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Monday, January 20, 2020
Visits to Brixham and the Pin Mill Race

In July, the brigantine Tres Hombres called at Brixham on passage from the Caribbean to Amsterdam with 35 tonnes of chocolate, coffee and rum.

She has been making voyages across the Atlantic since 2009, but European countries are reluctant to have engineless cargo carriers on their registry and she has the Sierra Leone fl ag.

Also calling at Brixham was the wooden ketch Nordlys of Portvila. She was towed out bound for Dieppe to load a cargo for Denmark. The Nordlys was built in 1875 and looks very much like an English fi sh trawling smack, but her true origins are not known. However, she was trading as a motor vessel on the Norwegian coast before being converted back to a sailing trader.

The Tres Hombres and Nordlys are owned by a Dutch organisation Fairtransport, which retails cargoes that have been delivered under sail. The Brittany based organisation, TOWT (Transoceanic Wind Transport), charter vessels which deliver cargoes under sail, but they can use their engines to enter ports and in an emergency if they get into trouble at sea. In July, the 3-masted Cornish lugger Grayhound was in Oporto, Portugal loading wine for England under a TOWT charter.

Blue Schooners bought the 27m steel schooner Gallant in 2017 and, for two years, she has carried cargoes under sail, mainly from Oporto to England and France with olive oil and wine. She was built at Vlaadingen, near Rotterdam, as a Dutch herring ‘logger’ in 1916 then became a motor fi shing vessel until 1987 when she was converted back to a sailing vessel for passenger work from the Netherlands. In mid-summer, the Jubilee Sailing Trust was reported to be in fi nancial trouble with its barque Tenacious because of lower bookings for handicapped people sailing on her. They were reported as saying the Tenacious, would be laid up, but later announced their other barque, Lord Nelson, would be taken out of commission in October.

The Maldon brigantine Lady of Avenel has made her usual summer voyage to the west coast of Scotland for charter work. She made several trips out to St Kilda and it was planned, weather permitting, to return via the Netherlands so that she could take part in the Classic Race.

The East Anglian herring ‘luggers’, that, in the late Victorian period, had a gaff mains’ls, were all thought to have gone, after the Great Yarmouth, 60ft, 1863 Bride was broken up in Norway in 1988 and the Lowestoft Integrity was broken up at Penryn in 2010. However, ‘Spike’ Davies found the Lowestoft drifter Gleaner, built at Porthleven in 1878, on the Baltic coast of Germany. He sawed the lugger up into parts and shipped her back to Cornwall in containers in 2013 and spent fi ve years at Freeman’s Wharf, Penryn rebuilding her.

The bi-annual Looe Lugger Regatta in July had very mixed entries, from the 59ft Gleaner, by far the largest, ranging right down to 14ft barge boat Atlas. In the three races round the Bay the Brickhill’s, 40ft lugger Guide Me has only been beaten once before when she was beaten by the 40ft Reliance. This year, the Gleaner did win the fi nal race, but the Guide Me won the whole event on points.

The Guide Me also won the cup for the fastest Looe built lugger. Her old rival from the early 1900s, when the luggers raced in the fi shing regattas, was the 39ft Guiding Star which is now a cruising yacht and has taken part in all the Looe Lugger Regattas since 1989 with a dandy rig, that is a lug mizzen and a small gaff mains’l. Another Looe built lugger taking part was the 42ft Our Boys, built for the Pengelly family in 1904, that is now very smart with varnished spars and based at Dartmouth.

Later, the Pengellys had the 45ft Our Daddy, built in 1921, and fi tted her with an engine. She was the last Looe lugger built with the lines of a sailing lugger. The renowned Alfred John Pengelly fi shed in her for 65 years. In 2001, Mike Dartington of Looe bought her and operated her as a dandy charter vessel. More recently, she has been converted back into a lugger with traditional oiled spars and based at Dartmouth for charter work.

There were three yards in Looe harbour where luggers where built. One of them launched new boats on a high tide by pushing them over the quay. Before he came to Looe, Peter Ferris had built, from a half model, the very fast schooner Katie Cluett at Fowey. Ferris had a piece of ground just above the bridge in West Looe. Here, he built 13 luggers and the Guide Me is the only survivor.

In the Government’s World War II ‘War Effort’ to increase shipbuilding, they placed many of the smaller shipyards in Cornwall under the management of Frank Curtis. He produced wooden mine sweepers, torpedo boats, and fast 72ft motor launches together with steel landing craft and employed 2,000 men. As well as the yards in Looe Harbour, Curtis ran the West Quarry yard up the shallow West Looe River. In order to launch craft, there was a wire rope across the river to drag craft into the channel. Then the craft had to be towed under Looe Bridge to be completed at the harbour quays. After the war, Alan Curtis and Mike Pape took over the West Quarry yard and they seem to have launched their last new craft in about 1979. The yard is now a peaceful picnic site.

On 16 October, the International Boat Building Training College (TBTC) at Lowestoft is planning to relaunch the Cornish lugger Our Lizzie after a two and half year restoration. W J Oliver & Sons at Porthleven built this former Cornish fi shing boat in 1920. After her fi shing career ended at Newhaven, she became a ketch yacht. The IBTC has also built a new clinker smack’s boat for the Lowestoft smack Excelsior. This new rowing or ‘pulling’ boat is based on the lines of a 1935 smack’s boat from the Science Museum.

Thirteen spritsail barges started in the Pin Mill Barge Race on 20 July and had every type of weather. It began with a little wind and rain, and the start was delayed so that a ship bound up the River Orwell to Ipswich could go past. The bowsprit barge Edme was easily fi rst over the starting line and stayed ahead to be fi rst home with no other barges in sight.

Running out of Harwich Harbour before a fresh westerly wind, the barges picked up speed, the Cambria briefl y lead the pack, but the bowsprit barge Xylonite got a big jib tops’l pulling and over took her until the staysail barge Edith May stormed past her on her weather side. The outer turning mark was the Stone Bank buoy. The Mirosa moved up to second place and the Cambria’s mizzen boom broke in the gybe.

Back in Harwich Harbour, the barges beat briskly up the River Stour to turn at a buoy off Ewartoness. In the run back to the Orwell, the steel staysail Niagara took the lead in the staysail class. The Slow Stays’l class was sailing on a shorter course up to Ewartoness and the 90ft Lady Daphne took the lead while the tiller steer 45ft Dinah gamely sailing at the trail end.

At the head of the River Stour, there is the empty former plastics factory at Brantham. This factory had needed acid, which was loaded in London, after the barges had gone through the narrow Limehouse Basin lock (which has since been widened.) Fred Horlock got the contract to transport acid from Limehouse up the coast to Brantham. To achieve this, Horlock bought the St Eanswyke, a narrow Dutch built steel barge which had been given a spritsail rig. She was very successful and averaged a cargo a week. At Mistley, Horlock had the 86ft steel Repertor and Xylonite built with 18ft beams in order to get into the Limehouse lock making them narrower than most spritsail barges.

After the Pin Mill race, the Xylonite sailed to Maldon to Jim Dime’s yard to have her riveted steel hull shot blasted, although her former owner Tim Kent had replaced plates in the bows with welded ones. The Webb’s steel barge Melissa is leaving her sails behind at Pin Mill and motoring to the South Dock, London to be accommodation.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - November 2019 Issue
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