Kipperman has a new home online


Kipperman and maritime historian Mike Smylie are one person – and he has got himself a new home on the Internet – Kipperland!

Reading the website, there’s no question about this man’s achievements. His historical works , which number at least 18 that I can see, are available from Amazon and good book shops. To see the titles, go to the website and click on the books tab.

Mike also writes widely for magazines such as including Classic Boat, Watercraft, Maritime Heritage, The Marine Quarterly, Maritime Life and Traditions, Fishing News and the European Maritime Heritage Newsletter.

In 1995 he was also a co-founder of the 40+ Fishing Boat Association, which was founded in 1995 at a time when decommissioned fishing vessels were being scrapped in large numbers, and edits the organisation’s magazine Fishing Boats.

As Kipperman he works at events around the country and beyond promoting the eating of herring for its health benefits. For this work he won the BBC Radio 4 Food Campaigner/Educator Award in November 2004. Also as Kipperman he makes many radio and television appearances.

The latest issue of the wonderful The Marine Quarterly and two books: Mike Smylie’s Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe and an account of cruising in canoes in the 19th Century


Novelist Sam Llewellyn’s other project, the unfailingly beautifully edited The Marine Quarterly,  continues to impress, and I’m enjoying the new edition as much as I have each of the previous nine editions. I say it’s essential reading, and that a full set – if one could keep them together – would be an asset when waiting for the tide.

This issue includes an illuminating history of pilots and piloting by Tom Cunliffe, Ken Duxbury’s account of visiting his first Greek island aboard his Drascombe Lugger Lugworm,   and an introduction to the story of pier-head painting by artist and illustrator Claudia Myatt.

In fact, if anything it gives me even greater pleasure because it includes a piece from Ben Crawshaw. Ben, as regular readers may remember, built one of my small boat designs, the Light Trow, and his book Catalan Castaway recounts his remarkable adventures. (See the ad at the top right of this weblog.)

Mike Smylie Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe

I’m also just beginning to read Mike Smylie’s latest book, Traditional Fishing Boats of Europe, which aims to tell the story of how the various types of fishing boats evolved over hundreds of years in line with the catches they were built to chase, the seas and climates in which they must work, and of course the cultural influences involved.

It’s a complicated story and clearly an important project, and I’ll be fascinated to find out just how he can cram all of that information between two covers! No doubt he can, though, because he’s done this kind of thing before and knows what he’s doing…

Those Magnificent Men in Their Roy-Roy Canoes

Jim Parnell’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Roy-Roy Canoes is clearly a must for  anyone interested in the remarkable story of sailing in these little boats.

It’s really a historical record of the adventures of the three New Zealand canoeing Park brothers, George, William  and James, who were active in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and includes material from their logs and from newspaper cuttings, and is written very much in the quite formal, slightly detached style of that era.

Still, the adventures they describe are quite something, and include crossing South Island (including a long portage, naturally) and crossing Cook Strait on a night with no moon. I needn’t mention how dangerous the Southern Ocean can be – but the Parks, particularly George Park, seem to have been indomitable.

The Boats of the Somerset Levels – a review

I guess the title of Mike Smylie’s latest book may sound a bit limited in range to some, compared with his earlier books, Traditional Fishing Boats of Britain & Ireland, Fishing the European Coast or even the definitely local Fishing Around the Bristol Channel, written with Ray Cooper.

But I would argue that does not make the new volume any less interesting.

The truth is that the Somerset Levels have long been home to the best examples of Britain’s long-standing tradition of flat bottomed boats, including turf and withy boats apparently derived from log boats with raised sides and used inland, and inshore bay boats apparently built using a combination of the flat bottom similar to the inland boats with clinker constructed sides made using skills brought by the Vikings. It’s notable, for example, that the names for the various parts of legendary flatties of Watchet and the River Parret have Viking-derived names.

I’ve had an interest in these craft and their interesting history ever since my parents moved to the area more than a decade and a half ago. Through much of that time I have been hoping that someone good at these things would one day get around to writing a book like this as a way of preserving and disseminating knowledge about these craft.

I was particularly concerned to see the research material collected by the folks associated with the Watchet Boat Museum, particularly John Nash, made available to boat enthusiasts. So I was very pleased when I learned that Mike, a prolific and effective author, had taken on the project.

Now the book is out it’s just about everything I’d expected and a bit more, for in addition to John Nash’s input, Mike has been able to include material from Commander Gil Mayes and Tony James, both of whom have built and sailed flatties in the modern era, and further material from legendary local fisherman Bob Thorne.

There are chapters on the turf boat, the basic and ancient looking Somerset Levels peat digger’s boat of about 17ft; the 18-19ft withy boat used for collecting withies used for weaving from pollarded willow trees; the river boat or Parrett flatner rigged with a spritsail and in some cases a foresail; the similar but more heavily built bay or Gore boat; the larger and more sophisticated Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon boats often used for pleasuring as well as fishing; and the the big sister of them all, the Bridgewater barge.

To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the Bridgewater barge before I picked up this volume, and that alone would have made the book worth buying. Even better were the photos…

The only thing that I miss in The Boats of the Somerset Levels is that there aren’t more anecdotes about the old boys who used to work them. I’m sure I remember John Nash telling me that the locals used to toboggan down the banks of the muddy Parrett before hitting the water with a splash at about 30mph, and I had a hunch there would be more similar nonsense.

Either Mike or John likely decided that stories of this kind might owe rather less to the truth and rather more to someone’s sense of humour and to time spent in sheds drinking the local home made cider. If so he may have been wise – but, hey, it might have happened…

Seriously, this is a smashing 127 pages. Buy it here: The Boats of the Somerset Levels.