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BETTY smacks cruising the Estuary janholthusen


"The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective." - Henry David Thoreau

Early advice in seamanship for cruisers by R.T.McMullen

Introduction to R.T.McMullens “DOWN CHANNEL” by Arthur Ransome

The Field, in noticing his death said: ‘Mr. McMullen was unlike any other yachtsman we ever met: we have known men just as fond of the sea as he was, but never anyone who regarded it with such reverential interest. Yachting and yacht racing in the ordinary sense of the terms had no charms for him.’ Always it was his character that impressed people more than any details of his personal history. Like most men who are supremely good at any one thing, McMullen held decided opinions on a number of subjects besides that one with which his name will always be associated. For him to hold an opinion strongly was to express it. At school in France he had been known as ‘John-Bull-Dick,’ and the downrightness which that nickname suggests was his throughout his life. It by no means diminishes the interest of Down Channel to spend some time in the British Museum going through the various books and pamphlets that are there cata­logued under its author’s name. There is the original Down Channel of 1869; ‘Orion’: How I came to Sail Alone in a 19-ton yacht (1878); An Experimental Cruise Single-handed in the ‘Pro­cyon’ (1880); Infidelity: its Cause and Antidote (1879); Whither did They Ascend? (1881); and Priestly Pretensions and God’s Word (1885). In all these works he speaks with the same independence and force. In the Orion volume he followed an account of his voyage with twenty short chapters on all sorts of things, and he opened that book with a preface ‘intended to be read’ in which, in the course of an attack on compulsory education, he remarked: ‘When our lads - who in the course of time will have to keep the lookout at sea, or clean our boots on shore are well-grounded in Music, Drawing, and Algebra, at the Rate-payers’ expense, there will at least be a chance of im­provement.’ He had no misgivings whatever about the divine rights of the rich, whose boots, of course, would have to be blacked by someone.

Excerpts from R.T.McMullen “DOWN CHANNEL”, 3rd edition, Rupert Hart-Davis, London 1949

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seamanship & advice

economy in regard to the vessel and equipment
With a view to economy, my custom is to keep everything in the best order possible. The vessel is covered with a canvas awning during the winter, to protect the varnished mahogany from the weather. Including prime cost, the expense of the awning is about £3 per annum; otherwise, the annual expense of scraping and dressing - I may also add, ruining the oak and mahogany - would be about £10. The masts must scraped, but all other spars are rubbed down with sharp sand and canvas, and finished with powdered pumice-stone and canvas. The bolts of canvas, of which the sails are made, are ‘Burnettized’ before making up. Although this process does not entirely preserve them from mildew in extreme cases of neglect, it does so to a very con­siderable extent, and is undoubtedly a great saving. Excepting the large foresail, squaresail, and jib topsail, the sails are all of double canvas, Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 6. The advantages are - that they hold more wind, stand any amount of sheeting and tack­ling, without losing their original shape, and are altogether more economical. My wire rigging is twelve years old. The shrouds are parcelled, canvassed and blacked. All this, if expensive at first, is real economy.

travel plans & preparations


My friends accompanied me to Greenwich to see the start for a destination known only to myself. There were two good reasons for being reserved on this point. One was that in case of being prevented by unforeseen difficulties from carrying out my intention, I must have seemed a silly boaster; the other, that, instead of receiving encourage­ment, I should probably have heard forebodings of ill that would have been ringing in my ears at inconvenient seasons, to my great discomfort and annoyance.
The charts, according to my custom, having been carefully prepared, with the bearings and distances of different objects in coloured inks, the particulars required at the time were copied on a slate and taken to the helm with me. By this means I was able to recognize the land and the buoys, &c., without leaving my post at inconvenient times. The anxiety of sailing upon a strange coast and entering strange harbours is great enough, however well prepared one may be beforehand. To have to hunt up all the information at the last moment, is not only confusion and misery, but very dangerous. I had taken no pains to make myself acquainted with the details of the chart, and was therefore utterly un­prepared with any plan except that of keeping the sea, which I should have been content to do but for that horrid Race.

To sail this coast with any comfort, the largest-scale Admiralty Charts are indispensable, as the rocks are numerous, and buoys and beacons very scarce.
crew & magnificent scenery
That the experiment succeeded beyond my highest expectations was due to the fact that my crew proved to be as manly as they were gentlemanly; and that, in spite of the hard work, they, as well as I, can look back with nothing but pleasant recollections to the adventure, is due to their appreciation of the magnificent scenery that our coast presents to those who know where to find it.
Surprise has been expressed by those who know nothing of the labour required to keep a yacht in a complete state of efficiency and cleanliness that we found no time to read the newspapers.
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sharing of work
It may be taken as proved that, at all times, I did fully a third share of working the vessel when the men were there. If I had not done so as a habit, it would have been incon­ceivably ridiculous to think of undertaking it single-handed. With the exception of heaving up the anchor, setting up the bobstay, hoisting and furling the mainsail, or taking a reef down, I had probably done most things occasionally, and thought little or nothing about it. The five things specially mentioned were always done by all hands working together­ and if by two, then I was not the one left out, unless the helm and mainsheet required tending.
unforeseen work
Notwithstanding the men removed much mud from the warp and the anchor before leaving me, their condition was so unsatisfactory that, out of regard for my white canvas, I hove-to in the Sound, cleaned them thoroughly by hand, towed the warps overboard, and after they were stowed had to finish up with a general wash down. This is but one instance out of the many of the extra or unforeseen work that from one cause or another was pretty constantly recurring.
small ships on a lee-shore
Unless well ac­quainted with the coast, and certain of making a correct land­fall, it is better to face the gale, however small the vessel, than to run for a lee-shore. I am convinced that unless a small vessel, especially an open one, can be got into harbour before the sea becomes very heavy, there is more safety in keeping the deep water and in not attempting to approach the land at all; where, owing to shallow water or currents, the sea will gener­ally be found more dangerous. In the majority of cases when fishing boats are lost, they are swallowed up near the shore and often at the harbour’s mouth.
