Category Archives: Culture: songs, stories, photography and art

Traditions and culture relevant to the world of real boating and sailors

Ooh look – boat building folks on the telly…

Will Stirling keeps popping up in things like this: there was the Dove Men advert, a Barclays ad and now this from Barbour. Who knew caulking could look this good on the screen?

Check out the Stirling & Son website for actual boat stuff…

Small steamer Sea Otter cruises out of Maldon

Be warned… The sound may be loud.

A winter aboard – with a sad swan


John Simpson tells a sweet little story of a winter he spent on his boat – and of how he made friends with a lonely swan. Many thanks John!

‘To save money between long voyages, I lived on my small 22 ft. yacht Miss Content for a while in Portsmouth harbour – I had moved the boat there from Southampton in late summer and was lucky enough to be directed to a free alongside berth owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), which I worked for at the time.

‘It was just north of the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard, up a shallow, narrow channel named Weevil Creek (which seemed reasonable) at the entrance of Forton Lake.

‘A dozen Mexyfloats (linking sections carried by Army Landing Craft) formed into a U shaped pontoon created a little harbour, which made it an almost ideal spot to spend the winter.

‘It was well sheltered except when the wind was strong in the NE and the tide had covered the mud banks. It was also very secure being close to Priddy’s Hard, a Royal Naval Ammunition Depot, guarded by the MOD Police.

‘When I arrived it had been quite busy with Army yachts, some private, but mainly service-owned, which were generally used at the weekend, but during the week after work in the evenings my only company, were the occasional fisherman on the footbridge access across Forton Lake to the boats, and a pair of swans that used to come round to ask for food by knocking on my varnished teak rubbing strake.

‘Summer gave way to autumn and the army yachts were laid up, some left alongside others mostly taken away to be lifted out. The weekend’s sailing activities slowly ceased for all including myself: I hadn’t been using my own boat much anyway, as I had been teaching mostly on other yachts at the weekend, which earned extra money, and stopped me hammering the little boat to much, before I set off across the Atlantic again.

‘I stripped and stored most of my sailing gear to make more room during the winter months, although I hoped to spend the majority of my weekends staying with a lovely Irish girl I’d met.

‘Unfortunately our relationship hit the rocks just before Christmas, so I spent the coldest months of the winter living aboard, my only company now one of the swans – he’d lost his mate. She had probably died of lead poisoning, an RSPCA man told me – despite the ban some people then were still using lead for weights when rod fishing.

‘Swans mate for life and the loss certainly hit him much harder than my own broken romance. It felt as if we were two ‘sad old bastards’ together, and I thought he might pine to death. He still visited every evening, looking in rag order, without grooming himself properly and weight loss.

‘At first he refused to eat the broken-up bread that I chucked in the water for him. The crisis point reached perhaps, when Forton Lake froze early in February and he half swam half slithered on the broken ice round to the boat, and tapped for food. By that point he’d made the decision to live, and I found myself having to buy extra loaves of bread to feed him – he preferred brown, not white. His spirits seemed to rise further after the cold snap and he started grooming properly again.

‘By spring he looked a different bird as the evenings lightened, not always gracing me with his company. Perhaps he’d found better food available elsewhere. Sometimes he flew in, which was always a buzz when he skidded to a halt, close to Miss C.

‘Sometime later that summer he came to see me after quite a considerable gap in time with a new mate. If a swan can look pleased with himself, I’d say that’s what he looked like then. Funnily enough it must have been, around the same time, I met my present wife! So it turned out to be a better year than we both imagined back in that bleak February… ‘