Sea Salts & Sail -- Mousehole 2018
I had never been to a boat festival before, and didn’t know what to expect.
It turned out to be a very colourful collection of boats, people, entertainment, and local history.
Sea Salts and Sail is a thoroughly-Cornish biennial event at Mousehole, which celebrates the town’s history and maritime heritage by inviting classic boats and holding sailing and shore-based events. It alternates with the Looe Lugger Festival, and we like to take Happy Return to both. This year was the 12th festival, which ran from July 13th to 15th.
The official Programme gave details of all the events and facilities, and the “life histories” and pictures of many of the boats. Impossible to summarise here, these included gigs, punts, dingies, skiffs, cutters, sloops, crabbers, replicas, restorations, and a “gentleman’s yacht”.
Between them, they had crossed the Atlantic, and been around Europe, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, Brazil, Cape Town, the West Indies, and the Caribbean. At least two had circumnavigated.
Some would be going on to the Douarnenez Boat Festival in Brittany – another event that we hope to go to in future.
Eight of us set out from Penzance at 3pm on Friday for a sail in the Bay before getting to Mousehole at about 6pm. John Tellam was skipper, and Mike Halse mate. The conditions were perfect, and Happy Return bustled along nicely in a northerly Force 4, with new members taking turns to helm. Unusually, we practiced tacking, knowing we would need to do this in the Parades of Sail (technically not races). Normally we “go the long way round” and gybe, which gives us more time to dip the lug and recover. Tacking has to be quicker, to avoid losing way, so is physically harder. As usual, tea and biscuits aided our recovery.
Approaching Mousehole, we were greeted by many large and colourful banners, with Cornish and Breton flags at the harbour entrance, known to locals as the Gaps. People were swimming in the harbour, and jumping off the quay. We rafted up alongside “Barnabas” (a similar St Ives lugger) on the South Quay, and immediately upset some local residents. That part of the harbour is the oldest, and is made of massive lumps of granite. The pigeons that live in the crevices grumbled at us all weekend because we had taken their spot.
Live music was already well under way on stage, and John T went off to get his Skippers Instructions from the organisers – this was a very comprehensive guide to the Festival. He also came back with a goody-bag of local produce, which was appreciated by all. (Don’t keep chocolate above a hot engine!). All visiting crews were given tickets for two evening meals.
The festival was formally opened by Jonny Nance of St Ives, who specialises in building “Jumbos” – small, open luggers. Naturally, there was an extensive bar, and music and drink flowed freely until 10.30 . . . . . . . . and beyond . . . . . . .
An incoming flock of seagulls (and the bilge pump) decided to celebrate their maritime heritage at 5 am. Happy Return creaked and groaned as she lifted on the incoming tide and rubbed shoulders with her neighbours. I creaked and groaned as I lifted in my bunk.
It was Saturday, and the heat wave continued. A tanker of sun cream would have been useful, but probably couldn’t have got through the High Street. There was no wind, and the larger boats that had anchored outside the harbour nestled in the mist by St Clement’s Isle.
Given the wide range of boats attending, considerable care and cooperation had been needed to get them rafted up in the harbour in decent order. This now had to be reversed to get everyone out for sailing before Low Water. This meant extracting Happy Return and getting her out and anchored off by 7am. Mike Halse (A Mousehole “Boy”) knew a good spot where the anchor would hold, so we fixed that up and took the water taxi back to shore for breakfast.
Our other crew members turned up later, and we were all back on board by 10 am.
The organisers had previously set out various courses with marker-buoys, and had to choose which to use for the day’s conditions, giving various points-of-sail. It was announced to all by radio that we would be doing “two laps of Course D”. John T and Peter May (helming for the
day) unravelled this requirement from the Skippers’ Instructions, and got us into a good position for the 10.30 start. The mist had burnt off, the wind had picked up, and we got away decently.
It was magnificent to be out there with other boats in such a superb spot under great conditions. However, sailing to a prescribed course is not something we usually do, so extra care and attention was needed to abide by the “highway code” and set ourselves up to round the marks. Happy Return can’t get closer than 60’ to the wind, so this has to be factored in when turning to aim for the next mark. The two black lines drawn on top of our navigation-display housing are aligned to correspond to this situation, and sighting along the correct one to the next mark gives us the right turning-point. Combined with Peter’s experience, we made good use of this. However, we all know that Happy Return isn’t Admiral’s Cup material. “Rose of Argyll” swept past us (and several others), handled superbly by her young French crew who swarmed over her like gibbons, earning great respect throughout the festival. She has no engine, and carries out all port manoeuvres by rowing and sculling. (They also won the small-scale sculling race in the harbour).
Other boats were using different strategies and tacking-patterns; it wasn’t straightforward keeping track of everyone, but it was great fun. This went on until about midday, when the water-taxis were due to get crews ashore again for lunch. This didn’t “go zackly”, and we had a very slippery time wading the last bit through the Gaps. There is a forest of kelp here. The ancient Orcadians deliberately used this as a lubricant when moving stone blocks – perhaps something to bear in mind if Happy Return is ever stranded?