It is very common, amongst a certain class of men, but nevertheless an absurd and dangerous fallacy, to suppose that because a vessel is small and of light draught, she can go anywhere without risk. In sea sailing the contrary is the case, because, as a rule, the difficulties and intricacies of navigation are not in the fairway, but out of it, and masters of small vessels presume upon their light draught to take short cuts that require far more vigilance and attention to the charts than is necessary where leading marks are placed for guidance. In heavy weather at sea a large ship may cross a sudden shoal of 5 to 10 fathoms, or pass through a race with impunity, when it would be highly dangerous for a small vessel to do so.
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long counters in seagoing vessels
Having experienced the great discomfort of riding at anchor in rough weather in a boat with a long counter, I had the ‘Sirius’ built with a round stem, which, although it was at the time considered an ugly innovation in yacht-building, has since become common. The long overhanging stem is un­doubtedly more ornamental, and is useful in match-sailing yachts with very long booms; but in my opinion it is an ex­crescence and a nuisance in seagoing vessels, where comfort and safety are of more importance than elegance.
sails & ropes
All my working sails are of double canvas, Nos. 2, 3, and 4. and are roped accordingly. The advantages are - that they hold more wind, wear better, and never lose their original shape. If they require more setting at first, they also require less attention afterwards. To set the small mizzen properly requires all the force you can exert with a whip-and-tye pur­chase. As the leathered iron traveller jams under the fall of the halyard, and prevents the block getting too high, you may set up until you are satisfied; my limit - alone or with assistance - is, when no more can be got. The same rule, easy to be remem­bered, but difficult to make others carry out, applies to every­thing on board that requires force.
When the tack is purchased down there is a luff like a bar, and well stretched halyards, that, if dry when set up, give no more trouble for a day or two. The lacing, of soft manilla, is rove ‘in and out’ while hoisting. As the head of this sail is 19 feet from the deck, and I have no fancy for climbing without footholds, my plan is to stand on the main boom, reach the upper turns with a boathook, and finish off the lower ones by hand. At first the taut lacing makes the luff a little irregular, but, When the sail is sheeted and the breeze is fresh, it falls nicely into place, and looks well.
the number of hands depends on the weight of the sailcloth
If asked how many hands a yacht of a given tonnage should carry, I should reply by another question - what is the weight and quality of her canvas? For it is in reefing, handing, and furling canvas of high quality, more than in anchor work, that deficiency of manual power becomes conspicuous. The canvas of an 18-ton schooner, beside which I was once lying in Dover harbour, when on a single-handed cruise in the ‘Procyon’ 7-ton lugger, was quite flimsy compared to the lugger’s mainsail of No. 5 double; while the latter, which has often punished my hands, is light in comparison with the lower sails of the ‘Orion,’ whose mainsail and foresail are of No. 2, and working jibs of No. 3 double - a substance of canvas that for my work has important advantages, which I would not sacrifice to any other consideration whatever. The details are necessary to account for the time and labour expended in their manipulation, often hinted at in my cruises without being clearly explained.
Among the repairs that are constantly requiring attention, the bower warp had to be cut and spliced, conse­quent upon damage to one of the strands on the night of the 18th, which had been detected by the sharp eyes of a Selsea fisherman. Though the injury was too slight to attract the attention of less keen eyes, I shifted the 30 fathoms parcelling instantly, and did not again ride to the warp in open sea until it was placed beyond suspicion. A four-strand bass warp, on which one’s safety may depend, cannot be spliced in a moment, as the strands require to be whipped, and great care taken that it does not unlay itself during the operation.
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jib & bowsprit
The bowsprit - a 71/2 inch 3 cwt. spar, 161/2 feet outboard - I had no reason to fear, whatever the weather; so the work on that and the jib, like that on the boom and the mizzen, I regarded as permanent, excepting that the jib might have to be let in a foot or two, if the third reef were taken in the main­sail. The last job I should desire to face, when alone in a heavy sea, would be shifting jibs with chain halyards; so there was no intention of doing it, excepting in an extreme case that was not likely to occur; to show how unlikely, it may be men­tioned that I never shift third, for storm, jib until the fourth reef is taken in the mainsail. That has occurred only about four or five times in twelve years. We have carried this jib in such heavy gales, turning to windward with three reefs down, that I have known a square foot of the tabled clew to be blown away piecemeal during an afternoon - going to the ‘Sultan review’, in 1867; have had the foresheet horse carried away with a reefed foresail, and the mizzen bumpkin carried away with a reefed mizzen - going to Scotland in 1875; and the bowsprit sprung, returning from Scotland in the same year; for which reason the present spar is about a hundredweight heavier than the last. The jib is large for heavy weather, but when sheeted dead flat, with a tackle, if necessary, it has the inestimable advantage of enabling us to luff for heavy puffs, and lift the mainsail, or throw her head up for a dangerous sea, with the certainty of paying off again without losing headway. In the ‘Orion’, the third, as against the storm, jib, is good for two knots an hour more through the water. Besides increased area, it counteracts the strong tendency to weather helm, generally exhibited in vessels of great gripe, and has the advantages before mentioned.
rounding headlands
It was not thought probable that we should see the ‘Eudora’ after the first day, as it was understood that our tactics would be different. Their determination was to keep the land aboard, and mine to do the reverse, unless the wind were off shore. There is a great difference of opinion on this point. I think my plan of avoiding the headlands on a long passage the best, for two reasons. The sea is longer and more regular in the deep water, and strong tides at the headlands when adverse tell more against than favourable tides tell in favour - the reason being this, that when in favour you are carried in an hour or two beyond its influence into the ordinary deep-sea tide, and when adverse you are stopped at or near the headland during the whole tide. There are exceptions, of course.


