Archive for the 'Literature' Category Page 2 of 2

Ilha Trindade and The Cruise of the Alerte



Ilha Trindade, at 20°31′30″S, 29°19′30″W , lies in the South Atlantic about 800nm from the coast of Brazil.  It is largely an uninhabited, uninviting piece of volcanic rock in the ocean, with very poor anchorage.

In August 1889 English barrister and writer E. F. Knight left England in his cutter Alerte bound for the uninhabited island of Trinidad off the coast of Brazil. He was on a hunt for pirate treasure.

The existence of the treasure was well documented, according to Knight. A dying seaman had given a map to his captain.

There was an immense treasure buried, consisting principally of gold and silver plate, the plunder of Peruvian churches which certain pirates had concealed there in the year 1821. … He further stated that he was the only survivor of the pirates, as all the others had been captured by the Spaniards and executed in Cuba some years before…

The Alerte itself was an old but able craft, 64 feet long, with a 14.5 foot beam, built in 1864 of seasoned teak. As for crew and bankroll, Knight solved both problems in a single step: he advertised for volunteers who would pay their own way, work as sailors, and receive a share of the profits. His single ad drew 150 volunteers. He chose nine of these “gentlemen adventurers.” None of them had any practical knowledge of the sea.


Several months later they reached the island. They went ashore, climbed the peak at the center of the little island, and quickly realized that the land conformed to the pirate’s map.

The Cruise of the Alerte is a classic true-life treasure hunt.  Arthur Ransome used the descriptions from Knight’s book as a basis for Crab Island in his book Peter Duck, except that he set the island further north in the Caribbean Sea.

I’ve wanted to go there for many, many years.

The Island 

The Book

E.F. Knight Sailing


E.F. Knight’s Sailing was used by Arthur Ransome as a primer as he himself learned to sail his first real boat, Racundra.  In We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, Ransome has John reading the same book for advice and even comfort as he struggles to master Goblin.   Knight was a Corinthian of the old school, of the same blood and tradition as the redoubtable Mr. Cooke, whose book Gavin is posting to  Knight wrote several books on crusing and adventures, of which The Cruise of the Alerte was for a long time the only title in print.  Of which, more anon.

Knight’s books were once hosted on the TARS site in HTML, but seemingly no longer.  Never Sea Land is pleased to present a .pdf version with illustrations here:–Sailing.pdf

J. on fishing and lies


from Jerome K. Jerome Three Men in a Boat:

I am not a good fisherman myself. I devoted a considerable amount of attention to the subject at one time, and was getting on, as I thought, fairly well; but the old hands told me that I should never be any real good at it, and advised me to give it up. They said that I was an extremely neat thrower, and that I seemed to have plenty of gumption for the thing, and quite enough constitutional laziness. But they were sure I should never make anything of a fisherman. I had not got sufficient imagination.

They said that as a poet, or a shilling shocker, or a reporter, or anything of that kind, I might be satisfactory, but that, to gain any position as a Thames angler, would require more play of fancy, more power of invention than I appeared to possess.

Some people are under the impression that all that is required to make a good fisherman is the ability to tell lies easily and without blushing; but this is a mistake. Mere bald fabrication is useless; the veriest tyro can manage that. It is in the circumstantial detail, the embellishing touches of probability, the general air of scrupulous – almost of pedantic – veracity, that the experienced angler is seen.

Anybody can come in and say, “Oh, I caught fifteen dozen perch yesterday evening;” or “Last Monday I landed a gudgeon, weighing eighteen pounds, and measuring three feet from the tip to the tail.”

There is no art, no skill, required for that sort of thing. It shows pluck, but that is all.

No; your accomplished angler would scorn to tell a lie, that way. His method is a study in itself.

He comes in quietly with his hat on, appropriates the most comfortable chair, lights his pipe, and commences to puff in silence. He lets the youngsters brag away for a while, and then, during a momentary lull, he removes the pipe from his mouth, and remarks, as he knocks the ashes out against the bars:

“Well, I had a haul on Tuesday evening that it’s not much good my telling anybody about.”

“Oh! why’s that?” they ask.

“Because I don’t expect anybody would believe me if I did,” replies the old fellow calmly, and without even a tinge of bitterness in his tone, as he refills his pipe, and requests the landlord to bring him three of Scotch, cold.

There is a pause after this, nobody feeling sufficiently sure of himself to contradict the old gentleman. So he has to go on by himself without any encouragement.

“No,” he continues thoughtfully; “I shouldn’t believe it myself if anybody told it to me, but it’s a fact, for all that. I had been sitting there all the afternoon and had caught literally nothing – except a few dozen dace and a score of jack; and I was just about giving it up as a bad job when I suddenly felt a rather smart pull at the line. I thought it was another little one, and I went to jerk it up. Hang me, if I could move the rod! It took me half-an-hour – half-an-hour, sir! – to land that fish; and every moment I thought the line was going to snap! I reached him at last, and what do you think it was? A sturgeon! a forty pound sturgeon! taken on a line, sir! Yes, you may well look surprised – I’ll have another three of Scotch, landlord, please.”


