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Monday, 25 April 2011


If I am to die at sea,
Know it's where I longed to be.
Happy here to end my days,
Happy face down in the waves.
Though as I drift to distant shores,
Know my heart was always yours.

The Public, the Sun, the Things That Are Fun

Thank you Falmouth for your amazing hospitality. We are setting sail tomorrow after nearly a month of being by the Maritime Museum here. The days have been as hard work as they have sunny! As the sun has shone we have gotten up early to sand and oil bits of wood and then prepared the boat for the public to step on for a snoop around.
If we have not sailed in the evening with passengers and pasties then we have carried on with our ever present maintenance. I shall write again soon about the oiling and sanding of the pin rail. It is a personal aim of mine to get the boat looking right 'andsome for her return to Bristol in July.

Over the holiday period we've been open to the public and to a great reception.
I have very much enjoyed being asked the same questions over and over again. For once I am not being sarcastic. I cannot begrudge such enthusiasm, for it allows me to look upon the Matthew with fresh eyes.
I no longer stare along the deck seeing nothing but a list of jobs for me to do and delegate, I see just how remarkable this ship truly is. I have always taken pride in the work I've done on board the Matthew, though I don't think I've truly stood back and thought just how lucky I am to be a part of this. It is by a renewed interest from many, varied people that I have re-learned to enthuse about my work and why it is I do whatever it is that I do.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Maintaining Matthew

It has been an extremely busy few days. We have taken two trips out into Carrick Roads, set sails and watched the wind die, one of the joys of sailing. The public have been looking around the ship whilst we are moored at the Falmouth Maritime Museum. Around this we have fitted in the ever present maintenance work.

The main hatch has been completely sanded and is awaiting  it's top layer of oil. We try not to make it look too new and shiny as it diminishes our chances of getting any film work. Often they will have to make the boat look scruffier than it actually is for that authentic pirate feel. We do however always endeavour to do a good job. It would be nice to one day have the money to completely strip and oil the boat in one go. I personally would add a dash of stockholm tar to the mix in order to stain the wood black. I believe that this would look more like the sailing ships of old. It smells lovely too!

The maintenance of the ship is non stop. Oiling, sanding, greasing, splicing, stitching, polishing, mechanics, repairing navigational equipment &cetera. Of course there is always chipping and grinding, though thankfully not so much as on a metal boat. I do find that working with wood is much more pleasant. It doesn't feel as if I am at work although I am indeed working hard. I end the day tired and covered in shavings of larch or oak. My bones and muscles cry out for a rest. It is a well earned rest too. I am grateful for this hard work on a lovely wooden ship. I believe, along with many others, if you have a job that you love, then you shall never work a day in your life.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Busy Busy, Old Salts and Flag Etiquette

It has been a busy few days on Falmouth harbour. I have spent two days tidying the Bosun's stores, a large workshop aboard 'Matthew' that has been wanting an extensive sort out for years now.
Also on the agenda is sanding. This is a constant must on a wooden boat and like the Forth Bridge, the maintenace never stops.

This has all had to occur around the swathes of visitors to the boat. I do enjoy the public's interest. It makes me realise that it is indeed a remarkable vessel and I am truly lucky to have a part in it's running. I can engage for hours with persons about the Matthew, answer the same questions and tolerate idiotic questions.
There are times however when my sense of humour trip switch just flicks.
A well spoken gentleman shouted down to me from the quayside.

"Excuse me, may I enquire as to why you are flying your ensign (National boaty flag) at half mast and the Cornish flag at full mast?"

Of course you may enquire, though please don't be offended that I don't have an answer for you. We have seen in excess of 500 people visiting our little boat in only a few days.

"Oh yes, I think maybe some one may have moved it, though I must admit I've not kept a close eye."

He seemed remarkably offended at this.


Dick head. It's just a flag. I know I know, it stands for a lot etc... Though I would rather a nation be defined by the action of it's citizens and policies than what colour it's flag is and how high it flies. If this thing get's you so annoyed that you can happily shout at a fellow citizen rather than help them to understand why such etiquette is important. Then Fuck off and leave me alone.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Does Survival Training Actually Help?

The heat inside the life-raft is stifling. A dozen others around you and not one person here is panicking. Why should we? We paid good money for this.

The whistle blows, the sprinklers stop and the lifeguards call you to the side of the heated pool for a debriefing.

'How do you think it went?'

Amazingly well, I may well be a little tired from a full day's learning but I understand the importance of having the right survival equipment. I know how to use it and what to expect. I shall endeavour to read the informative leaflets on the train journey home. I know exactly what to do should I find myself mid ocean in need of a life-raft.

Mid ocean and in need of a life-raft. The skipper pulls at the painter with cripplingly cold hands. He gives the sharp pull that will inflate our hopes of surviving this predicament.