anchorages & pleasure
Nothing, in my opinion, is more invigorating and delightful, or better calculated to make one forgetful of little ills, than landing at a picturesque spot for a few hours’ scramble on cliffs and rocks, or taking a cruise in the boat - under sail or otherwise - amongst the caverns and peculiarities of a pretty coast, returning to dine and sleep on the open sea, free to stay or free to leave, without harbour smells and restrictions, or annoyances of any sort. The worst to be apprehended in a general way, with good seamen on board, is having to leave in haste during the night, with the loss of an anchor and a few fathoms of chain which depends upon whether you are able to leave in good time, before the sea becomes too heavy to heave up the anchor. In this case the chain is unshackled and buoyed ready for slipping, the sails are set, and when she sheers the right way the chain is slipped.
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anchorages & chart
I was once requested to remark upon the anchorages in the Channel. The reason why so few are recommended in the Sailing Directions is because the instructions are for ships and coasters - vessels that are not able to beat off shore, blowing hard. Every yacht going to sea should be provided with the general chart for long distances, and with all the detail charts of half-inch scale and upwards for working along shore. It is advisable to read all that the books have to say against an anchorage, and then disregard the warnings if you think proper. For instance, the anchorage off Selsea village, called the Park, is not recommended, but it is an excellent road for yachts, and a great favourite of mine with the wind between S.W. and North. Having proper charts, it is easy to judge - by the outline of the coast, the soundings, and the nature of the bottom - whether it is advisable to anchor or not. Coasting vessels are rarely provided with this information, but yachts should never be without it. Yachts anchoring for the night, or for longer, off such places as Freshwater, in the Isle of Wight, Beare Road, Lizard Point, Etretat, &c., should - unless the weather be very fine, with a good barometer - take a reef or two in the mainsail, have a moderate-sized jib on the bowsprit, always have a buoy ready to mark the chain in case of having to slip, and never delay a moment longer than necessary when the wind comes fresh off the sea. The distance from low water mark should not be less than a third of a mile; and if a thunder storm were brewing in any quarter of the compass it would be according to my taste to ‘clear out quickly’.
anchoring - necessity of a general cleanup
Upon an occasion like this the general clearup is undoubtedly rather trying; but in open anchorage, where there is no certainty that at any hour you will not be called upon hastily to make sail and stand out to sea, whatever work below might by lazy people be left to the morrow, on deck order must be thorough and complete. Anchorage at sea night after night, especially upon an iron bound coast, is fraught with nothing but danger where these conditions are not recognized and strictly observed.
anchoring in a fleet of yachts upon an open coast
One good lesson I learned - never again to be caught at anchor with a fleet of yachts upon an open coast on a regatta night, when half the fleet will certainly consist of illfound vessels that anchor off only upon these occasions, with serious risk to themselves, and to others that have the misfortune to be near them. Fortunately, only one small yacht of 10 tons was lost; but if the wind had not shifted from the S.E., few, if any, of those that remained at anchor would have escaped. Elsewhere the losses were numerous that day.
anchorage or harbour (Cherbourg)
There is a capital harbour and floating basin, entered between two fine stone jetties, for those who prefer the dust and bustle of a town, with smooth water, to a fine healthy sea anchorage with the inconvenience of a little motion. For many reasons my preference is decidedly for the latter. You can get under way for a cruise, or sail about in the boat; and what a jolly place for a sail - about five square miles of protected water, with something to interest you all round. In my opinion, its freedom from squalls places it far above any English port for pleasure sailing.
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close anchorages
The great necessity for informing yourself correctly of the distances in these close anchorages, where it is only a question of a few boats’ length between safety and danger, is that you may not be afraid to pay out sufficient chain to save the risk of dragging if it should come on to blow; also that you may know how to cast the vessel’s head and work out in case of having to ‘slip’.
During the night and morning several picturesque­looking Dutch fishingboats came into the bay, and anchored in such close order, that they were able to lash the boats to­gether in tiers of four or six; I presume from motives of soci­ability only, as in my opinion such an arrangement was quite incompatible with comfort or safety. I wished to land at Filey; but as the thunderstorms continued at intervals, with strong puffs of wind, which might have chopped round to an easterly quarter at any moment, I considered it was unadvisable to remain any longer.
anchoring in a boat of light draught
During the ebb tide a strong north wind renders the riding off Cliff Creek very undesirable in a boat of light draught with a single anchor and a dinghy astern. Not simply on account of the motion, to which a sailor ought not to object, but because the boat, being light and buoyant, would run over her anchor, take violent sheers from side to side, and pass half the time in the trough of the sea, with the chain grinding and sweeping the keel from forward aft, or from aft forward, ending in a violent jerk and a moment’s peace; only to begin the same round over again, to which it would be absurd if a sailor did not object, especially in close proximity to other vessels and a lee shore.
anchoring with the use of a buffer (or compressor)
The wind being so light that the lugger would ride to the weight of the chain rather than to the anchor, I took the precaution to lay a kedge inshore and put a good strain upon it - a precaution which should never be neglected when there is a prospect of lying exposed to the sea for any length of time. The object of this is to prevent the vessel swinging over and fouling the bower anchor, upon which her safety depends. Determined not to abandon my position for a trifle, I paid out all the chain, and rode to a patent cable buffer, belonging to the ‘Orion’, which, being too powerful to afford sufficient play for such a light riding gear, I modified, by hooking one end of a stout tackle into a strap at the foot of the mast, the other end into the shackle of the buffer placed 10 feet abaft the mast, and rode to the fall of the tackle, keeping all rope inboard and enough of the chain to ‘bitt’ securely abaft all. The effect of this arrangement was to allow the chain an elasticity of four inches, if the strain were sufficient to compress the buffer one inch; and if the fall of the tackle parted - which was scarcely possible - the chain was still perfectly secured. By experiments tried at home, in which the same tackle was used, it required a strain of 8 cwt. to compress the buffer 3 inches - a strain which a 7-ton boat could throw upon it only under extreme circumstances.


