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sea, salts and sail



ousehole’s charms have long been on the map. Perhaps even the Spanish knew a thing or two when, in 1595, they landed at what is now known as Spanish Point and went on to plunder the West Penwith village. This particular Spanish invasion may be somewhat obscure, but rather more famous is Dylan Thomas’s description of Mousehole. In a letter to the poet Norman Cameron’s wife in April 1936, the hard-drinking Welshman designated Mousehole “the best village” in England. Few who visit would disagree with what has proved to be an enduring approbation, not least if they arrive in December to see Mousehole’s famous Christmas lights. But the village also comes into its own with a wonderful biennial festival first held in 1996. This July, Sea, Salts and Sail is back, once again providing a unique way to experience the traditional maritime craft that are so great a part of Cornwall’s heritage – not least, the Barnabas. Few boats are as romantic as Barnabas, a 40ft Cornish dipping lugger built in 1881. She – for all boats are, of course, female – originally sailed out of St Ives where she was built for Barnabas Thomas, a devout Methodist, by Henry Trevorrow. Now she is often ➔ 24

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berthed in Mousehole and, having been fully restored by the Cornish Maritime Trust (CMT), will be one of the highlights of this summer’s Sea, Salts and Sail jamboree. Barnabas is the only survivor from St Ives of a 1,000-strong fleet of lug-rigged seine and drift net fishing boats registered at Cornish ports after compulsory registration of fishing boats was introduced in 1872. Today, she plies a gentler trade. Usually with either former hydrographer Adam Kerr or Mousehole-based artist Tom Rickman in charge, she sails Cornish waters for CMT members, giving them a taste of life on the old luggers. Given the opportunity to crew Barnabas on a fine late summer’s day, I jumped at the chance. Our embarkation point, Smeaton’s Pier in St Ives, couldn’t have looked more beautiful. In the distance Godrevy Lighthouse – which inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse - rose out of the light haze covering the quiescent blue of the sea. There was just one problem: the wind, or rather, lack of it. In such still waters there would be no option but to use the engine, fitted in 1996 to comply with modern safety requirements, to round St Ives Head and pick up the sea breeze which Kerr was sure would be blowing. When we found it, I discovered first hand that manhandling the outsize masts and rigging of the boat was no easy task.

The two masts of the Barnabas are made of Douglas fir, and strength as well as skill is required to haul up the huge foremast lug and heavy sails. A glancing blow from the block and tackle used for uphauling would send a man overboard and, for good measure, unconscious. The main mast is known as the foremast, while behind is the mizzenmast whose top is painted in barber pole red and white stripes. The paintwork was to assist with identification when luggers returned to harbour: difficult as it is to believe now, 100 years ago Cornish ports would be crammed with hundreds of vessels. Boys whose job it was to row to incoming vessels, to collect crew or fish, needed to know which boat was theirs. With Zennor behind us and Barnabas in full sail we hugged the rugged Cornish coastline. Ahead of us were The Happy Return and the Ripple, two other surviving luggers which will also be present for Sea, Salts and Sail. As they sailed into the sun their black silhouettes gave rise to thoughts of the luggers’ alternative use: smuggling. Paul Greenwood, author of Once Aboard A Cornish Lugger, reveals: “The Cornish smuggling luggers earned a ferocious reputation, but the crews were well rewarded for the risks they took. For a run to Guernsey or Roscoff and back, a crewman was paid ten pounds, probably more than he would

clockwise from left: Ben Marshall adjusts the sail; Alex Wade helps stow a lug sail; The Ripple; Sculptor Colin Caffell at the helm 26

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sea, salts and sail

earn in three months working as a fisherman.” On we sailed, past the surfing beach of Sennen Cove and towards Longships Lighthouse. Kerr allowed me to take the tiller, a task I didn’t take lightly given that the reefs around Land’s End are among the most treacherous in the world. Numerous ships have foundered here, and one of them, the RMS Mulheim, lies wedged against the cliffs, a reminder to any passing sailor of what can go wrong. I found myself clasping the tiller as if my life depended on it, desperately scanning the sea for white water which might signal barely submerged rocks, but Kerr, 75 and with the classic seadog’s silvery beard, was all equanimity. “I had to choose between art and the sea, and chose the sea,” he said, a choice which may not have been easy given that Kerr is the grandson of Lamorna Birch, the founder of the famous Lamorna school. Kerr lives in his grandfather’s house in Lamorna Cove, which came into view not long after we had navigated the Runnelstone, yet another deadly reef. Now retired, he is the principal skipper for the CMT, and has an unusual sideline: he regularly appears as an expert witness in disputes over maritime boundaries and nomenclature. After Lamorna came Mousehole. We cruised slowly past the immaculate village, with St Clement’s Isle on our starboard and Ben Marshall, another local man and owner of

Mousehole’s Sandpiper Gallery, this time taking the tiller. I recalled, as I eyed the granite of Mousehole’s harbour wall, that in the heyday of the Cornish lugger Barnabas would have been crewed by four men and a cabin boy. At the turn of the 19th century, when the Newlyn and Lamorna schools of art were flourishing in Cornwall, she would have sailed to the Western Approaches and Isles of Scilly for the spring mackerel fishery, venturing on to Ireland in the summer as the catch switched to herring. Now we were a motley crew of artists, writers and sailing enthusiasts, united by a love of the sea and delighting in the experience of traditional sailing offered by the Barnabas. We may not have truly experienced life as it was for the four men and a boy of old, but I know one thing for sure: this July’s Sea, Salts and Sail festival, offering all this and more, is a must. CT For more information on the Barnabas, including how to book a group sail, see The ‘Sea, Salts and Sail’ festival takes place in Mousehole from July 9 to 11. Entirely the work of volunteers, it is a celebration of Mousehole’s maritime past and features all manner of traditional sailing craft including luggers, gaffers and crabbers. See

clockwise from left: Cormorants in silhouette; The crew furl the sail at the end of the trip; Skipper Adam Kerr

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Sea Salts and Sails  

Cornwall today July 2010 Sailing Feature

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