"A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind”
Such words of wisdom casually encroach on Skipper’s thoughts as he surveys his pilotage notes and assesses the weather around him.
From the comfort of his 14’ open boat ‘Arwen’, securely tied on to his favourite yellow mooring buoy at the southerly end of the Saltash Bridge trots; and now substantially fortified by hot tea and cheese and marmite sandwiches, it has not escaped skipper’s notice that the wind forecasts in his notebook fail to correspond with the ‘real’ breezes eddying around him.
Yet again he has forgotten that whilst winds may well be from the SSW in Plymouth Sound and up the Hamoaze, they too often have an irksome habit of blowing directly westwards down the Lynher channel when he decides to venture up it. Or perhaps, he muses, it could just be the influence of topography around him.
Today’s cruising goal, one of his favourite ‘backwater treasures’, is a traditional boat yard. Hidden away in a 20-acre former quarry where the upper Lynher narrows and winds its way through steep sided, oak wooded valley, Treluggan is in Skipper’s humble opinion, a ‘proper’ boatyard; a place where highly skilled craftsmen combine traditional woodworking skills with modern methodologies and materials.
Looking along the old wooden pontoons at Treluggan
Aerial drone shot of Treluggan Boat yard
Surrounded by stunning natural beauty, fabulous wildlife and fascinating industrial archaeology, there is a deep tranquillity to be had from tying up alongside its crumbling, wooden planked, mooring pontoon. Here, in the narrow mud bank lined channel, natures privileges abound; the diving acrobatics of majestic blue and russet orange kingfishers, the ‘snuffling’ antics of small salmon splashing in the shallows, shovelling up the unsuspecting small fry and long legged, motionless white egrets, a stark contrast against the chocolatey brown thick mud. It is he muses, such a shame that many boats never get to see such wonders, so quick are they to drop their hooks in the popular deep water Dandy Hole anchorage further downriver.
Putting reveries aside, it slowly dawns on the small boat adventurer that extensive ‘wind artistry’ will be required today. Lengthy periods of up-river tacking, finesse in sail trimming and plenty of agility, will be required if he is to reach this picturesque journey’s end.
Returning to his pilotage and passage planning thoughts and wishing to arrive at Treluggan at the top of the 4.9m high tide around 1700, Skipper knows it is pointless entering the Lynher much before 1330pm. Although he only draws 10” with centreboard raised and can easily take the soft mud ground, the helpful passage planning notes downloaded from the boatyard site a few nights before recommend small boats should enter the final mile of channel from 1.5 hrs before high water. So, quick mental calculus suggests it will be 1530 at the earliest before skipper can turn to starboard at the confluence of the Tiddy and Lynher rivers to begin the winding passage up to Treluggan, past thriving salt marshes and beneath wonderous Victorian engineered railway viaducts.
With no need to rush, and a wary eye on the wind, the fledgling dinghy cruiser usefully fills the hour before departure with ‘boat-keeping’ tasks. One or two frayed halyards where whippings have ‘mysteriously’ undone need re-seizing and so he reaches for his little toolkit ditty bag stored in the port forward thwart locker to find needles, thread and bosun’s palm.
Afterwards, bottom boards are sponged clean; the annoying small pieces of gravel that find their way onto his boat and gouge his newly done paintwork, thrown back overboard. Dry bags are shuffled around and bungeed down along boat sides to give better trim and a few pleasant minutes are passed admiring the foot stirring antics of a long-legged grey heron as it flushes out and rapidly harpoons unwary flounders and eels at water’s edge.
The French use a lovely phrase, ‘Trouvaille’ to describe that ‘chance encounter with something wonderful’. Skipper’s few minutes of ‘trouvaille’ end as the lanky heron, spooked by a rattling train crossing Brunel’s ancient lenticular trussed bridge, soars aloft in lazy circles, its slow beating wings carrying it onto a tree top perch a few hundred metres further upriver. Feeling a momentary sense of loss, the sailor quickly checks the winds once more and mentally notes his scrawled passage plan notes.
