Kents Gone West

It’s holiday time and the Kents went down to distant Cornwall to stay in St. Just in Roseland, overlooking the 13th Century church set in its unique, semi-tropical garden and adjacent creek.

Relaxed at last after the long car journey (especially as I had to double back from Bristol to reclaim those essential pills left at home!).  As soon as you cross over to the beautiful peninsula by King Harry’s car ferry you are in a world of yesteryear – the deep water channel is where the Americans boarded their tank-carrying craft for the D Day Normandy landing.  Just a mile or two away is St Mawes Castle with its commanding views of Falmouth’s important port, also linked by ferry.

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Falmouth is a working port with all the cranage required for such a strategic location. ‘Packetboats’ once plied from here carrying the mail far and wide.

The new National Maritime Museum is well worth a visit.

The ferry from St Mawes provides a regular and interesting crossing.

Still an important service point for big ships, tankers, bulk freighters and HMS Argus were being bunkered in the bay.  Meanwhile, here in St. Mawes, the annual Regatta for the traditional working fleet was being competed for by 20 or so oyster smacks – a delight for the eye as they weaved in and out of St. Mawes’ harbour in a background of rich woodlands and rolling pastures.

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It was a joy to watch both my grandchildren at the helm of tiny Optimists, learning the ropes just as Drake and Raleigh did on these very same waters.  We oldies spent our day relaxed portside in a more leisurely manner, hobnobbing with the Harbour Master about other sailing friends alas now long gone.

A most encouraging chat over future projects with the waterside gallery owner will spur me on to yet another maritime pictorial series – perhaps focussing on The Roseland and St Mawes Sailing Club which boasts various classes in unusual numbers.  Luckily we were there at the right time to see them preparing at the start and finishing just in front of their portside HQ, with the officer of the day hard at work.  Each of the oyster smacks had an easily identified top sail which could be recognised from some distance away.

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Similar regattas and barge matches are held along the Thames Estuary during the sailing season.  Here again, the traditional tan colour is being changed in design and colour utilising corporate sponsorship – a bit of a shock for the traditionalist.  Even the hull colours are being brightened up!  Both Kent and Essex sailing smacks are to be seen competing in their own class.  Visually they are not dissimilar in design to the famous pilot cutters which were once very prevalent to the western approaches of English and Welsh ports.

For my previous ‘big birthday’, the Kent family crewed the Thames Sailing Barge Repertor from Faversham to compete in the Swale and Southend matches – a remarkable three-day event.  On the last night, anchored off Southend Pier, I was banned by my fellow crew to the upper deck because of my snoring, which echoed from stem to stern.  My all-night vigil was fascinating as the barge swung around with the tidal changes providing a challenge to my navigation skills separating moving vessels from the flashing buoys;  no wonder my 80th birthday family lunch was held on board the Dutch barge Leven Is Strijd  safely moored in static West India Dock.

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