And then he goes on to tell of the astonishment of everybody who saw it; and what his wife said, when he got home, and of what Joe Buggles thought about it.

I asked the landlord of an inn up the river once, if it did not injure him, sometimes, listening to the tales that the fishermen about there told him; and he said:
   “Oh, no; not now, sir. It did used to knock me over a bit at first, but, lor love you! me and the missus we listens to `em all day now. It’s what you’re used to, you know. It’s what you’re used to.”

I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow, and, when he took to fly-fishing, he determined never to exaggerate his hauls by more than twenty-five per cent.

“When I have caught forty fish,” said he, “then I will tell people that I have caught fifty, and so on. But I will not lie any more than that, because it is sinful to lie.”

But the twenty-five per cent. plan did not work well at all. He never was able to use it. The greatest number of fish he ever caught in one day was three, and you can’t add twenty-five per cent. to three – at least, not in fish.

So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third; but that, again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two; so, to simplify matters, he made up his mind to just double the quantity.

He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then he grew dissatisfied with it. Nobody believed him when he told them that he only doubled, and he, therefore, gained no credit that way whatever, while his moderation put him at a disadvantage among the other anglers. When he had really caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used to make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had only caught one, going about telling people he had landed two dozen.

So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself, which he has religiously held to ever since, and that was to count each fish that he caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin with. For example, if he did not catch any fish at all, then he said he had caught ten fish – you could never catch less than ten fish by his system; that was the foundation of it. Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish, he called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty, and so on.

It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some talk lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in general. Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Angler’s Association did recommend its adoption about two years ago, but some of the older members opposed it. They said they would consider the idea if the number were doubled, and each fish counted as twenty.

Continue reading ‘J. on fishing and lies’

Quote of the day: more on seasickness

pg013.gifHarris said that, to himself, it was always a mystery how people managed to get sick at sea – said he thought people must do it on purpose, from affectation – said he had often wished to be, but had never been able.

Then he told us anecdotes of how he had gone across the Channel when it was so rough that the passengers had to be tied into their berths, and he and the captain were the only two living souls on board who were not ill. Sometimes it was he and the second mate who were not ill; but it was generally he and one other man. If not he and another man, then it was he by himself.

It is a curious fact, but nobody ever is sea-sick – on land. At sea, you come across plenty of people very bad indeed, whole boat-loads of them; but I never met a man yet, on land, who had ever known at all what it was to be sea-sick. Where the thousands upon thousands of bad sailors that swarm in every ship hide themselves when they are on land is a mystery. 

—  from Jerome K. Jerome Three Men in a Boat

Quote of the Day: from We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea


He had done his very best.  And anyhow, here, at night, far out in the North Sea, what could he do other than what he was doing?  If anybody could have seen his face in the faint glimmer from the compass window, he would have seen that there was a grin on it.  John was alone in the dark with his ship, and everybody else was asleep.  He, for that night, was the Master of the Goblin, and even the lurches of the cockpit beneath him as the Goblin rushed through the dark filled him with a serious kind of joy.  He and the Goblin together.  On and on.  On and on.  Years and years hence, when he was grown up, he would have  a ship of his own and sail her out into wider seas than this.  But he would always and always remember this night when for the first time ship and crew were in his charge, his alone.

    — from We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

WDMtGtS is Ransome’s best book for adult sailing enthusiasts, and even though it is the seventh in the series, it stands on its own just fine.   Arthur Ransome based the fictional cutter Goblin on his own Hillyard 7-tonner, the Nancy Blackett.  She was “the best little ship I ever owned”, and he later regretted selling her (to please his wife who wanted a bigger galley).  She has today been restored and is lovingly cared for by the Nancy Blackett Trust.


The maps from the Voyages Extraordinaires


For armchair adventurers:  On this page you will find scans of all the maps that were included in the original editions of Jules Verne’s novels.

Pyrates Way: Wenches of Spring 2007


On a whim some months ago, I became a charter subscriber (or plank owner, as the pyrates would say) to The Pyrates Way magazine.  Each issue features articles on pirate history, lore, literature, music, film, food, and drink (lots of drink).  Plus, pictures of wenches, always popular.  Check it out!

A cure for sea-sickness


     “I can turn you all up without that,” said Bill.  “This seasickness, it’s just nothing.  Chewing tobacco ain’t got nothing to do with it.  Shall I tell you how they cure me?  ‘Don’t you never hold in,’ they said.  ‘Get it over the side and feel better,’ they said.  And the way they cure me was bacon fat.  Have you got any bacon fat?”
     “Yes,” said Peggy.
     “Well, you wants a bit of string,” said Bill.  Then you ties the string to the biggest bit of bacon fat you can swallow.  Then you swallows it, keeping a hold on the other end of the string.  Then you…”
     There was a noise of scuffling up the ladder and out of the forehatch.

