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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Matthew of Bristol Footage

I thought that perhaps you might like to see this video of the Matthew of Bristol under sail. The majority of this footage was taken earlier in the year to promote our 2012 sailing season.
It was mainly shot on an amazing Pasty Lunch Special day sail from Fowey to Falmouth. We couldn't have asked for more perfect sailing conditions.


Monday, 11 June 2012

Devil and the Diamond Thames Jubilee Pageant

The soaking that London saw on Sunday the 3rd merely added to the pandemonium that was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The density of the rain and the fifty people on board was a stark contrast to our departure from Plymouth.

We entered the lock at Sutton harbour at 17:30. We had closed the boat to the public half an hour before so naturally what ensued was a mad dash to stow everything in its proper place and get the Matthew of Bristol ready for sea. Ropes were coiled, gangplanks dismantled, loose items securely stowed, fenders set, and yards cockbilled in front of thousands of Plymouth pirates that hoarded around eager to watch us set sail. This mass rabble was headed by Jack Sparrow and sir Francis Drake and his missus.
As we pulled off from the quay, a pear shaped Plymouth wench started a rousing call of 'Oggy oggy oggy!
The crowd responded. 'Oi oi oi'. Then to our amusement she forgot the next verse which is in fact just Oggy!
After stowing the tender and sailing close in to the barbican for a final look at Plymouth we headed off to begin the penultimate leg of our jubilee tour.

I had started to cook up a Bolognese for dinner when the VHF set crackled into life. A yacht within a few miles of us had put out a PAN PAN call as they had ran out of fuel in Bigbury Bay.
We offered to assist and sell them some fuel, have a look at their engine and hopefully send them on their way.
Now this was exciting. A nice little detour to aid our fellow mariner.
As we didn't state what sort of boat we were it must have been extremely amusing for the stricken crew as it became apparent the great big pirate ship approaching them was in fact the boat going to help!
I wondered how we could confuse them even more so I suggested that we all got naked...

'Shut up and cook' and 'piss off' were some of the responses I got.


We got to work dropping the canvas and cock-billing the yards to come alongside. When we were less than a hundred yards away and still fully clothed the RNLI turn up from out of the sunshine to take all of the glory and to tow the yacht back to Plymouth.
I pondered for a little while just how often the RNLI are called out because of boats with no fuel. This along with engine failure are the most common call outs for the RNLI. I imagine this would be annoying for the crew scrambled to deal with an easily avoidable incident. On the other hand it must be better than being called out to a fatal accident. Because no one wants that.

We broke in to our watches. Me, Paul and Robin on Team Old Farts and Rob, Jon and Sarah on Team Young Guns.

We made good progress by Start Point. I am very familiar with these lights, flashing 3 times every 10 seconds. They continued to flash away behind us as the stars flashed above and the phosphorescence below.
A good watch, we turned in and eventually arrived at anchor in Lime bay.
Breakfast and away again.
We set the canvas and turned on some Frank Sinatra. Another day in the office.

Rob had timed the tides perfectly and we took Portland Bill at 10 knots!
In two days we passed by Swanage, the Isle of White, listened to old radio shows of Dad's Army to wile away the graveyard shift by the South Downs.
The weather began to turn at Dungeness, the wind slammed our bows and the canvas came down. I no longer cared, I was beginning to get tired and Ramsgate was just around the corner.

Throughout the trip the best wind we got was a beam wind that kept threatening to creep up behind us and allow us to turn the engine off. The watch changes seemed to occur at each new headland and with each hand over we would say it would improve around the corner.
This would have indeed been true if we were going the other way. As it stood it crept more and more onto the nose and our progress declined along with the weather from Dungeness. It didn't seem to deter the dolphins.

We had left thousands behind us in Plymouth basking in the sun or dancing on the promenade. We arrived in Ramsgate in driving rain to a pale looking populous caked in make up, tattoos or both.
Sacha rejoined us as we arrived. He was due to leave with us in Plymouth but was delayed. What greeted him was a tired and slightly underhanded crew for the trip we'd undertaken.
I'd not seen Sacha for over two months having messed up my spine in Fowey. He'd had quite a time of it whilst on land and we shared yarns over a crap pint of what I assume was piss in the Belgian bar.

We offloaded all items that were non essential to our Jubilee jaunt. A mismatched bunch of well wishers known as The Maritime Volunteer Service offered to take it to Sandwich for our planned trip there after the Queentastic weekend ahead.