“Leg 1 – Beggar Island red port can on 256M at 0.4NM against westerly tidal flow of 0.4kts”.
His first checkpoint up river yet he knows in reality that this bearing and distance will become meaningless as he starts his rapid tacking upwind to reach the waypoint.
Mizzen raised, the little boat drifts round to point into the stiffing breeze. Aft of the centre-case, comes a sudden flurry of activity as skipper hauls on halyards and sheets. The standing lug sail top yard shoots upwards to its near vertical alignment against the mast; luff tension is applied and snotter adjusted to gain decent lower sail shape. Ropes are tidied into thwart mounted halyard bags before rudder is lowered, centreboard set and painter released in one fluid set of movements. Dismissing the need for a potential reef in mainsail earlier on, he has already visualised his departure course away from the buoy.
‘Away on a southerly reach back down the upper Hamoaze between the two moored lighters west of Carew point, before tacking around and heading back up’.
Jib unfurls with rattling sheets, the red furling line snaking away through the cockpit coaming fairlead. The white hulled dinghy with its burgundy sheer plank makes a steady 3.5kts on the return reach to the Lynher red port can marker before a series of short tacks bring boat and skipper upriver, past Wearde Quay.
Had Skipper and Arwen been sailing past this point in the late 1800’s they would have passed HMS Defiance at anchor off this quayside. The last wooden three decker ship launched for the Royal Navy, she may never have seen service as a line of battle ship, but her history is still an interesting one. In After becoming the permanently moored training school for torpedoes and mines in 1884, her commanding officer, Captain Henry Jackson, made a series of pioneering radio transmissions in 1896, so becoming the first Briton to use radio for practical communication from the deck of a ship. During WW1, Defiance was an army training camp and later in 1918 was converted to a Queen Alexandra convalescence centre for battle casualties. Sadly, in 1931, she met her end, dismantled and sold for scrap.
With no wreck to view and only a row of renovated cottages to mark the quayside, Skipper is content, that based on old photos he found on the internet, HMS Defiance must have been a remarkable sight. So important and busy was she in her heyday that the Great Western Railway even built a station halt behind her on the main Paddington – Penzance line. ‘Defiance Halt’, long since closed.
Between Beggar Island and Sand Acre Point, skipper tacks upriver with care, keeping a wary eye on the water colour beneath him as he approaches the northern shore. Shallow water above oozing mudflats will catch the centreboard of the unwary sailor and whilst grounding oneself on a rising tide is a mild and somewhat irritating inconvenience, it is not something skipper is keen to do under the full gaze of the ‘Jupiter Point’ naval trainees, who are out in force practising their MOB procedures in small ribs.
Courtesy of Navy Times
He is especially very keen NOT to become the day’s ‘teaching point’ for accompanying Chief Petty officers and so he further shortens his tack runs.
Courtesy of Navy Times
Whilst it is fun for short periods of time to ‘guess’ the depths and repetitively duck back and forth beneath swinging boom and mainsail, skipper is of an age now where back and legs tire quickly and the ‘novelty’ soon wears off. He is not, never was and never will be a dinghy racing type!
Today the fates take pity, rewarding him with a sudden albeit brief wind shift to a more south westerly direction which enables him to complete a ‘longer’ tack out past the training school, the mine sweeper HMS Brecon moored midstream, and over to the northerly ‘Anthony’ green starboard channel can. It is a move that particularly delights skipper as it affords him a closer ‘inside’ view of Forder lake and the hamlet of Anthony Passage.
In this stretch of water, it is not hard to see how the shift from Hamoaze to Lynher is like cutting ties with civilization and entering a past historical time. The change of pace and scenery, from dockyards, incinerators, lumbering chain ferries and stark urban landscapes to sceneries not out of place in the early 1800’s or even medieval times, is most welcome.
Forgotten creeks, old wooden wreck hulks, crumbing Victorian quaysides, the ‘Capability Brown’ designed gardens of old country house estates and glimpses of ancient medieval Motte and Bailey Norman castles high on farmed hillsides always excite this skipper.
