Ham Stone, South Devon

    Compare this with another phenomenon – this time rocks interrupting the swell.

    These are waves in motion over the surface of the sea rather than the sea itself being in motion.

    Instead of causing the waves to spread outwards, the drag effect of the rocks causes them to slow down and swing inwards, so that the sea is confused on what might have been the sheltered side.

    Even if the water was deep enough for a small boat, there would be no shelter from the swell here.

    Rocks between St Ives and Zennor, Cornwall

    In practice, what happens around the coast depends on the swell, the tide and the size of the various obstructions, whether above the surface of the sea or on the seabed – (not to mention the weather).

    So, let’s up the scale again.

    The fishing boat on the right has chosen to go between the headland and Godrevy Light, avoiding the long haul out round the off-lying reefs.

    It’s about one hour after low water and the tide is running against him – the direction of the tidal stream can be seen to the right of the island

    Godrevy Light, Cornwall

    It’s running faster between the island and the mainland than further out to sea – but nowhere near fast enough to hold him up.

    Although, as you can see, he is having to work at it.

    At the western end, the swell is swinging round the end of the island against him, just as in the image of the rocks near Zennor.

    He is keeping well over to the right to minimise the effects.

    And when he leaves the local effect of the island he makes appreciably faster progress towards his home port.

    It’s a matter of scale.

    The sea is doing its thing on a vast scale – slopping around the planet under the firm but distant control of the moon and the sun and the vagaries of the weather.

    For the most part, we see it locally – we watch it, we study it, often we eulogise it (as you will see in the next two posts), but in the end we have no control over it.

    The fisherman chose his time according to the tide and the weather.

    He could not choose the tide or the weather to suit his time.