Friday, 29 January 2010


It was very early on a bright and shining morning in 1969 and in those days we lived at the water’s edge. The tide was creeping up our slipway and I was up and dressed and intent on getting to Exeter. From my doorstep I could see across the broad Exe. Coming up channel was a sight that made me forgo and forget my trip to Exeter. It was an historic two masted vessel gliding up the channel like a ghost ship with no sails set and too far away for me to hear the motor that she ought not to have had. As Coleridge might have put it:

She doth not tack from side to side-
hither to work us weal
withouten wind, withouten tide
she steadies with upright keel.

This was not, however, the Ancient Mariner’s spectre ship nor was it the ship of that Dutchman of Heinrich Heine’ invention who was condemned to sail the sea for ever. It was the replica of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ketch, Nonsuch, which had been built in Appledore and was now on its way to the canal and so up to the Exeter Maritime Museum.

I leapt into my father’s punt and rowed acoss the tide to Turf. No other boat was moving on the Estuary that morning, only mine and this beautiful seventeenth century vessel. At the lockside I was the only curious visitor and the crew, who had been watching my furious paddling, invited me on board to admire their fine craft, her hiding cabins and her ornate carvings. It was, I felt, a glorious morning and an experience of rare privilege.

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