The motive for riding to a buffer (or compressor) is obvious to experienced seamen, but to others an explanation may possibly be serviceable. Leaving out the question of tidal currents, which, with few exceptions, aggravate the difficulties of hard riding, my remarks must be supposed to apply to roadsteads little subject to their direct influence. A vessel, windrode in moderate weather, and having a proper scope of chain - which, on account of its weight, assumes the form of a curverides with a greater or less proportion of it on the ground, according to the strength of wind - in which case the strain upon the anchor is horizontal, or in the direction most favourable to its resistance. Thus, while the wind is not sufficiently strong to force the vessel to the greatest possible distance from her anchor, she rides easily; since the curvature of the chain acts as a spring which gives to the sea when the vessel rises upon it, and brings her back on the ‘scend’ when the sea passes aft. In a gale, when the vessel is forced to the greatest possible distance from her anchor, the strain, being in a direct line from the hawse pipe to the anchor, is diagonal, and tends to lift the stock off the ground - a position which, in smooth water and a steady strain, may be consistent with comfort and safety, but in a heavy sea is not consistent with either.
Supposing the anchor to hold firm and the chain to be at its greatest tension when the vessel is in the hollow of a sea, the water being deepened by the height of the succeeding wave, it is clear she must spring forward a proportionate number of feet to allow the wave to pass under her. The strain being suddenly relaxed when the sea passes aft, the ‘scend’ slacks the chain, and - by force of wind - she immediately begins to gather way astern. With this tendency already in operation, the next sea, if a severe one and a breaker, would force her considerably beyond the range of her chain but for the resistance of the anchor, which brings her up with a sudden jerk, called a ‘snub,’ that is heard and felt in every part of the vessel, and which may be attended with any of the following serious consequences:­ She may ship the sea; carry away the pawls, and surge all the chain if, from neglect, not ‘weather bitted’; capsize the wind­lass; start the anchor; or snap the chain. To the first and two last of these accidents, the best built and best found ships and yachts are liable. The second and third result from defective construction, previous strain, or age.
From observation, I should think the proportion of yachts - especially among the smaller ones - that could ride to their windlass and bitts in a heavy breeze on the land, is very small indeed; but even with the best and most powerful, there is serious cause for anxiety when the vessel snubs with a full scope of chain. In the absence of a cable buffer - which from experience of a gale in Torbay I am convinced no seagoing yacht, or ship, should ever be without - ropes may be bent to the chain forward of the wind­lass, and secured to the mast; provided the turns on the chain are taken in such form as to be easily cast off or cut away clean, in case it becomes necessary to ‘slip’ and get to sea - a con­tingency for which every precaution should be made, whether there is a determination to hold on or not. Other and neater dispositions might be made in anticipation of bad weather, but none can be so simple or effective as the buffer.
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anchoring in the line of breakers
On our coasts, with proper allowance of space for getting under way, the draught of large ships prevents them being anchored inadvertently within the line of breakers. But small vessels are often anchored in dangerous positions through attention being directed solely to their limited draught of water, instead of the far more important consideration of the possible line of breakers - which depends entirely upon the shelving of the ground outside. For instance, vessels of like build varying from 5 to 100 tons, and in draught from 3 to 10 feet, might ride a gale with equal safety in 4 fathoms, low water, provided shoal soundings extended to a sufficient distance outside, to moderate the sea rolling in from the deep water beyond. Whereas, the circumstances being in other respects similar, if the soundings increased rapidly outside, their position would become extremely perilous towards the period of low water; and not the largest, but the smallest and least powerful would he the first to succumb to the violence of the sea - the question of a few feet difference in draught not being a matter of consideration in this case.
It is said to have been ascertained that a wave breaks when the depth of water in the trough is equal to the height from the trough to the crest; its character then undergoing an altera­tion from a wave of oscillation to a wave of transference. Thus in a calm after wind, a boat (or any floating substance), in respect of horizontal motion, will remain stationary outside the breaker unless a higher wave involves it in its break, when it is hurried towards the shore with a violence and rapidity that no anchors or exertions of oarsmen can withstand. This may be true in regard to a wave from deep water meeting a rapidly shelving bank; but I am certain that where the bank shelves very gradually, the change, in a modified degree, begins to take place earlier, or as soon as the base of the wave is retarded by contact with the ground. Otherwise, in a moderate sea, divers would not, from this cause, be obstructed in their work in depths of 5 fathoms and upwards, as we know to be the case.
anchoring in the vicinity of high land
Anyone unaccustomed to anchorages in the immediate vicinity of high land can hardly fail to be alarmed at its apparent nearness after dark, when the sense of perspective, by which distance is estimated in daylight, no longer exists. Thus, the darker the night, the more complete is the illusion of the cliffs and the hills behind them being merged into one lofty perpendicular, which overshadows the vessel by its black reflection in the sea, advancing almost to her side, and seems to leave not a fathom of space to swing, much less to get under way, without finding oneself ashore.
