‘Bessie Ellen’ 9/10 – thoughts on being a master mariner in the 19th Century

I have been wondering about the term ‘master mariner’.  An official definition is:  “A Master Mariner is the professional qualification required for someone to serve as the Captain of a commercial vessel of any size, of any type, operating anywhere in the world.”

I’m not thinking of the official qualification, designed to satisfy a regulating authority, I’m thinking of what it takes to be a master mariner in sailing vessels like ‘Ceres’ and ‘Bessie Ellen’.

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The Exe – 6/6

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At the No.8 buoy the channel turns South away from the coast. These final eight buoys – (red can buoys even numbered, green conical buoys odd-numbered), lead out to the Exe Approach buoy and the sea. As I raise sail, a yacht passes, running for the channel. We raise hands, exchanging friendly waves. Ahead of me, a distant yacht is tacking along the coast towards Berry Head.

Early this morning, in the calm of the mooring at Turf Lock, I bent on the light genoa. This is now set and drawing well. The wind has got up and blows from a little West of South, the sea is choppy. The wind will increase this afternoon, but I hope not too much in the six short miles I have to cover. It will be a very close haul to Teignmouth, the contrast from this morning complete.

The yacht ahead turns off Teignmouth and heads out to sea to clear Hope’s Nose on the next tack. I watch the coast go by – Dawlish Warren, Langstone Point, Dawlish, the Parson and the Clerk, Teignmouth. The mainline trains hug the coast. The sun dips in and out behind the clouds. ‘Blue Mistress’ rides the waves with an easy motion. I concentrate on steering her towards The Ness and the entrance to the Teign.

When we get there – (in good time, around 1530), the wind has risen another notch and, if we were going further, I would have had to change the genoa for the working jib. Approaching the entrance, I feel the Captains tensing, gathering together, looking over their shoulders at me – (see ‘The Exe – 3/6’ for details of The Captains). The sea is choppier here, affected by wind over the falling tide from the estuary. Turning into the that wind to drop the sails, my usual slick procedure for dropping the genoa neatly onto the foredeck fails and the leach drops into the sea. I go forward to retrieve it, cursing mildly, my routine broken. By now the mainsail should be down. The boat is bouncing up and down in the sea, the mainsail is flapping wildly, I slip over in the cockpit like a rookie. Eventually the tangle is sorted out and the boat settles down.

In the meantime, The Captains have raised their eyebrows and looked away! But, as I say to them, when things go wrong as they will, a good sailor will deal with them quickly and calmly. So, when I get back to the mooring, (under time-pressure to be home), knowing I have to tidy ship and inflate the dinghy before I can go ashore, only to find the mooring lines tangled tightly round the buoy, you will understand my reaction. (Quickly and calmly, I say!)

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These two days have been a ‘wandering’ – some might call it a mini adventure but I don’t believe it qualifies for that. I took two days out to experience The Exe Estuary and to reflect on what it might have been like for my forebears when they took their Westcountry trading ketch up to Topsham and Exeter. I am now back in Teignmouth, which they also visited on several occasions.

For example, on 15th September 1888, the ‘Ceres’, Captain Walter Petherick, master, left Saundersoot in South Wales carrying 82 tons of coal for Teignmouth. She arrived in good time and on 29th September, she left Teignmouth for Bristol, carrying 82 tons of clay. Maybe she berthed at New Quay to offload the coal and take on clay, maybe further upstream. One day I shall find out.

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I finally get home at 1730. The day is not over. Two hours later, we are sitting in The Pavilions Teignmouth watching a simultaneous broadcast from the National Theatre. In 1966, Tom Stoppard wrote a play around two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, namely  “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. Peggy and I first saw it an unbelievable fifty years ago. The word-play is as enjoyable today as it was then.

Still buzzing from my two days on the boat, I wonder how my great grandfather would have thought of this play. Was he in a position to have seen any of Shakespeare’s plays? Would he have wanted to? And what about my great-grandchildren? Will they enjoy some future production with its fast word-play? Times change. Today we are able to share laughter and sighs with audiences across the globe simultaneously, something we never even thought of in the 1960’s. How will they be viewing such plays in future – a hologram in the round perhaps?

Or will more mundane matters concern them – the erosion of tolerance, patience and respect in our political relationships; the effect on our lives of the change in weather patterns? Speak up now, there’s plenty to do.

Images by Bill Whateley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Exe – 1/6

I found three spare days to spend on The Exe last week.

The navigation from the entrance to The Teign to the entrance to The Exe is only six miles; it is the pilotage on The Exe that makes it an “adventure”. The estuary is wide, the main channel is narrow and tortuous – and the mud sticky. The distance from the entrance to Topsham is just over seven miles. Perhaps twin keels and shallow draft vessels take it in their stride but Blue Mistress’ long keel doesn’t allow for careless mistakes.

This was my first visit. All ports and harbours have their local conditions – experience makes them perfectly manageable, inexperience requires extra care.

I spent the night on board and left Teignmouth at 0700. Dawlish stood out in the early morning sun.

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At The Exe entrance buoy, I took off the sails and motored. The tide was with me.

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The channel here runs for a mile between Exmouth beach and the sandbanks off Dawlish Warren.

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The edge of the channel is obvious at this stage of the tide.

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Looking back towards Dawlish, there is an inshore passage; suitable for this trimaran perhaps, but I would hesitate to use it.

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At the entrance to Exmouth Dock the channel turns sharp to port, creating gentle eddies today but exciting, swirling currents on a falling spring tide.

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I picked up a comfortable visitors’ mooring in The Bight well before high water . . .

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. . . and enjoyed a peaceful afternoon watching the traffic on the water and working on the boat.

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(to be continued)

Images by Bill Whateley

 

 

 

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.

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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,

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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.