Seven blank faces stare at the half inflated life-raft. These things should contain more gas than necessary to get it to the 288 pounds per square foot of pressure needed, so why not this evening? I't's lucky that the vessel I'm on is still afloat, albeit upside down and in The Bay of Biscay. You know it's bad when that's what passes as lucky.

At least we have in date flares! Only one out of the five works. Oh such fun we're having!

This isn't how they said it would be. Not a single mention of this in the informative leaflets. They never even mentioned that this could happen. This is not how they said we'd survive!

Yet survive we did. It was a large part to do with the training and a greater part to do with the will and tenacity of the crew on board. It was having the luxury of the course that I could even presume what would happen and how to act in this bleak situation.
It was through the knowledge shared throughout one day that I can compare it to reality.
The reality of finding myself in this position however, is far removed from a heated pool. Maybe it would be a good idea for training centres to take on board that it isn't as easy to survive at sea as it is to walk away from a heated pool with a certificate. To disorientate and scare the students, to give them a hard time and to tell them that maybe it won't be okay. It will be worse than worse can be, but you can make it.

In the photo at the above link you can see our piss poor excuse of a life raft.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Knot So Clever

I thought that it was about time for some fun with ropes. 
My shipmate, and mate mate Sacha is here to help talk us through some extremely useful yet lesser known knots. For any standard knots like the half hitch, bowline, reef knot and so on I recommend typing 'knots' into a search engine. There are thousands of sites to cater for your knot tying needs.

On Ship's Blog According to Thom, we shall be looking at the rare, fun and silly knots. There will be a how to video and a knot in use video.

I have got more planned throughout this particular voyage, as often as I can I will get old salts, vagabonds and rogues to share with us their favorite knots or fancy bits of rope work.


We generally set our sails by bringing the yard down to the deck and untying the gasket ropes that keep the sails furled. We then unfurl them and then raise them to let the wind do it's thing. This is quite consuming, especially of energy and of time. We have used the following method in order to set the sails more swiftly. This means more sailing. Win win!
So, here's Sacha 'Slasher' Hall with the first one...

This clip shows the topsail being unfurled. The line is left hanging in front of the sail purely to show the knot in action. this would usually be behind the sail. 
So there one has it. not such a difficult knot to tie, extremely useful and all yours.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Take it easy.

Why hurry? The sun is shining, the sea is lapping against the wooden hull and the trees on the hill are getting greener. None of these seem to be in much of a rush. So what's mine? 

I have just traveled down from Bristol which is generally known for it's easy pace and bohemian tendencies. I am still very much on 'Bristol time'. I have to be here, need to be there, want to fit this in to my day &cetera. This relaxed pace is obviously too much, for if you keep heading West something wonderful happens...

I have returned to the Matthew and waiting here for me, and you if you so choose, is the primitive urge to relax and take things easy. There are still jobs to be done and work to be carried out however. I've scratched the first job from my list already, this was to make a list. Done.

Completed also are the orders of diesel, gas, oil, spare parts for the engine, beer for the bar and pasties for tomorrow's evening sail into the Fal. I even felt compeled to soak down the deck with a good dose of salt water. Hopefully by the end of the trip the decks will take in the salt, expand and stop the leaks. This is another one of those jobs that you can do it every day and OVER TIME it shall work. With any luck, over time, I won't have a leak on my bunk.

This seems like an incredibly busy day for some. Though none of the items that have been ordered are here yet.

"I'll do it directly." Is what I was told, so directly it shall be!

What a wonderful saying, for 'directly' in Cornwall could be anything from one hour to a month or so. You would think that without any burdens or worries to weigh you down that one would be moving faster. This is not the case here, any bustle is purely by incident.
So whilst I have no fuel to put into our tanks, oil for the engine, gas for the cooker or beer to quaff, sorry, to restock the bar, I shall just have to wait. Fettling and pottering about the boat finding an odd job here and there shall suffice.

So for a while I shall be extremely busy taking it easy, along with Cornwall so as the rest of the world doesn't have to.

I advise everyone to try this. You still can be the best you can be by going at your own pace rather than an expected pace. 
Breathe in deep. Look up high, and slow down before you miss the point.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Cleaner Seas if You Please

There is a lot of what there shouldn't be in our oceans. We all are guilty at some time in our lives of adding to the pollution of our blue planet, whether conscious of it or not. I have been thinking over this subject for some time now. It's hard not to when you are sailing along upon the endless blue blanket. The sun beam only broken by the ripples in the water and a mass of polypropylene rope, cola bottles, can holders and a shopping bag all fighting for their presence around your propeller. Or indeed in a dolphin's windpipe.

This jumbled mass of debris, of Jetsam and trash, is a tiny teeny taste of what is here within our beautiful blue bays and endless seas.

