Homecoming of a heroine

Af­ter a 15-year restora­tion, Peter Draper takes his 90-year-old St Ives gig on a West Coun­try pilgrimage to the beach where she was built

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

A re­stored Dunkirk Lit­tle Ship re­turns to the beach where she was built

What a feel­ing when those hours spent dream­ing fi­nally come to an end and that sum­mer cruise be­comes a re­al­ity! Ca­ro­nia, my 40ft St Ives gig, turned 90 last year, and un­der­took a voy­age many mod­ern ves­sels would envy.

I’d bought her as a float­ing live­aboard boat and re­stored her over 15 years. In recog­ni­tion of this work, she was awarded the great hon­our of be­com­ing the Na­tional His­toric Flag­ship (NHS) for the So­lent and South re­gion. As part of her du­ties, she would take part in mar­itime fes­ti­vals along the South Coast. It was also an op­por­tu­nity to take her back to Tol­carne beach in Corn­wall, where her keel was first laid nine decades ago.

A well-re­stored and over­hauled ves­sel is no less sea­wor­thy than one a frac­tion of its age. Af­ter re­pair­ing the hull and decks, step­ping the mast, rewiring, re-en­gin­ing and fit­ting fuel tanks, there is no doubt that Ca­ro­nia was my own. I knew what was un­der the cabin sole and be­hind the cab­i­nets and had con­fi­dence in my work.

So I was ac­tu­ally ready, I had even se­lected a small plas­tic pot into which I in­tended gath­er­ing my lit­tle piece of the Newquay beach.

The first leg was from Chichester to the Yar­mouth Old Gaf­fers, where we were to be awarded the NHS broad pen­nant. The run out through the So­lent was by far one of the most pleas­ant days I have ever had at sea. My tide cal­cu­la­tions were spot on and I ar­rived in Yar­mouth on the Isle of Wight with­out in­ci­dent.

The Old Gaf­fers fes­ti­val was fan­tas­tic. The town was full of stalls and crowds en­joy­ing the sun­shine, and the prize­giv­ing at the yacht club was an emo­tional event, which re­quired a con­sid­er­able amount of liq­uid stores!

With the first event un­der my belt and the first miles west logged I started plan­ning the next pas­sage. Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter the bril­liant sun­shine came the in­evitable wind and rain. My home port is the beau­ti­ful and clas­sic set­ting of Bird­ham Pool, Chichester, part of the Trans Europe ma­rina part­ner­ship. So I headed into the Ham­ble to find one of the half price moor­ings this net­work al­lows.

The pas­sage is one of the most pic­turesque but the Ham­ble is not with­out haz­ards. There are hun­dreds of ves­sels moored mid-river and all along its shores and sev­eral mari­nas. Very near the top of the reach was my cho­sen ma­rina where ac­cess can be tricky if you don’t have your wits about you.

De­spite all my prepa­ra­tions for a sin­gle-handed ar­rival, I made two mis­takes: I left it too late to sort out ropes and fend­ers and I re­lied on the chart­plot­ter to guide me onto my al­lo­cated berth. A mo­ment of con­fu­sion could so eas­ily have gone wrong as I ma­noeu­vred into pontoon D odds in­stead of evens. There was no free berth to nose on to and I had to turn round in lim­ited space with the tide run­ning in strongly.

I was tired af­ter the fes­ti­val week­end and the rough pas­sage from Yar­mouth and made a men­tal note in fu­ture to al­low more lay-in time af­ter a party.

While in har­bour I got on with some writ­ing and fid­dled about with mi­nor jobs on board. I gave the main en­gine an oil and fil­ter change and watched the weather… for eight long mis­er­able days! It was all I thought about. I was glad I had

my stores on board which saved me hav­ing to fre­quently walk up the long hill to the near­est shop, or spend the all the voy­age funds in the bar and café.


Fi­nally the Force 7s and 8s abated and I was off west again. The only prob­lem was that the best day to leave was a Fri­day. Call me su­per­sti­tious, but like many sailors I don’t like go­ing to sea on a Fri­day. So late on the Thurs­day evening I took off the heavy moor­ing ropes I’d se­cured her with for the storm and put on the lighter throw­ing ropes. In ef­fect, I’d ‘cast off’ on the Thurs­day. I’m sure half of PBO’s read­ers will ad­vise me to talk to some­one in a white coat, while the other half will nod and sagely un­der­stand my re­spect for the sea. I abide by a num­ber of su­per­sti­tious rit­u­als – we are talk­ing about the sea af­ter all.

When I reached Wey­mouth I felt I was truly get­ting west. It was an­other per­fect day at sea, al­though with a sur­pris­ingly rough patch round Anvil and St Al­ban’s point; noth­ing Ca­ro­nia couldn’t han­dle.