Ramsgate always throws extremely useful people in our direction. One such person was Mike. He took me victualling in the grossly oversized Tesco's for the journey ahead with passengers.
He offered the use of collapsable chairs from the Maritime Museum in which he has just been appointed Master and Commander. Me and Jon were given a tour of the closed museum and I highly recommend swinging by if ever you have the chance, or indeed, any inclination to go to Ramsgate.

So, we get the passengers on board and head for London.
I like having passengers on board. They each have a story or some lesser known local knowledge that is invaluable.

After picking up a buoy at Gravesend and feeding the masses some Cassoulet followed by Rhubarb Custard, we picked up the tide and headed to London.

The crowds of over one million people could be heard cheering as the approaching bells on the belfry that headed this vast flotilla drew nearer. This was a fine start to a pageant hosting well over a thousand boats of the commonwealth.
As the noise of the crowd grew to a din I took half an hour out of my busy day to clamber up the rigging and get the best view of the flotilla.
Martin one of the crew was already standing on the yard.

There had been a break in the weather, yet as soon as the flotilla reached the boat it pissed down.
It didn't stop all day and night.

We had welcomed our 40 guests and media crowd in the morning. Rob got a safety talk out of the way and introduced the crew. Rob was the captain, Sacha the first mate. Martin a stalwart deck hand and trust member.

I was made known to the guests on board as Cook's Assistant.

Seven years of unfaltering service, my first trip to Dublin I had cut my teeth as Chef. A Boatmaster's certificate, a Yachtmasters, over 15,000 sea miles and trained to STCW standards at Warsash Academy for my time with Trinity House and I'd finally reached the dizzying heights of Cook's Assistant.
The Cooks Assistant, holding cheese, waving flags, wearing a neckerchief.

The cook for the day was the lovely Ann. Her logistical prowess and home-made cooking (especially the cakes) are unrivalled. She saw my smile quickly fade at my new rank and dashed away to the stern of the boat.
The Flotilla in full swing

 We played host non-stop for 9 solid hours to the Royal Lord Leftenant of Bristol and friends. We served them cloved ham, peppered beef, Scottish salmon. We made them tea and coffe. We served them alcohol. We cleared up after them. We doubled over to serve their every whim. We ran out of water.
I resorted to using rain water collected in the canopy for the washing up. Luckily it rained so hard as everything we had was washed up, by me, twice!

Finally the Water taxi arrived to collect our valued guests. We spent four hours clearing up.
I went to bed beneath the newly formed waterfall above my bunk. I woke up feeling like London had shafted me body and soul.
I got on a bus. Fell asleep and awoke dribbling to a sunny and serene Bristol.
God Save The Queen, and All Who Sail In Her.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Good Morning Irene, Are You Still Here? Part 6

Taking a boat to Scotland is a thing that everyone should do. 
We passed Isla Craig, a stumpy little island that Eric informed us in between his “Bips” and “Bops” was where they mined rock for curling stones. He then shouted “Liverpool Maid!” Grabbed a bit of tattered rope and scuttled away to dump it with the rest of his 'Maids'.

As you pass this island the rich green mountains rise into the clouds on either side of you. An early inkling of Scotland's barren beauty.
Ahead of us we see the Isle of Arran and Holy Island, our gateway to the anchorage. A beautiful spot. Many other Tall Ships agreed as the bay was chocked full of the race arrivals.

The anchor on Irene is infamous. It's huge, the chain is heavy, the capstan is cumbersome and the whole affair of anchoring is a monotonous ignorance to a hundred years of development in this field.

After a look around Leslie decided that he would like to anchor away from the crowded fleet, nestled at the foot of a valley. Was there a reason that over a hundred boats packed in together decided to ignore this part of the bay?


It's because when the tide goes out, the beach is very much all that is there. The bay is a deep 27 meters until very quickly it steps up to a drying height of 1.2 meters.

Leslie hands me a plumb line to check the depth with.
'As soon as this touches the bottom drop the anchor.' He says with a condescending grin.

I look at the line I was given as if I've been given a tooth pick to unblock a toilet.
It is a heavy weight on a 5 meter chord. When this is on the bottom it would be too late.
Leslie turns his back on my insistence to the flaws in the plan and returns to the helm. Periodically asking whether the plumb line is on the bottom yet followed by questioning if I'm doing it properly!

Then the plumb line finds the bottom at the same time the hull does and we stop suddenly.

'Is it on the bottom now?' Cries Dr. Morrish

'YES' I furiously reply.'but...'