The Largest human made object lies within the North Pacific spanning the distance from Japan to Hawaii. There is a chance that the majority of us have added to it's construction.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is believed to be over twice the size of Texas and have a predicted mass of 100 million tonnes of plastic.
Plastic may well take centuries to degrade, but as it does so, chemicals are released in to the area. Particularly one called Bisphenol-A (BPA). It has been linked to changes in the hormonal systems of affected animals.


Project Kaisei (meaning sea star) was launched in 2009! Two vessels, the New Horizon and Kaisei are undertaking research to determine and propose a feasible method of cleaning up this titanic problem. It will also aim to pose solutions for the prevention of more waste entering the Oceans. This is very good news indeed. Maybe they can team up with Blest, who can now reverse engineer plastics into various stages of oil to be used from machine lubrication through to cooking!

Oil rigs and ships are responsible for about 12% of the reported 806million tonnes of oil entering the oceans each year. This is from drilling, spills and leaks from within this industry. In 2007 there were a reported 654 accidental spillages from ships, mostly less than 2 tonnes though this was still 30% higher than the previous year.
A poor effort. I believe it is cheaper to pay the fine rather than fix the problem.

Natural leaks occur in our seas. Erosion of sedimentary rock on the sea floor and other such phenomenon contribute 2% (17.2 million tonnes) of the oil lost in the sea.

A massive 44% of it comes from land. From industry, agricultural and municipal wastes.
Oil runoff from roads is too a huge contributing factor. A city with the populous of Bristol could wash away up to the same amount of oil in a year as a large tanker spill.


There are companies involved in the clear up of oil. Unfortunately there are some companies that are so good at it they must unfortunately get a lot of practice!
The New Journal of Environmental Science and Technology released an article on 'Skimmer technology'. A skimmer looks like the front of a steamroller, albeit mounted onto a boat. As the wheel spins the pad picks up oil, A scraper dumps the oil into the boat. Latest technology has created Skimmers 3 times more efficient than what they were. Picking up 100% of the oil that they come into contact with!  Unfortunately they're not yet being used at every spill.

Toxic Wastes were dumped in the sea for so long and in vast quantities. Such things as radioactive waste, chemical pollutants from industry and agriculture. It was such a huge problem that dumping of extremely hazardous materials such as these was made illegal (with minimal acceptions) in 1972 at the London Convention.

This has had a profound effect upon our environment. This includes our land based one as much as the Ocean we can enjoy. As all waste breaks down it get's into the food chain. Contaminated mammals eating contaminated fish eating contaminated sponges eating contaminated algae. The ocean has seen so much pollution that it can be traced to the food at our fish counter. In very small quantities yes, but it is still there.
When fertilisers are washed off into the sea the localised area there are excess nutrients. Oxygen levels drop and the flora and fauna die leaving dead zones. The most famous dead zones are areas of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

As a water loving species, we need to take more care of it. The Ocean's health teaters upon the cusp of a breaking wave and we are in a great position. A gift that will help us to determine just how hard this wave breaks and how soon. Shall we get off now and swim belly up and smiling with the dolphins and starfish? Or do we ride it further, to the end? Where we shall be able to look back from the beaches and headlands and see nothing?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sickening Seas

It was watching a man throw up on the back of his own head that started it. The laughing. I know I shouldn't have but you must admit, how many times does one see that in a lifetime?
He ralphed up his meal on the boat's upward roll. The relief was sweating from his pale brow as he turned to us with his salival, bearded grin. Unaware that he was fast catching up with his lunch on the downward roll.
His reaction to this when it did happen was... to be sick. Again. Only this time on his friend. Not seemingly one to break the trend here his friend was, of course, sick. On our deck. Never have I seen such a small fellah expel so much, so quickly. Two things became apparent through my teared up laughing eyes.
One. This guy is a vegetarian.
Two. I'm cleaning that up.


Okay, so it might spray back or you might get unlucky odds like the above example, but it will help if most of it goes over the side. If not the decks will need a good scrub and at worse you will be wrist deep in carrot soup trying to unblock the chunks from the bilge pump.

It is always the able bodied and non puking sailor that gets to wash down the decks when your shipmates start exploding. So here are a few things to take in to account that might, if not quash your suffering, ease it a touch.

Luckily I have never had the misfortune of suffering from sea sickness. I have endured the worst weather on extremely rocky boats in my time. This is not to say that I have never felt sick at sea. I once let a captain I was sailing with do the food shopping.

'Thom, I thought burgers would be nice for lunch."

He handed me a box containing six grey discs of what I'm sure were literally, 'the dog's bollocks'. Bollocks bound together with a grey fatty substance broken up only by pipes and more grey.
As they cooked in the oven they filled my lungs with unnatural smells. Aromas not too dissimilar, I assume, of an incinerator at a liposuction clinic. This, added with no fixed horizon and a sea on the beam* made for an unhappy Thom.
Any one found slacking at sea can be sure to be given a crap job. So I left the galley and found me a slacker to finish off whilst I got some air.