Mari­nas have their value but there is noth­ing like tra­di­tional har­bours, and Wey­mouth is one of the finest. The har­bour staff were friendly and more than will­ing to as­sist with my lines. Moored on the har­bour wall, I was just a few steps from the town and I no­ticed we were in the same spot from which Mark Ry­lance casts off in the film Dunkirk. The 2017 block­buster tells the story of Op­er­a­tion Dy­namo. Al­most a year pre­vi­ously Ca­ro­nia had been at the Dunkirk beach, one of only 12 orig­i­nal ‘Dunkirk Lit­tle Ships’ that took part in the film­ing to recre­ate the evac­u­a­tion of more than 338,000 troops and civil­ians.

It was Port­land Bill and Lyme Bay next. There re­ally is no sub­sti­tute to seek­ing ad­vice. Hav­ing spo­ken with the lo­cal skip­pers, I left in the com­pany of an­other wooden fish­ing boat and we took the route out round The Sham­bles and well off­shore of the Bill.

Once west of the Bill I pulled up the mizzen and set­tled in for the long leg across the bay. Sun­shine, dol­phins, tea and sand­wiches, a cou­ple of posts on Face­book to keep the fol­low­ers up­dated, and within eight hours I was ap­proach­ing the en­trance to Torquay.

I wanted to visit Torquay as Ca­ro­nia had fished out of there in the 1950s – al­though back then there was no sprawl­ing ma­rina or JD Wether­spoon. The fa­cil­i­ties were fine but I just didn’t fancy stay­ing in a ma­rina for too long.

Af­ter just one night I slipped from my moor­ing in the very cor­ner of the ma­rina and en­coun­tered a prob­lem. I’d come in on the star­board bow, which I favour as I prop-walk to star­board when go­ing astern. How­ever, I now just couldn’t get her off

the pontoon with the fairly stiff westerly on my port bow. There was no op­tion other than to spring off – a tech­nique well worth learn­ing and prac­tis­ing (see panel, be­low).

I took a line from the star­board bow to the shore cleat aft of amid­ships, tied a loop, and took the free end back on board. Then, with a cou­ple of ex­tra fend­ers just on the curve of the bow, I very gen­tly went ahead with the helm hard to star­board. It’s a mat­ter of dy­nam­ics and forces; the bow can’t move so the stern has to go to port. It’s pos­si­ble to achieve a 45-60° an­gle away from the jetty be­fore gen­tly go­ing astern. As the spring line came slack I used the free end to flick the loop off the cleat. I then pow­ered astern into clear wa­ter and steamed away.

I pushed on round the cor­ner to the charms and old world set­ting of Dart­mouth and an­other Trans Europe ma­rina.

I took a berth on an outer pontoon and walked into town via the up­per chain ferry. A few sam­ples of the lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity and I was re­ally get­ting into my west­ward voy­age. Dart­mouth was so ap­peal­ing I planned to get back for the Royal Re­gatta later in the sea­son.

Per­plexed by Ply­mouth

Af­ter re­fu­elling at the barge the next day I con­tin­ued with my voy­age. I was due to at­tend the Fal­mouth Clas­sics and needed to make some miles. How­ever, the weather was less than favourable. I was al­ready a day be­hind due to the late start from the Ham­ble and the con­di­tions were against me. I’d hoped to make it all the way to Fal­mouth in one leg, but had to put in to Ply­mouth and an­other Trans Europe ma­rina. I’d spent a lot of time in Ply­mouth over the years so was sur­prised to find that the quaint but bustling Bar­bican is now a full on nightspot with ev­ery door guarded by a bouncer. It was a pleas­ant enough stay with help­ful ma­rina staff but I was glad to be away in the morn­ing.

As I rounded Rame Head, where I’d once dived as part of my com­mer­cial diver train­ing many years ago, I started to be­lieve I would ac­tu­ally com­plete my

pilgrimage to take Ca­ro­nia back to where she once worked. But first, I looked for­ward to at­tend­ing the Fal­mouth Clas­sics, where I would proudly fly the NHS broad pen­nant.

Fal­mouth was a won­der­ful spec­ta­cle with dozens of clas­sic ves­sels all fly­ing their dress­ing over­all flags. I met up with the NHS flag­ship for the south-west and en­joyed a cou­ple of nights out with them. I spent hours each day do­ing what I love most and talk­ing to an ar­ray of vis­i­tors about the his­tory and ad­ven­tures of Ca­ro­nia. How­ever, hav­ing lost that day on the voy­age down, I had just two days to en­joy Fal­mouth be­fore mov­ing on once more. One har­bour to go be­fore Newlyn and the beach!

