Friday, 25 June 2010


It would seem that we are to have a summer worthy of the name. Last Tuesday, all of a sunny afternoon, I sailed Poppy up and down the tide just for the fun of it.

When we set out there was a steady breeze blowing from the sea and the tide was flooding fast so I sailed her closehauled and took on both wind and tide and we made what progress she and I could. 'Us against them'.

Now, to tell the truth, my lovely Scaffie, with her one loosefooted lugsail, is not the best in the world at sailing against the wind and some might think we made sad progress. But why should we care? There is a pure joy in going nowhere elegantly and Robert Louis Stevenson was right when he wrote, ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive and the true success is to labour.’

Poppy was labouring right enough and it was with difficulty that we crept down river until we were clear beyond Powderham castle. It was a hard won advance but what glorious wide sweeps we made across the whole width of the shining river and how sweetly the sun shone on us both! Next though we allowed ourselves the luxury of gliding with the wind on our beam and with the tide in our favour until we were way up river under the Royal Marine Camp. By now the tide was considering turning and the wind had shifted slightly in our favour and it was already time to think about tacking home.

I had trolled a handline over the side in no great hope of catching my fish. There is always too much seaweed floating about the Exe these days. Every time I pulled up the line to clear it of weed I told myself that I was wasting my time because of the weed and because I was sailing far too speedily. The lure, I told myself, must be positively skidding along and too near the surface for any fish to take but a superfish. Nevertheless I persevered. There was nothing to be lost beyond a fishhook and two inches of electric cable.

Then I caught my sea bass. It fought nobly. They always do. But soon it was aboard, all silver scales and spines and shining in the sun. I rejoiced. I only hope to catch two or three sizeable bass in a summer and here was the first.

I cooked the superbass à la Vendangeuse according to a 1970's Jane Grigson recipe that required half a pint of white wine in the cooking and the rest of the bottle in the drinking. It had been a triumphant day.

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