anchoring in increasing gale
The wind increased in force, and gradually southed until it set straight through the Downs with a tremendous sea, which would not have occasioned me much inconvenience­ though occasionally the lugger seemed to leap almost out of water with its violence - if the wind had not caught her in that position, first on one bow and then on the other, and caused her to range considerably. The effect of ranging with so large a scope was to expose her broadside more or less to the sea, and cause her to lurch heavily until she regained her position astream of the anchor. To correct this, I set the mizzen and hoisted a small jib as a trysail - sheet upwards and aback against the mast to prevent it being blown to pieces - cast to the westward, and when the sheer had forged her sufficiently ahead, let go a second anchor and hauled down the jib. Paying out 20 fathoms of rope, she fell into her former position and remained tolerably steady for a time with an equal strain upon both anchors. The ropes were ‘parcelled’ to protect them from chafing in the ‘gammoniron’, which answered admirably as a ‘hawsepipe’; and to prevent the strain being thrown directly upon the short nip of the belaying cleats, a turn was first taken round the mast. To avoid spending more time on deck forward than was absolutely necessary, the stormsail, being dry and in every way easier to handle than the mainsail, was opened out below and reefed there; then lifted forward and bent to the mast. When the tackles were overhauled and seen to be clear for hoisting almost beyond the possibility of a hitch, and the sheet bent on, I furled the sail and partially covered it - so that there would be nothing to do but uncover, cast off stops, and hoist away. The precaution of covering may seem superfluous, since rain and spray wetted it considerably before the cover could be put on; but if the canvas and tackles had been permitted to harden by saturation the difficulty of hoisting would have been increased, and the latter, probably, have kinked and jammed at a critical moment. The ensign, in a ‘reasonably’ tattered condition, had been hauled down at sunset, and shortly after­wards the riding light got up - which, in spite of the violence of the elements, I contrived to keep burning with steady brilliance throughout the night by partially closing the ven­tilator with thin canvas.
anchoring - getting under way
The difficulty of getting under way when blowing hard is not due to the weight of anchor and chain, though, of course, their weight is an important addition. The difficulty consists in forging ahead against wind and sea a dead weight of about 5 tons, which, but for being held by the anchor, would tend from 3 to 5 knots an hour in the contrary direction. In the absence of wind pressure, or a tidal current equivalent to it in force, the work of weighing anchor is about equal to hoisting the mainsail. ‘Snubbing’ is peculiar to the unyielding nature of chain, and is inevitable when riding short in a sea way. It may however, occur, in a modified degree, when riding short with rope.
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anchoring - leaving anchorage under sail
With a reef down, weighed anchor, by a method I habitually resorted to when the wind was too strong to enable the riding rope (or chain) to be got in by hand, viz., by ‘sailing’ it out of the ground. (At sea, I use rope; and in river harbours, like Dart­mouth, &c., chain.) On this occasion, besides the strength of wind and the large scope to be got in, there was the additional reason, that hulks and other vessels were anchored under my Ice, of which it would have been possible to fall foul if, during the process of shortening in by direct hauling, the anchor had prematurely begun to come home. Under these circumstances, I set the mainsail, carried the steering lines forward to be within easy reach, and forthwith commenced a series of gradually shortening boards to windward, which, I trust, the following description of the manoeuvre will sufficiently explain. (For cutters and yawls, the jib is a necessity; but the mast of the ‘Perseus’ is so far forward that she will not lie head to wind with the mainsail set, so that in her case a jib is not required.) Being compelled by the mainsail, not too harshly sheeted, to take a wide sheer from her anchor, the strain on the bow, assisted by the helm, forces the vessel round on the other tack, and, while sailing close hauled towards her anchor, allows the rope or chain to be hauled aboard rapidly and with great case, until, having crossed the original line of her anchor, the strain again begins to be felt, when care must be taken to ‘bitt’ instantly and securely, and so enable the operation to be re­peated while there remains any slack to be got in. The result is that the vessel breaks the anchor out of the ground herself, and, instead of falling to leeward while it is being hauled aboard and stowed, continues to increase her distance to wind­ward of any obstructions, whether vessels, sand banks, or rocks, by which her safety might have been imperilled.
screw steamers
The greatest drawback to sailing on the cast coast of England is, that it is cursed with unmanageable screw steamers, far beyond any other coast in the world. In strong and thick weather, which is much agravated by their smoke, they are a constant source of un­easiness, especially during the night. Unless you are in a bay or far out at sea there is no rest to be had on account of them.
The habitual blocking with permanent moorings of every available spot in this little river is a great nuisance to strangers seeking shelter there in blowing weather; the ground being so soft that the anchor is almost certain to drag foul before the vessel can be securely moored.
grounding on purpose
I suppose there is not a yachtsman or a sailor of experience living who can perceive that this grounding was only a little annoyance, which those who close shave the land in inland waters for their amusement are liable to every day, and think of no more account than intentionally taking the ground for the many purposes that small craft habitually do.
Generally the boat is turned in at night ready for sea; but occasionally, as in this instance, when determined to ride if possible, a strop is passed round her, and, with one of the luff tackles, kept handy for various uses, the strain is relieved from the davits and thrown upon the standing part of the runner. My davits are abaft the main rigging, for greater convenience in handling the boat, which is never carried in the davits under way.
getting the dinghy on board
It may be asked how I came to be towing a folding boat on such a rough day, instead of having her doubled up and snugly stowed on board. The fact is, I had her strengthened to such an extent to fit her for my rough work that she weighed over 90 lb. instead of 5o, and was so stiff in working that I was not dis­posed to expend the strength required to take her up, fold, and berth her on board. Moreover, being so heavy and cumbersome for one hand to deal with, she marked everything with which she came in contact with her paint and greasy hinges. Standard cwts. and even 1/2 cwts., with their compact form and convenient rings for lifting, are not playthings; but they are so in comparison with similar weights represented by awkward­ shaped parcels several feet in length, and having no handles whatever - particularly so when the motion of the vessel is great, and it is difficult to move or to stand without holding on.
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preparation to set sails in the dark
The reader may perhaps imagine that the hours passed slowly. If so, he can have no idea of the time consumed in all this anchor work; in washing down thoroughly with pure sea water - indispensable to comfort after a few days in harbour; in double-reefing the mainsail and furling the sails; in seeing everything clear and in its place - that it might be possible to make sail in the dark; in attending to the lanterns, stove, stores, and general cabin work; and finally in preparing a hot dinner.
night duty
My settled purpose was, if possible, to get home while there was light to be got from the moon, which, whether clouded or not, relieved the wearisome night duty, and enabled one man to be below, provided there was no other work on hand but steering and keeping the lockout. This, in my estimation, is a good reason for sailing continuously and without regard to weather, especially in the fall of the year, when nights get longer by waiting.