Af­ter the fes­ti­val I moved to the Fal­mouth Trans Europe ma­rina. A short lay-over and a walk to the nearby su­per­mar­ket for stores and I was ready for the fi­nal leg west. It had been ar­ranged be­fore­hand that Ca­ro­nia would visit Pen­zance for the mid-sum­mer fes­ti­val, so on a fair tide and smooth sea I steamed down the coast to an open har­bour gate in the nar­row en­trance. How­ever, there’d been a break­down in com­mu­ni­ca­tion some­where, and I soon re­alised the moor­ing would not be suit­able, as I couldn’t get off the boat. Be­fore the gate shut and I was trapped for a tide I quickly made the de­ci­sion to shove off and run the fi­nal mile to Newlyn.

I made a hasty call ahead to the har­bour­mas­ter to check for space, then af­ter a slow run across the bay, I tied up among the fish­ing boats of Newlyn. I walked up the jetty and looked at the bright blue hull of Ca­ro­nia. She al­ways looks strange and out of place in mod­ern mari­nas and herds of plas­tic hulls, but here sur­rounded by vi­brantly coloured boats she looked to­tally at home. She had, in fact, come home. No one asked ‘what does SS70’ stand for – there were dozens of SS and PZ fish­ing reg­is­tra­tions. All work­ing fish­ing ves­sels have to dis­play their home port li­cence num­ber on the bow. Once you start see­ing PZ for Pen­zance and SS for St Ives you know you are truly in the West. Ca­ro­nia looked like she should be slip­ping on the dawn light to once again fill her hold with the sil­ver bounty of Cor­nish pilchards.

It was, I won’t deny, a very emo­tional

mo­ment. I’d com­pleted the years of work it had taken to make Ca­ro­nia a proud and ca­pa­ble sea go­ing ves­sel once more.

That evening I walked the short dis­tance to Tol­carne beach at the back of the town and filled my lit­tle pot with sand from the beach where her keel was laid 90 years ear­lier. I looked at where men with hand-tools had built Ca­ro­nia, the boat that changed my life, and the many tim­bers of derelict hulls now half hid­den by the sands. I stood for some time and took in the mo­ment. Then I went to the pub.

Lessons learned

How do you plan for a voy­age in a 90-year-old wooden boat that weighs 40 tons and has a hull speed of seven knots?

Ma­rina ma­noeu­vres

I won’t pre­tend that helm­ing a ves­sel like Ca­ro­nia is easy. She is steered by chains via a com­plex me­chan­i­cal steer­ing head, there is no au­to­helm and even at very low speed her con­sid­er­able bulk takes some stop­ping. I can’t turn up at a ma­rina just as it’s get­ting dark to be di­rected to a fin­ger pontoon right on the last row down a fair­way. When I call ahead to a ma­rina I usu­ally say I’m af­ter a berth for a 12m re­tired MFV of heavy con­struc­tion and lim­ited ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity.

Usu­ally af­ter a bit of dis­cus­sion a ham­mer­head is found with an easy sweep in af­ter com­ing out of the lock. In re­al­ity Ca­ro­nia is so heavy and re­sponds so well to her big 27in four-bladed prop that I can get onto and into most moor­ings, but I am never em­bar­rassed to ask for a lines­man.

Ca­ro­nia had been built to sit on the sand in St Ives har­bour or rub her way down the har­bour wall un­til her keel touched down and then rub her way back up as the tide scraped the large steel D-sec­tion rub­bing strake on her side against the stone of the har­bour wall. Fin­ger pon­toons were at least four decades away from that time and a lot are un­suit­able for her bulk. For the sake of one phone call you can talk to the berthing mar­shal at a ma­rina and ex­plain any con­cerns.

One 5⁄8in rope ashore is worth more than all the horse­power in the world and a light throw­ing rope at the sharp end and one at the blunt end will en­sure a dig­ni­fied ar­rival with­out the need for shout­ing.


I have the lux­ury of a large wheel­house – I built it my­self – with plenty of space for pa­per charts. De­spite the ad­di­tion of a GPS and chart­plot­ter, I will al­ways look at the charts first. It is the only way to plan a voy­age. Chart­plot­ters are one of the great­est aids to coastal nav­i­ga­tion ever in­vented, most will even show the lay­out of a ma­rina and you can track right onto your al­lo­cated berth, but don’t for­get to look at the pa­per ver­sion and out of the win­dow reg­u­larly!

Fend­ers and ropes

My usual cruis­ing part­ner was my son – prior to him sail­ing round the world in the mer­chant navy – and we’d split the du­ties from steer­ing to tea-mak­ing and pre­par­ing ropes and fend­ers. Now it’s just me I do this as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter slip­ping. You can have ropes on ev­ery cleat so it doesn’t mat­ter which side is to the jetty, al­though you should know this af­ter your book­ing call to your des­ti­na­tion. On Ca­ro­nia I have the deck space to do this and the coiled rope tucks nicely un­der the gun­wale with a loop over the rail and onto the cleat, mak­ing it easy for the shore­side lines­man to take the rope.