'Then drop the anchor'

Jon hits the bar holding the anchor to the vessel with a lump hammer, the chain whips from it's neatly flaked stowage on the deck. Well about 5 meters of chain does which is accompanied by a half splash and a loud yet hollow clunk.

'Is it down?' bellows Leslie as from behind him two safety boats are approaching with great speed.

We look down to see half of the anchor protruding from the water.

'Umm, yup, definitely down, but sort of almost up as well...'

The safety boats are now alongside asking if we require a tow out of the mud. We have well and truly grounded on the top of a spring tide. If we cannot get off tomorrow then we may be here for 6 weeks.

Leslie declines the offer of a tow saying he much prefers the view here. Sacha gets on to the VHF Radio to let the coast guard know of the situation. So leaning over the rail to the RIB Driver he asks...
'Ere mate. Whats this part of the bay called?'

A pause and then a beautiful reply that I shall never forget.

'Shallow! You fucking idiot'

Good Morning Irene, Are You Still Here? Part 5

Throughout the day up to around 1500 hours, the wind had crept up and Irene was maintaining a healthy amount of progress Northwards towards the finish line South of Burrow Head Lighthouse.

The Isle of Man was in view on the Starboard Bow. If we maintained our present course we wouldn't make it past so it was time we put in a tack. Usually this is a nice and simple manoeuvre. 
One turns the helm position to bring the bow into the wind. When the boat is facing into wind the sails will flap about until the boat has said wind on it's opposing side. As the boat comes through the crew ease across the foresails. The mainsail can look after itself until it is tweaked to make the best of the wind angle.

As we began our tack and following quite a hefty cracking noise, the crew working on the fore sails were showered with bits of oak and leather. I looked up to see the heavy gaff swing out of it's position next to the main mast and bury itself into the shrouds on the port side.

Bad news.

We cannot move  the mainsail and it is stuck in a way that continues to power the boat forwards towards the Isle of Man. We are roughly four miles away and making about 6 knots. We have about 45 minutes to fix this.

Obviously we need to be fast, though there is a lot to be said about taking a few moments to breathe in and assess the situation by taking a step back and having a head scratch.

Our trouble seemed to be that we needed to dislodge the gaff from the shrouds before they were stretched to their breaking point or their strength became severely compromised. After all of our work tightening the buggering things!
This all has to happen without ripping the mainsail or damaging the boat further.

We get down the topsail and stow it out of the way. Then after trying a few ideas and failing or making very little progress towards success we stand back and come up with plan D.

I was sent up the mainmast to cut free the sail from rings that send it up the mast.
The gaff itself was being held up with halyards. Though as it's pushing forwards so hard against the shrouds it isn't as easy as simply lowering it on the halyards. We need something to pull the heavy gaff aft in order to free it and gain some control over it's descent.

'Okay guys.' cries Sacha.
'We've got 8 minutes until we reach the Isle of Man.'

Right. 8 minutes, that's fine.

To this thought Sacha adds, 'That is 8 minutes until we HIT The Isle of Man. Well, 7 minutes now.'

Ah. So we really have 5 minutes in order to slip by comfortably. We rig up a block and tackle system to the end of the gaff and take the line as far aft to the starboard quarter cleat as is possible and whilst two people ease the halyards, the remaining crew heave as hard as they can on the tackle.

It works! Bit by bit the big lump of wood came down. The gaff gets stowed out of danger on the deck and we can finally complete our tack, leaving the Isle of Man well clear on our windward (Starboard) beam. The kettle goes on and the off watch are sent below to finish resting up before their shift.

The beauty of the Irene and indeed a lot of Gaff rigged ketches is that so long as the rig is balanced then she will sail well. So we raised any foresail that had been lazy and found that with just the fore sails, the mizzen and mizzen topsail we could maintain a reasonable speed. Obviously we would love to have all canvas hoisted but without a gaff this is impossible.

We didn't rouse everyone from their slumber during this event as there was only so many people that were needed. There were quite a few confused looks when people came on watch yet none of disbelief when the tale was recounted.

But why did this ever happen? The short answer is that the gaff itself is bigger than it was ever intended to be. When originally built the spars and booms were much thinner and lighter. The amount of force placed onto the jaws was too great and they snapped under the pressure. It has happened before and has happened again since.

The rest of the trip to the finish line was joyfully uneventful. So joyful that we decided we would make the best use of the wind and sail about to while away the evening. Then make our way to the anchorage at Lamlash Bay where we could get some well earned rest. Of course that was wishful thinking.