Barnabas’ 140th Birthday: Taking Stock

I asked myself recently when sailing under reduced rig, with mizzen set as the standing lug and a tiny bit of threadbare tanned canvas hung tautly over the stern, ‘how would hardened 18th century fishermen be going about this passage in a force 8, with several tons of pilchards slopping around the bilges?’ It’s a mind boggling thought, as this would all have been in a day’s work and essentially, the backbone of their livelihoods. Today, most of our trips are weather dependent and we call it leisure sailing, with a cold beer thrown in at sunset or the occasional vegetarian meal to consider!

Taken from Gwennap Head: Barnabas returning from Scilly in a blow.

Putting it into perspective, we were returning from St Martin’s (Scilly) in October, having scattered a crew member’s mum’s ashes off Old Grimsby. We’d then anchored, or rather sheltered in Greater St Martin’s Bay for two days from a south westerly storm. Laying low in the Seven Stones Pub and listening to the harmonious voice of our master mariner (on the piano) for two nights, a small weather window thankfully appeared. Leaving at dawn, it didn’t take long before the Atlantic forces shared some of its love and squally delights, creating a very confused sea en-route to Wolf Rock. With the wind howling over the starboard quarter for several hours, we were battered by hail stones and the occasional beast of a wave, wanted to flatten or breach us. With 20 tons travelling at 7 knots, it felt like we were surfing down the big ones off Landsend.

For much of the experience, one crew member was ‘asleep’ below deck, whilst the rest of us took turns on the tiller or sheltered from the elements behind the mizzen. We’re not competitive as safety always comes first, however, it ended up being a sub-six hour passage home to Newlyn! I’m not sure that the technique of sailing has really changed on Barnabas over the 14 decades, except we now have an engine, radio, essential safety equipment and decent wet gear. Oh, and a spare tiller and back up Navionics (on my phone!). Back in the day, crew would have the catch sorted and offloaded, prepped the boat for the next trip and only then, headed to the pub for a well-earned pint. We drank warm tea, ate a seasoned bowl of pasta and then crashed out asleep!

I feel a sense of pride to be part of the Cornish Maritime Trust, where our growing community shares a passion for sailing four historic vessels, all having played a major role in Cornwall’s fishing heritage.

Last week was Barnabas’ 140 birthday celebration, where we recreated a small end of season regatta in conjunction with Newlyn’s Sandy Cove Boatyard. This is a fantastic spot for winter boat storage or essential maintenance, as the team here are friendly and extremely knowledgeable. 6 traditional vessels joined us for the day, including three other luggers, Happy Return, Silver Stream and Mizpah. Heading out with a brisk 25 mph westerly, we all chased one other around the Gear Pole, Low Lee and a mark just off Sandy Cove. It was a wonderful experience, but the icing on the cake was having Happy Return sailing just meters from us (mostly astearn!) for much of the course. There was a fair amount of competitive volleys of encouragement. It must have been some sight a century ago, when a community of hundreds of such like dipping luggers regularly departed Mount’s Bay, in search of fish.

Another lovely birthday experience for us, was that we were asked if a direct descendent of Barnabas Thomas (her first owner), could sail with us. We discovered this had been one of her life-long dreams, as she helmed with an ‘ear to ear’ grin that summed up pure elation. I think Barnabas found a connection through her soul, as a tear rolled down her cheeks.

The afternoon ended with nearly a hundred Cornish Maritime Trust members and friends coming to Sandy Cove for a celebratory drink, paella and a sing song. Sarah Bell (Chapel Street Gallery, Penzance) had created a stunning original silk screen image of Barnabas especially for the event. This was auctioned and together with Sarah’s card donations, raised over £500 alone. What a gift! Please visit her gallery as there’s another original to buy raffle tickets for (until the summer), as well as a few stunning Christmas cards that Barnabas has somehow photo-bombed! As well as the incredibly generous beer donation from Dynamite Valley Brewery and the event location hosts, Sandy Cove Boatyard, there were many essential contributors, from boat taxi to chefs. We so appreciated all your help. One of the Trusts oldest crew members from Falmouth also turned up for a sail, as did the youngest, at nearly two. He’s been out three times already!

Sarah Bell

We also made a small trophy (based on two ruined paintbrushes!) for our first Duke of Edinburgh Award bronze student (14). He’s contributed enormously this past year, scrubbing, anti-fouling, painting and generally learning about the charity and sailing. As Trustees of these historic vessels, their future is only safe, once the next generation is bitten by the ‘traditional boating bug’. I feel this new community needs gentle encouragement from an early age, by jumping off the out-rigger into the ocean, eating what they catch, sanding or shaping a bit of wood and exploring idyllic coves along our coastline. Essentially, planting that romantic seed which will hopefully blossom one day! At £40 for a family membership, we so encourage you to come out with the children. This season, we’ve mainly day-sailed and explored locally, however, Kynance Cove, Sennen, Lamorna, Mousehole, Falmouth, Porthlevan, St Michael’s Mount, Scilly’s, the Helford and many other stunning spots have brought ‘oohs and aah’s’ and a few mackerel over the gunnels.

Due to Covid, it’s been two quiet seasons for our vessels. However, the CMT’s future does look bright. We feel exceptionally fortunate, as dozens of new motivated members have signed up this summer. Ellen (1882) is on the trailer and ready to explore further afield. Barnabas (1881) is structurally sound but is still in need of essential funds for a set of sails, crew bunks, wood burning stove, solar charger and a new tiller. Softwing (1900) is in good shape but needs a few younger members or experienced sailors to gradually come on board and assist skippering her from Falmouth.

And lastly, our new 22 foot dipping lugger Silver Stream (2004), came into her own on Saturday. With seven crew, she flew over and through the waves like a thoroughbred, with something to prove. She probably would have lapped us on Barnabas, had it been a longer course! Next season, our hope is that she will create her own little community of sailors, to be used as a training vessel for new skippers, as well as offering more flexibility around the tides. Again, we thank Glenn and Clare Morris for generously trusting us as her custodians.

From all of the Trustees at the Cornish Maritime Trust, we’d like to thank you for your support and generosity this past year, as we get back on course. We hope to start next season scrubbing and painting a bit earlier, with several festivals on the horizon to get excited about. Please stay in touch.

Stay Safe

Rob McDowell

More Sandy Cove Regatta photos

Happy Return and Barnabas round Low Lee cardinal, Mounts Bay, during the Sandy Cove Regatta

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Written by Cornish Maritime Trust