On top of each of the four side fend­ers I have put a D-shackle. On to the top handrail I clipped a cara­biner and I can raise the fend­ers to clip them up and steam with them out­board look­ing like a fish­ing boat lay­ing pot mark­ers. Al­ter­na­tively, I can flip them over the rail for a ti­dier ap­pear­ance. By clip­ping them to the rail they can’t roll all over deck and get un­der my feet when I’m on deck set­ting sails.

When clos­ing on a port I do a cir­cuit of the boat and flip the fend­ers over the rail be­fore re­turn­ing to the wheel­house to check the course. When a bit closer in, I do an­other cir­cuit and un­clip the cara­biner, let­ting the fen­der drop to do its job of pro­tect­ing our bright blue paint.

Ob­vi­ously the great­est risk when sin­gle-handed sail­ing is end­ing up over the side. While stand­ing within the con­fines of my wheel­house the chance of tast­ing salt­wa­ter is very re­mote and I’ll often dis­pense with my life­jacket in flat, calm weather. In any form of sea I wear it full-time. Ca­ro­nia has a de­cent handrail all-round the main deck, run­ning lower at the bow and stern. It of­fers a rea­son­able amount of se­cu­rity and safety, but there is no way I would ever con­sider go­ing out on deck with­out a life­jacket on.

I’ve just added some ex­tra grab rails around the wheel­house, which will now al­low me to clip a safety line run­ning for­ward around the main mast and aft around the mizzen. A short strap and cara­biner on my life­jacket means I can clip onto the safety strap but move freely about the deck. In par­tic­u­larly poor weather I wear a flota­tion suit.

Ne­go­ti­at­ing locks

With fuel and wa­ter tanks full, en­gine checks com­pleted and the pas­sage plan cal­cu­lated al­low­ing for tides and weather I put to sea out through the lock at Bird­ham. I’ve found I can take the lock lines round the main and mizzen mast and, stand­ing amid­ships, I hold the ropes one in each hand and keep Ca­ro­nia stead­ied to in­com­ing or drop­ping lock wa­ter. It must look strange to on­look­ers – like some­thing out of world’s strong­est man! But it works and means I can take in slack or let out as re­quired to tra­verse the lock.

Go­ing solo!

Once out of the con­fines of the ma­rina I set off to sea on my own and I love it! I’ve com­pleted nine- and 10-hour pas­sages with­out stress or in­ci­dent and rarely had to de­vi­ate from the planned pas­sage. In fact, some­times I’ve made more dis­tance if the tide and weather has been par­tic­u­larly favourable.

Re­mem­ber, you know where you’re go­ing, and what time you should ar­rive, but no­body else does un­less you tell them. Alert some­one back home to your plan. It seems like you can’t get away from Face­book th­ese days, but it is a great way to keep any­one on shore up­dated with your progress, as well as shar­ing photos of the ship’s dog bark­ing at dol­phins or lunch round­ing the Port­land light. The new HM Coast­guard and RYA app RYA SafeTrx is a free mod­ern ver­sion of a friend ashore and is avail­able for IPhone and An­droid.

Don’t for­get to ex­plain to your con­tact what to do if you go over the agreed check­ing-in time, and who to con­tact with your pas­sage in­for­ma­tion should they not be able to raise you di­rectly.

Make a note in the ship’s log of any mo­bile or land­line num­bers you may need for when you drop your phone in the bilge while do­ing en­gine checks!

The old har­bour wall at Newlyn, just yards from the beach at Tol­carne where Ca­ro­nia was built

Ca­ro­nia re­turns to the busy har­bour of Newlyn, more than 90 years since she left the port

ABOVE The old har­bour at Wey­mouth – a view from Cus­tom House Quay RIGHT Ca­ro­nia fol­low­ing a fish­ing boat into the in­ner har­bour at Ply­mouth

One of the many shanty bands at the Yar­mouth Old Gaf­fers per­form­ing on Ca­ro­nia’s deck

Peter with daugh­ter Natalie and son Lewis at the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Na­tional His­toric Flag­ship Broad Pen­nant in Yar­mouth

Steer­ing is me­chan­i­cal, by chains from a com­plex steer­ing head

A haven for yachts – the Dart Es­tu­ary

Septem­ber and the last fes­ti­val of the sea­son, the bird­ham Clas­sics, dressed to im­press and proudly dis­play­ing the Na­tional his­toric Flag­ship Pen­nant

The late ship’s dog, Wil­son, cov­ered hun­dreds of miles aboard Ca­ro­nia

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