With a slightly-amended crew we were back on board by 3pm for the second Parade of Sail around a different course. Again, we made decent progress, but the physicality was beginning to tell, so we decided to leave out the last lap. (Agile, fit, strong, young members - we need you!). The plan then was to be first back against the quay, leaving others outside us, to avoid another early-morning shuffle. This worked, and we upset the pigeons again.
The colour-coded tapes on our berthing-lines and cleats are set up to give us the correct lengths on our Penzance ladder when the tide is out. Longer lines were needed at Mousehole, so we needed a way of measuring how far down the wall HR sat with no water.
The perfect “ruler” was to hand – 13 rungs of the ladder showing above the top of the bulwarks. Not even a pigeon could argue with that!
Another problem arose here – the base of the old quay wall has a slightly-stepped cross-section, so we had to make sure that the leg didn’t settle onto a ledge. We added some extra fenders as well, to keep her off the vertical quay baulks.
On-stage entertainment was well under way again, and the organisers had brought in a good range of mostly-local musicians for the weekend. Folk, jazz, contemporary, soul, skiffle, blues, and various tribute-styles, some going way back to the 1940s. The Mousehole Male Voice choir was in action – they had formed in 1909 after learning Christmas Carols in an old net loft. The Cadgwith Singers had briefly migrated from the Lizard – their regular Friday-night shanty sessions (dedicated to the washed-up-long-ago Saint Inebriatus) appear on our Sailing Programme. “Cadgwith for Singing” indicates a pilgrimage in that direction.
Cookery demonstrations (fish of course!) and children’s activities all had local flavour.
In the 1930s depression, local children made their own toys with what they could find on the beach. They were skilled at making miniature sailing boats with cork, seagull feathers, and slate fragments for keels. These were called “corkers”, and this tradition was re-enacted.
Other Kids’ Stuff included, story-telling, poetry, art, flag-making and piñata-making (and bashing!).
A lot of local history was presented. Traditional crab-pot making was demonstrated on the quay – every fishing community managed willow coppices for withies, and the remnants of some can still be seen. In the Chapel Sunday School, the Mousehole Historic Research and Archive Society exhibited historical maps, documents, family trees, and old photographs. Dolly Pentreath, the last native speaker of Cornish, was featured; she died in 1777, and is buried in Paul churchyard nearby.
Also on display was a model boat made by one of our own skippers – Mike Halse. This is a 1/26th- scale representation of the 50ft 1930-built local fishing boat “Lyonesse – PZ81”. The original was built in Porthleven for the Pender family of Mousehole, and was famous locally for being very well looked after and for her unusual grey-green colour. From memory, Mike made up the same colour for his model. He remembers one famous occasion when “Lyonesse” became a concert-platform in Mousehole Harbour. The Mousehole Male-Voice-Choir sang on her deck for locals and holiday-makers. A hollow wooden boat makes a magnificent sounding-board! Getting the piano on and off must have been interesting.
Mike comes from a long-standing Mousehole family. His model-making career was launched when a Newlyn shipwright gave him a half-model of a lugger. Wooden half-models were used as templates by boat-builders, who sliced them up and then scaled-up the cross-sections to establish the shape of the full-sized boat. It took Mike eight months to make “Lyonesse”, and he has made 6 other models. His next will be “Pellew” – a Falmouth Pilot-Cutter. A full-sized “Pellew” is being built from scratch at Truro by Luke Powell, who gave the MBLA a talk on his work last winter. Luke was at Sea Salts & Sail with his Scillies Pilot-Cutter “Agnes”.
We decided not to sail on Sunday, but to advertise the MBLA and welcome people aboard Happy Return. Extra members and friends turned up during the day, we gave out membership applications, and have hopefully brought in some new people. The heat wave, jumping off the quay, and music continued.
For quite a few people, it was only the harbour that dried out completely during the weekend.
The fact that 10 wheelie-bins were put out For Bottles Only gave a good indication of how things were going.
Sunday evening brought the Awards Ceremony and Prize-Giving. We didn’t win anything, but many of the crews know each other, and there was much applause, banter, and joshing.
A specially-commissioned painting by Tim Hall, “The Rose of Argyll departing the Gaps” was auctioned for £2,000, with the money going to local community causes.
It was good to see old friends and make new ones. It was a privilege to meet Conrad Humphreys, who had been the Sailing Master of “Bounty’s End” – the 23ft open boat that had recreated Captain Bligh’s 4,000-mile passage to safety after the Mutiny. That boat was there, and the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth have built an additional replica.
I picked up a story about Mousehole men being the first to wear sailing gloves. This was to avoid the old Press Gangs. They looked for experienced sailors whose hands had been worn by handling gear and ropes – routinely wearing gloves made them look less useful.
Monday was a quiet day. Stallholders were packing up, and the pigeons were beginning to relax. We squared up Happy Return, and took down the pennant to stop it getting caught in the masthead equipment. A final crew of 12 mustered to get us back to Penzance for 9pm, after a couple of hours sailing in the Bay. A very sociable concluding passage.
The organisers wrote afterwards to thank everyone who had been involved. It had been a record-breaking festival, with about 50 boats attending, and 4,000 visitors.
Only one thing seemed to be missing – there wasn’t a black-and-white cat in sight!