Eden Northmore Jones recounts his final cruise of 1884 in the five-tonner ‘Guess’, a 23 ft. round bilge boat, 8ft. 4″ beam, drawing 4ft. After a September beset with gales, he finally decides to take a ‘landsman’ friend on the promised cruise with his ‘foremast hand’ Cap’n Dick. They depart Llanelli, South Wales to cross the Bristol Channel. During the passage, they call at the Helwick lightship with a parcel for the crew.
[By the] 1st of October we thought we might as well have a crack at the ‘long tails’, and give the weather a chance of clearing. The ‘first’ was fine, so that night we went aboard again, turned in, and rousing out at 5h. 30m. a.m. on the 2nd, were under way by 6h. running down the river before a nice south-east breeze; before we reached the bar the wind had veered round to south-west, and was blowing fresh. I hauled down a reef in the mainsail and got outside; there we found the weather looking as bad as possible; the wind came in about west, very squally with heavy rain showers, so I hove-to in Rhossili Bay to watch it.
About 10h. the wind veered to W.b.N., and it began to look finer, but was still blowing stiff; however, being now determined to make Ilfracombe that day, I shook out the reef, and stood out for the Helwick lightship, which is moored four miles W.S.W. of the Worm’s Head. I had a parcel of illustrated papers, etc., for the crew, which I find are very acceptable, and these I duly delivered at 11h. a.m., not without difficulty though, as there was a nasty sea running, and it was dangerous going alongside the heavily rolling lightship, however, it was done without damage, and we sheared off and laid our course for Ilfracombe, S.b.E. The wind had by this time come out north-west, and was blowing hard, but I kept the canvas on her as we were going large, notwithstanding there was a good sea on, and the vessel was shoving her nose into it every now and then.
The further across we got the bigger grew the sea and the fresher blew the wind, rain squalls were frequent and heavy, and to make matters worse we got into the tide-race, Cap’n Dick was at the helm-just outside Ilfracombe Harbour, and were carried up past the point on the east side of the entrance, so we had to run close in shore and ‘dodge’ till high water, and then beat round the point again, and did not get in till 4h. p.m. We went right into the inner harbour and found it full of coasters and pilot boats. That night it blew a heavy gale from W.S.W, and right glad I was to be in shelter. The next day was very fine, with clear sky, and bright sun; so my friend and I took a ’round turn’ ashore. Next morning, the 4th, of October we sailed at 7h. a.m. for Clovelly; the wind was very light from north-east, but the ‘race’ off the Bull Point was very bad; worse than I had ever seen it before, and ‘Guess’ became almost unmanageable going through it with so little wind, once she got in the trough, and things looked ugly, but a puff came in time, then she shipped a ‘green’ sea which brought the fore-hatch right aft, I thought it was gone, and well ‘doused’ the forecastle through the open hatchway. However, once clear of the ‘race’ we had smooth water and a fair wind, though not much of it, to Clovelly, where we arrived at 12h. 30m. p.m., and anchored about a warp’s length off the pier-head.
On the top of the hill above the town is the coastguard station, and up to it my friend and I walked, after exploring the little shops and the ‘hotel’, to see the really splendid view. It was a glorious day, and the atmosphere very clear, so we were well rewarded for our climb, and having noticed that my aneroid agreed with the barometer, after allowing for altitude, we descended and went on board, not without picking up some useful information about Bude from some of the fishermen. That night there was a total eclipse of the moon, and a rare opportunity had of observing that phenomenon; the sky was perfectly clear, and we saw it from, ‘start to finish’. We were under-way at 06h.30m. on Sunday, October 5 bound for Bude; there was a light air f’rom E.S.E., hardly sufficient to keep the mainsail ‘sleeping,’ but we slipped along on the ebb pretty fast; the ‘set’ of the tide kept us close inshore, so much so that on nearing Hartland Point I saw we could not clear the Tings Rocks without some ‘wooden wind’ to help out what was now almost Paddy’s hurricane. These rocks run out about a quarter-of-a-mile north-east from Hartland Point, and begin to show at half-ebb. My passenger was still peacefully sleeping, and knew nothing of the half-hour’s hard work at the ‘sweeps’ that Cap’n Dick and I had to save our ship, until the tumble in the Hartland ‘race’ brought him on deck.
It was a lovely day, bright, clear and warm; the wind freshened a little soon after we cleared the ‘race,’ and we had a delightful run of fourteen miles along a high, rocky, iron-bound coast, very picturesque for the most part. At 11h. 30m. a.m. we hove-to off Bude, it being now about low tide to wait for water in. There was a ketch, which was also bound in, ‘dodging’ about, and we spoke her, and got some further information respecting this pretty, but rather inaccessible, little place. The entrance to Bude is through a channel about half-a-mile long, and averaging only about twelve to fifteen fathoms wide; this is dry at low water, and we were advised that ‘Guess’ could not safely attempt the entrance, even with a leading wind, until four hours’ flood; at the outer end of the channel there is a large rock, with a flagstaff on it, connected with the main land by a causeway of masonry; in making the harbour you run boldly for the rock, and leave it on the starboard hand ‘the closer the better’, as the master of the ketch said and then go between a row of warping buoys on the port, and posts on the starboard sides. Whenever there is a swell in the channel, or when it has been blowing away to the west’ard, the sea breaks right across from this rock to the sands, which stretch away for a couple of miles on the other side of the channel, and nothing can go in or out. A south-east breeze will quickly raise a sea on the bar, and effectually close the port.
When this state of things prevails a flag is hoisted on the flagstaff on the rock; and when the entrance is practicable a flag is flown at a staff on the cliff, above the harbour, on the west side. It is thus frequently impossible, even in fine weather, to get in or out of Bude for weeks at a time, and the place is, consequently, little frequented by vessels, excepting a few small coasters of light draught belonging to the port. At the upper end of the channel is a lock, leading into a canal, which divides about five miles from Bude, one branch going to Launceston and the other to Holsworthy; all vessels go through into the canal, the lower part of which serve as a dock, as it is not safe to lay on the ground in the channel. At 4h. p.m. we reached in and were met at the rock by a boat labelled ‘pilot’ with nine hands in her, one was ready to jump aboard, and he looked vastly amazed when I declined his assistance, they pulled out to the ketch. We were much amused at the stir we created among the inhabitants, of whom there could not have been less than five or six hundred on the cliffs and rocks to see us come in; we were promptly ‘locked’, raised about fifteen feet, and towed into the broad part of the canal by some thirty willing volunteers, who tailed on to our warp and ran us up at a right merry rate.
I subsequently learnt from a coastguardsman that no yacht had been in for five years! ‘Guess’ was soon moored alongside the quay, with her rail about level with it, and was all the evening until after dark subjected to close inspection by quite a crowd of ‘natives’. Cap’n Dick was much exercised by their curiosity, as the rule “you may look, but you mustn’t touch” did not seem to obtain favour among them; the youngsters kept putting their feet on the rail, which had a peculiarly exasperating effect on my ‘crew’, who asked them if they were in the habit of “walking on their mother’s table” at the same time administering a rap on the toes with a mop-stick.This extract is from an article originally published in The Royal Cruising Club Journal by Eden Northmore-Jones