This point has a splendid revolving light of alternate white and red - a description of light in every way superior to those that plague mariners with their long eclipses, causing them often to be overlooked in a heavy sea and thick weather when their distance is considerable and position as regards the ship un­certain. The Mull of Galloway has a fine intermittent light, which is quite unobjectionable, being light 21 minutes and eclipsed 1 minute. On the other hand, Beachy Head Light, one of the most important in the English Channel, is the worst and most troublesome of all with which I am acquainted, being illuminated only 15 seconds and eclipsed 1 minute 45 seconds. If its character were changed to intermittent by reversing the periods of light and dark, it would greatly in­crease its usefulness. In my opinion, no revolving light should suffer a long total eclipse, but should pale, or be alternated with red or green.
Somnolence - a complaint well known to me by experience, and from which, so far as my observation extends, seamen who have been up all night are rarely, if ever, exempt at some early hour of the morning. Strange to say, while making almost superhuman efforts to retain consciousness, which, by reason of the motion, cannot be lost for longer intervals of time than the vessel happens to be nearly on an even keel, my instinctive appreciation of the surrounding circumstances and sense of hearing were sufficiently acute to enable me to luff in time to meet every comber that threatened to come aboard, and, without materially diminished speed, fall off again on the course when the crisis had passed. With me, the attack usually lasts about fortyfive minutes, and does not return till a late hour of the night, or early the following morning.
work on deck in a heavy sea
In such a sea it is exhausting work for tired hands. First, the boom has to be secured to leeward with powerful lashings, that must be gradually tautened upon it while the topping lifts are being eased, so as to prevent any play whatever. Then the sail, flapping violently, and stiff as millboard from satura­tion, has to be gathered in. When half done, a heavy sea pays her head off: in an instant the work is undone, and the canvas bellying like a balloon over the sea; fortunate, indeed, if sufficient hold of the leach can be retained to save it from being filled with water - an accident much to be dreaded. Long before the work is done one’s face may feel the cold wet blast, but the body, heavily clothed and waterproofed, feels as if it were in the East Indies, and arms as if they belonged to some­body else. For five hours we were lying-to under the reefed foresail and storm jib, busily em­ployed the whole time stowing the mainsail, repairing an accident to the bowsprit bitts (caused by a heavy sea striking the bowsprit and jib), and bending the trysail.
carelessness of those who can swim
I often complain of the carelessness of the men, and observe that those who can swim are absurdly reckless. Shifting jibs in a heavy sea is a work that requires skill and caution. The chain halyards swing heavily with the roll of the vessel and have a great tendency to lift a man off the deck who is careless in handling them.
swell & a short sea
I have sometimes, in conversation, spoken of waves passing into the ‘majestic stage’ - a term I clearly understand, and feel, when viewing it, although difficult of explanation. In the ocean, or in the Channel, during westerly gales of many days’ duration, the wind will perhaps back and veer several times a few points between S.W. and N.W., accompanied by corre­sponding movements of the barometer. The result will be a long and high westerly swell, very grand in appearance, with, on the top of it, a short sea from the quarter in which the wind is then blowing. I object to the term ‘ground swell’, unless caused by an obstruction to the current at the sea bottom send­ing waves to the surface, as at Portland, the Lizard, and the Land’s End, &c. In deep water it is this comparatively short sea on the top of the main swell that breaks, and floods a vessel’s deck, sometimes doing considerable damage, because, breaking at a great elevation, it acquires increased momentum from the height of its fall, and because a large ship, being already in regular motion from the main swell, is not prepared to rise a second or third time to the ‘cross-sea‘ on the top of it. A small vessel does that, and the motion, when close-hauled or reaching, is horrible. The short sea goes down soon after the wind has fallen, but the swell remains for several days, although gradually subsiding.
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height of swells
Although a swell of this height is considered smooth water on the Irish coast, it certainly would not be so considered at Margate if launched against their pier on a fine day. Being a long ocean swell, it represents a large and heavy moving body of water, which travels with great rapidity, and rushes upon an obstruction with such sustained weight that, viewed from the sea, it rises to about twice its height in green water before breaking into foam. Harmless enough in the deep water, you are soon made to know that it is terribly powerful if you venture within its influence when it begins to feel bottom. When we were in the trough, after pulling one or two seas clear of the ‘Orion’, she was out of our sight to the height of half the main­sail, and we were lost to their view altogether for long intervals, being in fact visible to them only when we both happened to be on the top of the sea at the same time. If I had not carefully measured the sea from the vessel, I should certainly have estimated the height considerably above 7 feet.
speed & sailing before the wind
There is a great deal of misapprehension about the speed of small yachts. Few of them carry patent logs, hence they always sail faster than those who do. Under double-reefed mainsail, with the peak eased down, and the squaresail, I have registered 19 knots in two hours - equal to 11 statute miles per hour - running before a heavy sea in the Channel, and then have had to hand the squaresail in anticipation of a squall that did not fail to keep its promise. A vessel only 441/2 feet long must have a powerful midship section to run at that speed with safety, and must carry more canvas than it would be possible to come to the wind with. The disposition to sheer violently on the top of a high sea is very marked, and more difficult to counteract with the helm than when sailing easy; at that speed she seems to hang on the crest of a breaking sea, instead of allowing it to pass her quickly; at that moment you feel the pressure taken off the tiller, and she is whirled along until the break of the sea is past the rudder. The consequences of an accidental gybe and a broach-to would be so serious that I am careful not to risk the tiller in the hands of a man, who is not well acquainted with the peculiarities of the vessel. All vessels have peculiarities, that are learned only by practice, so that a man who understands them knows beforehand what they will do. His judgment is formed by the run of the sea - whether it tends to one quarter more than the other - or whether it will break before coming up with the vessel. If a heavy sea always ran in nice parallel lines it would be very little trouble, but it does not, and every wave that looks threatening must be watched, and the helm altered to bring it dead aft. I should not like to run a small racing yacht before such a sea as this excepting under easy canvas.
