Category Archives: Videos

Swinging the compass

Do you remember the hot, breathless June of two years ago? I can’t go sailing yet this season; I can’t even haul out Guiding Star for painting because my wife, Sue, has mild symptoms of coronavirus and the whole family is isolated at home. So I thought I’d share a memory which I’ve finally had time to edit: Allan Hopton adjusting Guiding Star’s compass in Carrick Roads on one of those hot summer days.

Even in these days of satellite positioning and electronic navigation, merchant ships are required to carry a magnetic compass, so compass adjusters such as Allan are still working. Thank goodness, because I always suspected there was something odd about Guiding Star’s compass in its fine 1930s bronze binnacle. Most of the time, it seemed to read correctly but sometimes it seemed to be anything up to ten degrees out. Or was that just the leeway we were making?

My suspicion was correct. I had always imagined that if a magnetic compass was wrong, it was wrong by the same number of degrees whichever way it pointed. But Allan found Guiding Star’s compass deviated by several degrees only when the boat was pointing north-east. On most other bearings, it was fine. As you can see in the video, he fixed a tiny magnet to the side of the binnacle and the compass now reads correctly.

A First in Charlestown

The first Charlestown Harbour Classic Sail Festival proved that Cornwall can celebrate its maritime heritage with as much passion, energy and fun as Brittany. Festivals in harbours on the French side of the Channel attract tens of thousands of visitors and top musicians, pouring money into the local economy and exciting people about the history of fishing, trading and privateering which shaped their country. Now, the English coast at last has a chance to catch up and we were thrilled to take part on Guiding Star.

Crowds thronged the eighteenth-century harbour walls to watch fifteen boats from the 63-foot three-masted lugger Grayhound to the 26-foot open oyster dredger Alf Smythers parade through the narrow entrance and negotiate a sharp turn into the inner harbour. They packed the quayside, where movies and television series such as ‘Poldark’ have been filmed, to dance to local bands Flats and Sharps and Mad Dog Mcrea.

The food was superb. HarbourQ barbecued sardines, sweet potato and halloumi with home-made relishes and sauces, and Bristol chef Rachel Bull’s served fresh local mussels and chips and oysters from her Winkle Picker caravan.

Several boats, including Guiding Star, were open for visitors and Cathy, Thomas and I took turns to stay on board to show people around.

On Sunday, there was a spontaneous sculling competition with prizes of rum made by the skipper of Ibis, Elle, who runs the Fal River Distillery. I’ve never sculled before but I had a five-minute lesson from Spike, who restored the 65-foot Lowestoft drifter Gleaner after bringing her back from Germany in pieces in a shipping container, and is a serious sculler.

Cathy’s video shows Spike powering up the harbour to win the race with her friend Viv on lookout in the bow, and me and Viv’s partner Chris going nowhere. Viv later took over from me and through sheer determination drove us the last fifty metres up the harbour where there was still a swig of rum in the bottom of the bottle.

Spike showing how it’s done

We were up at six on Monday morning for all the boats to leave the harbour before high tide, and broad reached home to Plymouth. The light breeze gave a chance to try a mizzen staysail for the first time; it added most of a knot so we barrelled along, but the wind freshened and the weather helm started to push us towards France so it had to come down again.

The Festival was the result of a huge effort by a large number of people so thank you to all of them and to the new owner of Charlestown Harbour, Rolf Munding. This was a breakthrough moment and I hope the Festival will grow and grow.

Musical moments in Paimpol

Two hundred traditional boats, six sound stages and brilliant summer sunshine: the Paimpol Festival du Chant de Marin this year was huge fun.

In the midst of all the noise and heat, one man in a small boat created a moment of delight:

Our friends on the French lugger Le Grand Léjon perform as a shanty group called Les Fortunes de Mer. Here they are on stage.

The crew dinner, paella and pudding for 400 in Paimpol’s community hall, surrounded us with song.