Those 'burgers' went in the oven grey, left the oven grey and mine went overboard grey.
So the lesson here is...

You will find that greasy, fatty foods can induce vomiting, especially in a rough sea. Also why would you want hot fat flying around your galley during the cooking process? Save the fat for the fry up at the calm anchorage or lazy bay.

Too much liquid in yer belly will slosh about in there. If you feel ill then this will certainly make a reappearance.
A stodgy, starchy diet is good. Fibre too! Something that will stick to your insides, that and give you a slow release of energy. Because when you are at sea you need a lot of it.
If food is the last thing you think you want after tasting the previous meals twice, try and eat a bit. Even small bits of bread or biscuit

Or Ginger tea, or a ginger biscuit, or just plain ginger. It is well known for it's power to ease motion sickness.
'But I don't like ginger!'
Believe me, you'll like it more than puking yourself inside out.

The most common reaction is for people to retire to their bunks. This may work for you, but it's a long way to run to get to the ships side should it go wrong. Finding the boats least rocky bit is best. i.e. the middle! Get some wind in your lungs, big breaths through your nose released slowly from the mouth. Concentrate on the breathing process and fix your gaze on a horizon. It'll be over soon enough. If you must, take pills before you sail. A non drowsy formula is best as you may be required to be alert.

I don't mean practice knots or your leather/ sail work. Something that allows for the distance stare on that horizon. Take the helm for a while.

I have seen grown men of fifty winters crying for their mums. Jack Tar's looking not so jolly. Wind sculpted salts reduced to belching bags of bile and hiding in the fo'c'sle asking what in God's name did they to to deserve this?!

The answer?
You did nothing to deserve this, but you also did the minimal, or nothing to help improve your sudden debilitating illness. And it is debilitating, it can strike people even when the boat is tied up. You may not see any one that is suffering from this affliction for days as the body decides it is best to just shut down and sleep for the duration.
Crews have been airlifted from boats because of it, many a shirt has been ruined too.

It is an unavoidable occupational hazard for most at sea, wether suffering from it or suffering from witnessing it. I hope that the information here is of some use and that although the seas aren't calm you can carry on.

*The side of a boat

The plus side to seasickness is that you can call the sufferer names such as; Pukey McPukington, Pukezilla, Barf Brookes, One Spew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Spewie Armstrong, Wallace and Vomit &cetera. There response to this will usually be a gurgle followed by them leaving a present for you on your waterproof boots. They will not, however, be able to chase you.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

This is the Matthew. A replica fifteenth Century Caravel. This is my new job.

In 1497 John Cabot and 17 other men left the port of Bristol to find an alternative trade route to Asia by sailing west. Far from reaching Asia they reached the shoreline of what Cabot called his "new found landes", now known as Newfoundland in Canada.
500 years on, 18 men of Bristol replicated the journey. 1998 saw the Matthew return to it's home port to a grand reception!

Unfortunately for the ship, a promise of a mooring and visitor centre was not adhered to. The little tall ship was taken on by The SS Great Britain, Brunel's big o'l boat.
The SSGB is a charity, and ultimately the Matthew would detract revenue meant for the SSGB. So for 13 years she has sat behind an uninviting metal security fence. Poorly advertised and mostly forgotten. We weren't even allowed to ask for donations to maintain the ship. Any penny being spent on the Matthew was not a penny that the SSGB would see.

To solve this, a former Lord Mayor of Bristol and a bunch of other people set up the Matthew of Bristol Trust.
This is fantastic news for now the Matthew is finally it's own entity. Any Legacies left and profit made can be put back into the ship rather than being hoovered up by the SSGB through some clever pants legalities that they had put in place. Hopefully the Matthew shall have it's very own mooring and truly be one of the few Jewels in Bristol's floating harbour!

Running it on behalf of the Matthew of Bristol Trust shall be Shipshape and Bristol Fashion. It is these guys that have been renting the ship from the SSGB for a good number of years now. These guys that I shall be working for from this coming Thursday!
What'll we get up to? Wellity, wellity wellity...! the Matthew can be visited in Falmouth until Easter. Here you can jump aboard and enjoy day sailing in the sun, a pasty in hand and drink in the other! If you really want to, you can put down the pasty and pull some ropes to get us sailing faster in to the sun.

Cruise to The Isles of Scilly for the international gig racing.
Come to the Channel Islands or France for a booze cruise.
Or just find us and say hello.

I hope that you enjoy the new flavour of Blog-O-Gramme that I shall be producing. A far cry from the commercial marine sector, I hope that my zest and love for the Matthew and the oceans shall become more apparent from the time I spend at sea whilst aboard this wonderful little big boat.