     —   from Peter Duck, by Arthur Ransome

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Seasickness is serious, or so they tell me.  Fortunately, as Noel Davis would say, I am not never seasick, but luckily, not yet seasick.  (Better to not anger King Neptune by boasting.)  Last week there was a good discussion of physical causes and cures on the FurledSails podcast; John Neal of Mahina Expeditions has done a great deal of practical research on the subject, and his findings can be found here.

Life at SEA has also recently posted on this topic, with more practical tips.

If you do get sick, try to be cheered by remembering that even Admiral Lord Nelson was always wretchedly ill on the first few days of a voyage.

Poem of the day: T.S. Eliot’s Lost Sea Shanty of J. Alfred Prufrock


T.S. Eliot’s Lost Sea Shanty of J. Alfred Prufrock

found by Alec Crawford

daichi ni sosogu yoake
tabidatsu toki o tsugeru
mirai o mezashi kakete yuku kaze
kono mune ni suikonda
yume dake o kizamitsuketa hitomi
bokura ni yuku michi o ataeru

Ueda Kana — Opening Song, Final Fantasy Unlimited.

LET us dive then, you and I,
When the ocean is spread out against the sky
Like a mermaid stung by a jellyfish;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted currents,
The silent riptides
Of one-day tourist passes
To seafood parks with oyster-shell rides:
Currents that flow like so much pollution
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and buy a ticket.

On the beach the turtles come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow mouth that spits its waste upon my bruised cheek,
The yellow boot that grinds its cigar on my bruised cheek,
Sticks a straw into the milkshake of my sea foam,
Lingers upon the lips that ask for more,
It swirls around the mouth of waste that spews from outfalls,
Slips on the kelp-bed, now a refuse heap,
And seeing that it is a soft October night,
Choked by a 6-pack yoke, falls asleep.

And indeed there is no time
For the yellow boot that clips into my currents,
Spitting its waste over my bruised cheek;
There is no time, there is no time
To repair a reef to save the reefs I save;

There is no time to advance and retreat,
No time for all my skill and years of tides
That lift and drop the salty-sweet answers;
No time for you and no time for me,
No time left for a million ecosystems,
And for a million “whatever may comes,”
Before perfecting how to water ski.

On the beach the: turtles come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed you have no time
To wonder, ‘”Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
No time ta turn back and plug the hole,
Of the Black Spot in the middle of my soul –
[You will say: “How our catch is growing thin!”]
My blue-green coat, my crests mounting upon the waves,
My sparkles bright and twinkling, but deflected by dark glasses-
[You will say: ‘”But how our industry is thin!”]
Do you dare 
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute can’t reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:-
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
You have measured out my life with tidal moons;
I know the shores are dying with a dying fall
Beneath the sand lies Tutankhamen’s tomb
So how should I presume?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow currents
And felt the tortured trees clog my lifeblood
Rocks, pebbles, sand, silt, clay, destroying both land and sea.

I should have been a fat cat congressman
Scuttling across the floors of the White House

. . . . . . . .

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the floods, the tsunami, the wind,
Among the maelstrom, among the deaths of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have drowned you slowly with a smile,
To have dragged your universe into nothing
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Helle, come from the dead,
Come back to kill you ail, I shall kill you all”-
But you, drinking a soda on the shore
Would say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

Or would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After my beauty and safe passage, and serenity,
After the harbors, after the seashells, after full nets that trail along the floor —
And this, and so much more?-
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern could show you what I mean:
Show you it has been worth while
Would you, sipping a soda or tossing up a ball,
And turning toward my vastness, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

. . . . . . . .

No! I am not a naiad, nor was meant to be;
I am Neptune’s boss, one that will do
To swell a progress, end a scene or two,
Control the king; no doubt, the main machine,
Not submissive, domineering,
Unconcerned, reckless, and tempestuous;
Turbulent, raging, wildly rearing;
You are all so ridiculous-
I am never, no never, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old  . . .
My shimmering cloak no longer gold.

Shall I feed a school of fish? Do I dare to lick the sand?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the land.
I have heard the mermaids singing, hand-in-hand.

I do not think that they will sing to you.

You have seen them choking on neurotoxins
Struggling to breathe, to think, to survive
Silt-strangled until none is left alive

You have defiled the chambers of the sea,
And sea-girls choked with trawl nets red and brown
The mermaids curse you, and will not let you drown.


Daylight breaking into the vast land,
Tells us it’s the beginning of a journey.
Heading towards the future and running into the wind,
I inhaled it.
A dream that’s engraved only within the eye,
It presents a way out for us.

[original link]

Hubba, hubba


Mermaid interest, 1966.  I’m not sure exactly why readers of a mens mag would want to delve into “The Queer World of the Beefcake Boys”…

Poem of the day

(… )

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall  wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.


from T.S. Eliot   The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

  Continue reading ‘Poem of the day’

The Boats of Swallows and Amazons


Stuart Wier’s excellent article on the boats of Swallows and Amazons, which was homeless and  lost for a time, can now again be found at the Aussie TARs site, and also here at downtothesea.  I will be writing a lot more on this topic to help introduce readers to the world of Arthur Ransome — a man whose books have launched literally millions of small-boat dreams.