Looking over Forder Lake towards the river Lynher
To the sounds of rattling blocks, flapping sails and knocking centreboard, Arwen’s gracefully curved forefoot stem slows its slicing through the wavelets as skipper eases mainsheet, tightens mizzen and brings bow into wind. Gently drifting backwards, he now has time to admire the industrial archaeology of Forder Lake. From early medieval times right up to the twentieth century, the history of flour milling, fulling, market gardening, lime burning, roadstone quarrying and concrete block making have left their indelible mark on this pretty conservation area and area of outstanding natural beauty (ANOB).
Seduced by splendid agricultural scenery on rolling hills, it is too easy to sail by and miss this inlet with its old mill house and pond where the thirteenth century tenants of Trematon Manor bought their grain to be milled; where seventeenth century waterwheels enabled fullers to clean, shrink and thicken woven cloth; and where nineteenth century boats bought Devonport Dockyard dung and street sweepings upriver to be dumped on the quayside for local farmers to carry away in carts. Natural fertiliser for the local market garden farms! Some twenty miles long, rising 280m high on Bodmin Moor and with 75% of its catchment given over to dairy farming today, Skipper likes to think of the river Lynher as a ‘hard working’ waterway rich in a history that he never tires of discovering.
As winds shift back to WNW, he completes a longer tack south across the channel. Over the transom he gains fleeting glimpses of Trematon castle above Forder Lake. Privately owned, he sadly has yet to reach a station in life where he would be granted a personal invitation to visit such a worthy historical site. Built on a former ancient roman fort, after the Norman conquest, the motte and bailey castle’s 30’ high, 10’ thick walls were once home to Drakes treasures from his circumnavigation. Spanish plunder, safely kept there, whilst the ‘pirate’ awaited aboard his own ship for news that he was still in his fair Queen’s good books!
Aerial view of Trematon castle and beyond is Forder Lake
with its GWR viaduct, mill pond and old mill houses
Ahead of skipper, the wooded gardens of Antony house, owned by the National Trust and still lived in by the Carew Poles, a family who can trace their lineage back to the 1400’s and Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire.
Although a geographer by heart, skipper does occasionally admit to being lured by the dark side of the force and the attractions of being a historian. Thus, the Lynher with its stimulating histography is one of skipper’s favourite cruising haunts. Why, it was here in 981AD that the Saxons crossed the river, forcing ancient British Celts back deeper into Cornwall (so unwittingly, skipper feels, starting the Cornish struggle for ‘independence’ from the domineering, hugely omnipresent Anglo Saxon and later Norman, English and London centric governments. A unique Celtic seafaring, mining and farming history, with a culture and language more in common with Wales, Ireland and Brittany, skipper, as a Welshman, has some sympathy with this longing that is so entwined in the DNA of many Cornish people).
A cormorant, in the path of the rapidly approaching little boat prudently its flap wings and sprints its webbed feet furiously across the water surface to gain momentum and lift, thus intruding on Skippers musings about cultural politics. Breaking away a few metres ahead of looming bow, the cormorant in a welter of spray, whooshes its way southwards to find another less disturbed fishing ground.
Meanwhile, skipper pauses briefly to plot his position on chart and to search out his next waypoint mark with binoculars. Building forward momentum once more, he unhurriedly turns tiller to leeward and ducks beneath swinging boom and fluttering mainsail. Jib is backed, bringing bow through the wind more quickly and he checks his steering compass.
‘291M, 0.9NM to ‘Ince’ green starboard buoy’.
Course details successfully scrawled in passage logbook, he momentarily relaxes as his little boat surges towards deeper channel waters. Sails trimmed and tiller tamer set, he pours a tea from his trusty flask and savours the last of his cheese and marmite sandwiches.
Life is good. Or, to paraphrase the great Joshua Slocum,
‘the days pass happily with me wherever my [little boat] sails’