Cruise of the ‘Joan’: St Mawes to the Thames, 1923

'Cruises of the Joan' by W E Sinclair, published by Lodestar Books
‘Cruises of the Joan’ by W E Sinclair, published by Lodestar Books

‘Cruises of the Joan’ is from a delightful series, the Lodestar Library, featuring ‘interesting, the unusual, and the downright eccentric in nautical writing’.

In ‘Cruises of the Joan’ by W E Sinclair, we hear about the skipper’s adventures with various crews during the 1920s. In the days before auxiliary engines and dinghies with outboards, he sails the ‘Joan’ from Erith, Kent on the Thames near London.

W E Sinclair finds the boat in Cowes, and falls in love . . . after getting to know her for a year, he sets out on his first cruise, to sail around Britain, anti-clockwise.

When I first saw the ‘Joan’ at her moorings in Cowes harbour she took my fancy. She had been newly painted. She was spotlessly clean and every article on the boat was stowed just so. To me she looked a little picture and I fell in love with her. And I liked the large well where you could sit in luxury when the sun was shining and gaze around. The sun was shining that day and I sat in the well laughing happily to imagine that she could belong to me.

In this extract we hear about the final few days of his round Britain cruise, from Plymouth back to Kent. After spending a week in St. Mawes, the ‘Joan’ set out for Southampton in a westerly, forcing the skipper to hove to for the night.

On Tuesday morning after being hove to for 12 hours, I gathered up my reserves of courage and sailed on; for the wind refused to diminish and consequently the seas only received the more encouragement. During the night some of the reef points had torn out, the spars had chafed a great deal and two of the clip-hooks on the foresail had come adrift. I had to sail hard all day with cold water to drink and dry bread, chocolate and onions to eat. Getting anything else was far too hard a task. No land was sighted until 5 p.m. when I saw what I calculated was Anvil Point. Luckily my arithmetic was sound and I thankfully dropped anchor in Swanage Bay at 10 p.m.

The berth was a rolling one, but it was a luxury compared to that of Monday night. When I woke up on Wednesday the wind was beginning to creep into the bay; a gale warning was hoisted at the lighthouse on Anvil Point.

‘No more gale riding for me, if I know it. Here goes for Poole harbour,’ I thought, and by 10 a.m. I was safely anchored off Sandbanks. As I came in the skipper of a barge hailed.
‘Where yer from?’
‘Gawd. When’d yer start?’
‘Monday morning.’

At 2 p.m. the same day the real gale arrived, and though I was in a perfectly safe harbour, it allowed no comfortable night’s sleep. The wind howled and shrieked and I patted my back metaphorically; for if the sea was bad before, what it was like now I failed to imagine. The dinghy trouble was so bad in Poole harbour that I went away after visiting the shore once. I went into the Hamble River next. It was full as ever, not a spot for any fresh anchor. I had to tie up against an M.L. and a merry juggling trick it was to do this without a dinghy. Moreover, the dinghy trouble was worse here than at Poole, so bad that I refused all offers; and by skill, patience and cheek I got ashore and back for nothing. But my skill is small, my patience is not great and my cheek has a limit. I left the Hamble River with very unkind feelings.

The wind was light and a little south of west. All went well till 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning, September 4th, when the wind freshened again and ended in a howl. It was bad enough to bring steamers to stare. A naval boat steamed round me off Eastbourne, but I glared at him with determination. The German pilot schooner off Dungeness was vastly interested and sailed by to get a good view. I was glad to anchor on the lee side of Dungeness, where I spent Tuesday night.

The following day was spent in rushing to the South Foreland and doddling gently to Deal where, instead of going on, I considered I ought to give myself a treat by anchoring in the Small Downs for the night. On Thursday the little wind of the morning died away altogether. The boat drifted most of the way from the North Foreland to Herne Bay. Off Margate I entertained crowded boatloads of trippers who were astonished and delighted to see a man peeling potatoes for his dinner. The ‘Joan’ stayed at Whitstable for a week while I had a new jib made, and towards the end of September she picked up her moorings again at Erith after being away for about five months on her first long cruise.

I was immensely proud of the boat and what she had done and I began to have some sort of respect for myself and a belief that I really was adapted to living on a small boat and sailing her hard. The life apparently suited me perfectly.

‘Cruises of the Joan’ Lodestar Library