One cannot help feeling at the time what a dangerous sail a flying squaresail - laced to the yard - is to broach to with when blowing hard - or to be caught aback with by a sudden shift of wind in a squall. A vessel running out from Cherbourg under such a sail at 1 A.M., 24th July, would have experienced this. The shift of wind was instantaneous from S. to N.W. - a greater change than I have ever observed before. From W. to N.W., and from W.N.W. to N., in a squall, is so common in westerly gales, that when clouds bank up heavily in a northerly quarter it should be expected. The highest rate I have logged ‘reaching’ is 9 knots, with the jib-headed topsail set; but rates quite as high have been attained under three-reefed mainsail, when not exposed to a heavy sea. Between the Needles Point and St. Catherine’s, blowing hard from S.W., with a heavy sea, I have logged 8 knots under double-reefed mainsail, reefed foresail, third jib, and storm mizzen - notwithstanding we were much delayed by luffing, or bearing away, according to circumstances, for dangerous seas. For sea forward of the beam I always luff­ - abaft the beam, always bear away, when not too close to land.
speed dead to winward
Some large ships are said to sail fast on a wind in moderate weather, but I have never met with one yet that had improved her position upon us after several hours’ parting. Blowing hard enough for us to require three reefs down, they are good ships if they can do better than ‘hold their own’. We never make less than three knots dead to windward, often more, which de­pends not so much on the height of the sea as on its character. Where no protection can be got from the land, in heavy weather it is safe and more comfortable to keep the deepest water. In fine weather we practically sail within 4 1/2 points of the wind; blowing hard, with a heavy sea, my custom is to ease the mainsheet a little and sail 5 points. Three and four knots per hour dead to windward sounds small; but I am writing of actual practice in heavy weather, when, with the exception of larger yachts, nothing seems able to come near us; 70 to 80 miles a day against a strong wind is not pleasant sailing, but it is worth doing if you want to make progress. To make this good - the rate through the water being 6 and 7 knots - requires careful steering. Those who have never seen a heavy sea, talk and think lightly of it, but it sometimes happens that the finest ‘fore and afters’ are compelled to heave-to, for fear of drowning the hands.
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failure to make headway
If, at first, disappointment attended the failure to overcome the adverse influences of wind and tide and sea combined, it was due to forgetfulness of the impossibility of driving by pressure of canvas, as we do vessels of more power and greater draught, a boat not wholly decked through a sea I soon discovered had no ‘foot’ to it. But when more reasonable tactics ensured success, equanimity returned, and I enjoyed a breeze which, if it conferred no more enduring benefit, at least laid a good foundation for dinner.
It is a great pace to travel in a heavy sea, with a vessel so low in the water as a good yacht of 26 tons must be. Neces­sarily battened down when ‘reaching’ in the trough of a high sea, the motion of a 20-ton vessel - while attending to the charts, or trying to get some food, in the close atmosphere below - is dreadful. I have known a man who had been at sea 50 years come on deck with a piece of biscuit in his hand, declaring he would have been sick if he had stayed below another minute. I myself have several times had to forego meals for the same reason. But this quick motion, which is characteristic of powerful small vessels, is their safety; for it is manifest that unless they quickly recover their ‘scend’, and rise high over the sea, they must take a large quantity of water on board.
For nothing is more calculated to ruin one’s sea legs than crawling on hands and knees in a heavy sea, in a space so confined that it was like crawling under a table. Besides, they say it is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back, and he had a suspicion that that would be the last straw for him. Therefore we let the bottle roll and bang about all day. While dozing in the train up to Woolwich and in our beds the following night, we were both pitching and rolling about, the sensation of motion being accompanied by the wretched sound of the rolling bottle. We have since had many a laugh over this.
One man had to give in to the sea malady early in the day, much to his annoyance, although people say it is a good thing. From a variety of causes calculated to produce the effect, I had reason to apprehend, much to my annoyance, that he would be joined by good company before morning. No amount of motion on deck affects me, but battened down below with the charts and books, bending over the table, and clinging to it for support in a small vessel sailing 7 knots in the trough of a heavy sea, is a position that would severely try the archenemy himself, even without the additional discomfort of wet clothes, and privations of all sorts that poor mortals have to endure. To be certain of our exact position at all hours, in anticipation of the coming gale with its uncertainties, was a positive necessity that made the work below much harder than usual.
a gale
The word ‘gale’ amongst yachtsmen is quite a relative term. It would be a gale for a 10-ton modem racing yacht, when a wholesome cruiser of that tonnage would not think much of it. I think it may be considered a yachtsman’s gale at sea when two or three reefs are an absolute necessity, and when nothing but smart fore and aft vessels attempt to turn to windward.
