Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin

Julie read Peter Willis’s book Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin (published by Lodestar) with great pleasure recently. She was clearly charmed by it, and I thought her comments were interesting – not least because they show how Peter’s book is as relevant to non-boating Ransome fans as it is for us boat nuts.

Here’s what she says:

‘I read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea when I was a child with no understanding or experience of sailing whatsoever and no knowledge of that part of our coast – but when I first read it I enjoyed it as an adventure in an unfamiliar and exciting world, but with the familiar characters I knew from the earlier books.

‘So it was really nostalgia that led me to read Good Little Ship. As a result of reading Peter Willis’s book I immediately re-read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea with a lot more understanding of the locations and what inspired Ransom’s story.

‘I’m not a great sailor or a regular reader of sailing books, but Good Little Ship kept me reading from the beginning. The story of the 28ft 6in Hillyard-built Nancy Blackett, is tightly written and nicely illustrated, and it’s like reading a family history, with all the different owners and their good and bad fortunes.

‘It’s also very clear that for Peter Willis finding, restoring and then sailing Ransome’s yacht in the same waters that Ransome had sailed had a lot in common with a love affair.’




A fifth edition of Cruising Yachts Design and Performance by T Harrison Butler


In more good news from Lodestar Books… Dick Wynne’s fabulous imprint has released a fifth edition of the classic Cruising Yachts Design and Performance by metacentric theory protagonist and talented amateur yacht designer (and professional ophthalmologist) T Harrison Butler.

Dr Butler’s designs were built in numbers that ran into the hundreds a good number of which still grace our seas. Cruising Yachts is his design manifesto and first appeared in 1945—the year of his death.

The new edition has been produced in collaboration with the Harrison Butler Association, and is a complete re-setting of the original text, drawings and mono photographs, and documents in detail HB’s approach to the design and equipping of a yacht, an annotated catalogue of notable designs and a biographical portrait by the designer’s daughter, the late Joan Jardine-Brown (see a photo of Mrs Jardine-Brown in an earlier post).

There are also a modern gallery of colour photographs of the yachts, and a foreword by the late Ed Burnett, who was regarded as a foremost designer of modern yachts in the classic English idiom.

Blokes Up North – through the heart of the Northwest Passage by sail and oar


Blokes Up North.

Blokes… Up North. They sound ordinary enough, and they and their publisher try to describe themselves that way – but ordinary they aren’t really.

They’re as tough as the old boots they probably keep in a cupboard somewhere.

For one thing, they’re Marines. For another, the authors of this account published by Lodestar, Kev Oliver and Tony Lancashire have sailed, rowed and dragged a 17ft open dinghy from West to East through the often frozen seas and islands that claimed so many explorers and crews in search of the North West passage during the 19th century.

Even today in the era of global warming and in the height of the Arctic summer, it’s not too strong a claim to say that in doing so they risked their lives, and that surviving and reaching their destination is no small achievement in a time when the age of exploration is otherwise largely over.

Oliver is clearly a big fan of Shackleton and fascinated by polar exploration generally. On top of that he had drawn inspiration from an old friend from the Marines who as a 19-year old with a pal had circumnavigated Spitzbergen, and was also a great admirer of the scarily determined dinghy cruising exponent Frank Dye.

Lancashire’s viewpoint seems to have been that he admired Oliver and liked adventuring with him in the Marines – and was hoping he’d be asked along for an unexplained scheme…

The boat they chose was the Norseboat 17, which seems like a very good choice, being long enough for two rowing stations and, in theory, just about light enough to be handled on shore or ice  – but was still going to need additional built-in buoyancy, and, in all that ice, reinforced bows.

And so, as the rest of the world continued to reel and totter in the months following the the banking crisis, in July, 2009 these two ‘ordinary’ blokes set off . Happily they were well equipped, as well as well trained, even if they were not hugely experienced small boat sailors or rowers.

The book recounts their adventures in their own voices – typically a few paragraphs from one followed by a few from the other. It’s a choppy sort of effect, but lends the book a novel conversational quality, and brings a new dimension to the narrative. It’s certainly an interesting approach, and I’m quite glad someone’s tried it.

The story includes the usual sailing expedition incidents – falling in, near capsizes, losing the mainsail halliard (which meant they couldn’t raise the mainsail and go to windward) in 9ft waves miles from land and being blown further North further out into open sea – but with the added spice that the cold Arctic water has the power to kill in moments. Happily, they figured out a way round the halliard problem – but then there was the time their tent got sat on by a polar bear…

I won’t spoil this story or any of the others. If sailing adventures are something you enjoy – and many of us do, especially in the dull dark days of winter – this book from Lodestar priced at £12 in the UK, £13 in Europe and £15 elsewhere won’t disappoint.

PS – Did I mention that one of the best half dozen Victorian and early 20th century books about cruising the Thames Estuary – arguably it is the best – previously available only in hardback is now available in paperback from Lodestar? H Lewis Jones’ Swin, Swale & Swatchway