Cruises of the Joan by WE Sinclair

Cruises of the Joan is a well made and often very funny account of WE Sinclair’s travels in his tiny 22ft Falmouth Quay punt, Joan.  It’s published by Lodestar Books.

The cruises described took place in the 1920s, and are a circumnavigation of Great Britain, a trip to Vigo and back, and an attempt at crossing the Atlantic to North America via the northern route.

It’s a good read and I enjoyed it greatly – but can’t recommend it for everyone, as I’ll explain in a moment.

For some reason I particularly enjoy whacky stories about unusual people, and this has a few good ones – for example, there’s a great tale about a man who keeps crabs in his hat. Arguably, though, the most eccentric character to be found in this book is its author.

But while I enjoyed Cruises, I will be very careful about lending it to anyone: it really can be recommended only for the historically minded, tolerant and somewhat experienced sailor.

One reason is that in one or two places Sinclair uses language that seems quite appalling in these days. Some might consider that it was normal for his time and therefore something to be quietly ignored – but others will be less forgiving. Both groups will have a point.

Another cause for concern is his tendency to do stupidly dangerous things. Sailing huge distances in a tiny boat in the days before small yachts had radio was daft enough, but he often without charts and always using a wristwatch in place of a chronometer.

It’s just the kind of thing that gets some of my sailing friends very heated indeed, and it was one of these mad exploits that led to Sinclair and his crewman known only as Jackson finally losing Joan in the North Atlantic after being damaged by a particularly large wave. They very nearly lost their own lives in the process.

The Joan seems to have been an excellent boat in bad weather, but nevertheless there are limits to what a small timber-built cruising boat can reasonably be expected to withstand.

I really fear for what might happen if a copy of Cruises of the Joan ever falls into the hands of someone who has only done a little sailing. The nervous might decide to restrict themselves to the local boating lake, while the more intrepid might decide Sinclair has a point when he decides cross the Irish Sea and sail down the coast until he sees somewhere that looks like a port…

There’s a sample chapter here that provides a nice example of his style.

Sinclair is an intriguing character, and someone I’d like to find out more about. Those who have read Bob Roberts will know that he crewed with the barge skipper on an epic journey to the island of Fernando Pó off the West Coast of Africa, but what I hadn’t realised is that Sinclair himself also wrote and published an account of it. My hope is that it will reveal a little more about the man himself. Also, I wonder – do any readers have memories to share of Sinclair as a man and sailor?

Cruises of the Joan is the second of a series of uniform volumes now available from the Lodestar Library – the others are Swin, Swale and Swatchway by H Lewis Jones (which I read a little while ago and thoroughly recommend) and On Going to Sea in Yachts by Conor O’Brien. I gather many more are to come.

The books are priced at £15 each including postage – but Lodestar is currently offering them a three for the price of two offer that seems hard to resist.

3 thoughts on “Cruises of the Joan by WE Sinclair”

  1. I too am an admirer of Sinclair and have an original copy of this lovely book. You may be interested to know that his crew on the final voyage, Meredith Jackson wrote an article about the capsize, recovery and rescue. It was in the December 1927 Yachting Monthly ( he must have written it almost as soon as he got ashore). Theres an extract in Jack Cootes anthology ‘Total loss’.

    1. He truly was a fascinating man, I too have an original copy. He was exhausted after travelling solo almost around the world and landed across the Rd. from where my Grandfather Horace Snow who also was a Captain lived, he helped him to get settled. Captain Sinclair lived in my Aunt Dorothy Snow’s room up the road in Port Wade.She was a wonderful cook and person. I as a child while visiting there observed him while eating with his eyes shut thinking. He asked me do you know what your name means? I said no he said it means fairy, I thought that interesting my name is Faye.

  2. i finally got round to reading this – and really enjoyed it. my dad joined EYC after the war – and often yarns about Sinclair. I am not so sure he was stupid – but certainly very brave and adventurous. The Joan was pretty new when he brought her – so she would have been very sound – and of course GRP boats were not available for a few decades more. Bob Roberts sailed Thelma (27 ft) from EYC across the Atlantic (also lost)

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