- after going over the bar at the Needles into the Solent
I am too great a novice to accept safety as a matter of course. The reaction upon my feelings after crossing the Bar was greater than I care to express, or desire to experience again if there be equal cause for it, however agreeable a successful result may be. One feeling of unmixed satisfaction I had in the knowledge that my vessel was equal to such an occasion.
in a gale - sailing to winward
Having seen that the lower tack was home to the last inch possible, I clapped a tackle on the fall of the halyards, shook up in the wind, and gave the yard an extra bowse up until the sail stood like a board. The gear need be good to stand such treatment; but an ill-standing sail to windward­- especially when, without stopping her way, a craft requires to be temporarily relieved from overpowering pressure by judicious ‘lifting’ - is an abomination, and not unlikely to lead to a vessel becoming unmanageable; since it is impossible to luff for a breaking sea without violently flapping the canvas, and paying off broadside to the sea the moment headway is lost. Keeping a vigilant watch on the sea, and not for an instant unmindful of the irreparable mischief that could be wrought on an undecked craft by a miscalculation or inadvertence, I stood on until the easternmost cliffs were four miles astern; when I put about, and - with a trifling lee helm - hove-to awhile, to get rid of the water, that in spite of every precaution it had been impossible wholly to exclude. This done, there was another reach of five miles to Dover, which was accomplished in good time, notwithstanding the canvas was kept constantly ‘lifting’ to free the lee gunwale; and the numerous delays occasioned by luffing - even to the extent of heaving-to - to meet the lofty curlers, which gave her such terrific lurches that everything possible to unship or break away did so, and it was necessary to hold on tight to save being shot out to leeward
hard pressed
Sailing gunwale under with three reefs down is not a pastime one would choose for pleasure. It only occurs under such circumstances as those described, viz., in a squall when there is want of sea room, or when too near shelter to sacrifice the time in further reducing canvas. An excursion-boat from Leith was five hours after time in steaming 15 miles to windward, landing her drenched and seasick passengers at midnight, for once satisfied they had had as much as they could reasonably demand for their money.
We encountered a true easterly wind in every sense, accompanied by a short sea, averaging twentyone to the minute, which greatly impeded our progress. (On the Cornish and Irish coasts I have met seas averaging five and even four to the minute, which may properly be described as a ‘long sea’.)
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wave heights
When blowing hard, an angry sea 7 to 10 feet high is very formidable to a small vessel, as those who take a run to Margate or across the Channel in steamers fifty times the size of the ‘Procyon’ cannot but be aware. Those who think lightly of a sea only 5 feet high should observe it in moderate weather, when there is no cause for apprehension, from a small boat to leeward of Salcombe Bar. And those who doubt a sea 7 to 10 feet high being formidable, should see it, as a swell 200 feet long, strike the outer rocks of Scilly, or run upon the Longships; yet it is not a tenth part so formidable to encounter under way in deep water in this form, as in that of an angry sea whose length is but from 70 to 100 feet, or in tidal currents off the headlands, where it is often considerably shorter.
steering in strong wind and sea
Sailing, close hauled, in moderate weather, the helmsman looks to windward almost exclusively, and, therefore, sees very little of the water on the lee side. But, in bad weather, when the vessel is heeling gunwale down, his eyes, when not on the com­pass, are perforce directed to the lee side, and the boiling sea, between which and his sight nothing then interposes. In these circumstances threefourths of the steering is conducted by sound and feeling, and not by sight; in fact, by means that no amount of literary or oral instruction can possibly convey to another. If instruction on such a common sense point could be needed by anyone who contemplated taking the helm in stormy weather, it would be a recommendation never to allow his ears to be closed by the lugs of a sou’-wester, or by any other form of covering; since, when, by reason of darkness or violence, one is unable to keep a continuous lookout to windward, the approach of a breaking sea, at a distance which affords ample time to take precautions, is as often detected by its noisy surf as by sight. Similarly, when already hard pressed by wind, anyone with his ears open and on the alert will luff nearer, and infinitesimally nearer - even to the extent of throwing some of its power out of the sail by gentle lifting - just in proportion as its sound in the rigging attains a higher tone or key. The objects of this manipulation are, to hold on through the exceptional puffs that, during a gale, invariably accompany a densely clouded sky, without unnecessarily reducing canvas, and, while counteracting the tendency to heel excessively, to keep the vessel sailing at her best, and under fullest command. The reason for keeping her thus strictly in hand is, that at a moment’s notice she may he brought head on to a breaking sea, and filled off again with but little loss of way; or, if the increase of wind should not prove temporary, be put in stays, which will enable the mainsail to be eased down, or lowered entirely, while she is rounding, and the jib to be thrown aback without handling the sheet, consequently, with least trouble or loss of time.
heavy weather - preparations
Everything movable in the forecastle - table, cans, buckets cooking utensils, and crockery - had to be lashed or jammed up ready for sea; dead lights in the bow screwed up; stove funnel unshipped and the flange covered on deck. It is as great a pleasure and comfort to see everything in its place when the vessel is plunging in a heavy sea, as the discomfort is great in having them tossing and tumbling about, adding con­fusion and a dirty mess to that which is perhaps already sufficiently trying. I have found crockery, glass, and even the clock, uninjured, in places so seemingly impossible, that I have ceased to be surprised at anything occurring in the races open to the Atlantic.
However well a vessel is battened down, and however well you may be clothed in waterproofs, there is a deal of discom­fort from wet and cold in gales. When the sea dashes with violence horizontally against the best made and best protected skylights and scuttles it will penetrate below, and when sprays representing many gallons in quantity strike you frequently and with great force, the water is sure to pass all your guards and find its way down the neck and up the sleeves. Moving about engaged in work, it is impossible to keep dry.
Many persons ask the question, ‘Do you call that pleasure?’ I say, ‘No’, as regards the long sea passages, which I treat quite as a matter of business, and get over as quickly as possible. I have observed that those who answer ‘Yes’ in books, and profess to have been intensely delighted with long sea passages in small boats, never go again. My cruises, when time permits, are on the wildest and most picturesque coasts of Great Britain and Ireland in pursuit of pleasure and health. As a rule I find both to perfection, and am willing to endure a little hardship to gain them.
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This page is dedicated to the many cruisers who have inspired me and who have given me confidence to be building this chapter on cruising. Trusting their advice i am going on cruises aboard my little ship again and again. Thanks goes to everyone who sent me pictures and information.  Without your help this site would not have been possible!  Please keep sending your material, and i will keep improving the pages!

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