Thursday, 29 April 2010


A reader with a famous name, Mr. R. L. Stevenson, of 8 Morton Crescent, Exmouth addressed the letter below to the Editor of The Exmouth Journal. It was published 27th March 1965.


As far as I can see, the only way to become a successful Deep Sea Fisherman is to be blindfolded, gagged and have my hands tied behind my back (quite a handicap when fishing) because the advice I have received to date from the professionals is as follows: -

When setting out I must NOT –

Use a green painted boat.
Go on a Friday the 13th.
See a Minister of Religion or a cross-eyed woman.
Wish another fisherman ‘good luck’.

Also when in the boat I must NOT –

Mention a coney by its proper name (this is fatal).
Comb my hair.
Stick point of knife in boat timbers.
Use an umbrella.

Perhaps some of your nautical readers could tell me a few more things I MUST NOT DO in order to catch fish as I am most anxious to learn.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


On Friday 6th October 1922 a friendly sailing match took place from Exmouth. The match was between four small sailing dinghies, sixteen to eighteen feet in length. These were the beautiful, classic, gentlemen’s pleasure boats of the period. There were two new Topsham boats, Lorna and Joanna Taylor and two older Exmouth boats, Dona and Primrose. (Strange to tell I came to own this same Lorna in 1969 but that’s another story.) The day was forbidding, squally and rainy, and the course was ambitious. They were to sail from the Docks at Exmouth, pass inside the Fairway Buoy and then to round the Galicia Wreck Buoy off those famous stacks, the Parson and the Clerk, and so return to Exmouth.

William Pym, a pilot, turned up to sail with Mr Lewin in his boat Joanna Taylor, as often he had done before. Captain Thomas Garnsworthy’s boat, Primrose, was an open boat. The others were all halfdeckers. The breeze was so puffy that Captain Garnsworthy was advised not to compete. He, however, said he would put to sea if he, in Primrose, could have William Pym at his side. Mr Lewin lent William Pym to Captain Garnsworthy much as a man might lend a paddle to a friend. Then there was some talk as to whether or not a motor boat should accompany the dinghies but in the event they set off without.

The race started at lunchtime and lasted until teatime. Captain Holman’s boat, Lorna, was the first to finish, then Joanna Taylor, then Dona. The three skippers waited long for Primrose but she did not come home. Bert Hawkins, a fisherman, told later how he had seen four sails. Then there had been a squall. Then he saw only three.

Captain Garnsworthy was no spring chicken. He had been born at Starcross sixty five years before and had retired to become a popular citizen of Exeter and a member of the City Council. William Pym was forty two. He had been a Chief Petty Officer during the Great War and had gained the D.C.M. for services rendered in the Persian Gulf.

Both men were drowned.

The loss of the Primrose was reported in the Exmouth Journal of 7th October 1922

Monday, 26 April 2010


High in the sky on
his heavenly bed
the hunter Orion
has rested his head.

He floats over Exe
and stares up into space.
He thinks about sex .
There’s a smile on his face.

He splays out his legs.
As he dreams through the night
his left foot’s on Exmouth,
on Dawlish, his right.

While over the flood
where Exe meets Clyst
he has grasped his long sword
in his whopping great fist.

Over Exeter town
His proud head gleams.
Goodnight Orion!
Orion, sweet dreams!

Friday, 23 April 2010


Last week, overlate, I put my boat on her mooring and the next day had my first sail of the year. It was a weekday morning and I had the Estuary to myself. The sky was blue and there was just enough breeze wafting down river from Dartmoor to promise that my Poppy would ghost across the waters. I cast off and immediately began to feel the exquisite charm of controlling her movements by a light, yet firm, touch upon the tiller.

I have stolen this last sentence from that gem of a book by G Christopher Davies, 1849 – 1922, first published in Queen Victoria’s reign and entitled Boat-sailing for Amateurs, containing Particulars of the most suitable Craft, with Instructions for their proper Handling. His writing is redolent of his times:

“Crack! The sail has gybed, but it took you unawares, knocked your hat off into the water, and made you drop your pipe. Serve you right.”

I experienced no gybe, a word much closer to the original obsolete Dutch gipjen, to shift, than the usual form. In any case I have no boom to take me unawares, another lovely old Dutch word, nor did I have a pipe to drop from its jaunty angle between my lips and sadly my hat was not the boater with the college ribbon that Mr Davies would have sported. My time too was limited. A yachtsman’s time before the Great War for Civilization always seems so expansive. I had promises to keep and had only an hour or two to glide slowly across from Lympstone to Powderham and to make a triangle home from Powderham to Lympstone by way of a buoy called Number Thirty Three. But this was enough to reassure me that the Estuary was still there, sparkling and waiting.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


In 1941, Percy Bradford, who was a Trinity House pilot joined the Exmouth Police War Reserve. One of his wartime duties was to organise moorings for the many barges that, in 1944, came to be based in the Estuary in preparation for the D Day landings. These were strung out like a giant’s footprints between Exmouth Bight and Powderham Castle. The United States Navy and G.I.s of the Ivy Division were ashore in Exmouth. General Eisenhower came to visit and to encourage. There was fun to be had in the mild spring weather of 1944 but every man and maid knew that the happy days were numbered.

On the fifth day of June, the day before D Day, Percy was ordered to report to H.M.S. Tennyson. Tennyson was one of His Majesty’s ships ashore. It was the Imperial Hotel in Exmouth by another name. Percy was given sealed orders to take out to the anchored tugs and their barges now ready and waiting beyond Exmouth Bar. He went out in the pilot vessel and delivered the orders to the senior master. The master read his orders and signalled to the other tugs. Within two minutes every vessel was sounding its whistle. Then, in choppy seas, the little fleet moved away, bound for Normandy and the beaches.

For more on World War Two and the Estuary see the articles by Ian Dowell for Key News.

Monday, 5 April 2010


From the Exmouth Journal, July 1908.

“…A party of Exonians who were on a visit to Exmouth, last Saturday, had a novel, if not disagreeable, experience of “navigating” on their own account. They hired a boat, just as others did, and went out for a short trip on the “briny.” But shortly afterwards, when somewhere between the Exmouth beach and the Warren, they found their own united strength more feeble than that of Old Neptune, and eventually were cast upon a sandbank! The boat by this time was also accommodating the water and of help their (sic) was none to be had.

Two of the passengers sacrificed comfort for the sake of their companions by jumping out, and , up to their waists in water, they succeeded in safely towing the craft away, a landing then being effected. They, however, suffered the disadvantages of wet nether garments, which, rumour says, they dried in the sun, and patiently awaited the consummation of renewed comfort…”

What I like about this story is its pomposity, its intrinsic silliness, its total insignificance and its studied unfunniness. It seems such a strange survival, such a serendipitous find. Thanks to the Exmouth journalist and against all the odds after a hundred and two years we know all we need to know about what happened to some visitors from Exeter on that Saturday in July.

They hired a boat,went aground on a sandbank and two of them had to dry out their trousers. Good, isn’t it!?

Friday, 2 April 2010


From the camp to the castle we gathered our cattle
then went the wet way down the running water,
running the rough way to the salt sea river,
running the rough way to the red cliff’s cleft.

We found no foes but saw the silver salmon,
We saw no ships and sheathed our ready swords
We found no foes. They were ashore and hidden.

Laughing were we and splashing in the salt spray,
Laughing were we, their sails had fled our river,
Laughing when they, like eagles, came upon us.

Red ran the blood in the bay of the red cliffs,
Many the slain lost in the shallow waters.
Like eagles they slew us in the shallow waters.
Few that came back to their kin and their cattle.