Pilot cutter Drift and the pilot station Drift – does anyone have any information?

Joe Radnor has written to say that he’s looking for information  about the Turnchapel pilot station ‘Drift’, and the pilot cutter Drift, which he thinks was probably associated with it. The pilot station is the building on the left in the (rather small) image of an old painting above – Joe has recently bought the property.

Joe believes Drift herself was sold to Belgium in 1918 so I suspect the chances that she’s still alive are slim, but there might well be some worthwhile history to tell…

I notice that Tom Cunliffe’s book Pilot Cutters Under Sail: Pilots and Pilotage in Britain and Northern Europe  reports that she was sold to the French and that she worked as a  Breton onion boat, and has a good story about her being involved with the boarding of an early enemy prize during The Great War.

If you know anything, please get in touch with me at gmatkin@gmail.com and I’ll pass the information along to Joe.

Pilot cutters at Fowey, summer 2015


Still with Fowey boatbuilder Marcus Lewis, here’s a stonking collection of photos of the pilot cutter meet there a few weeks ago – after their visit to Fowey they sailed on to St Mawes. One of the boats is Pettifox, built in the Isles of Scilly 23yrs agobut now resident in Fowey. You don’t see photos of groups like this too often!

Thanks very much Marcus!

Pilot Cutters and the Victory: books from Seaforth Publishing

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I must read this book by seasoned sailor and writer Tom Cunliffe some time. Here’s what the Seaforth Publishing’s blurb says…

‘The pilot cutters that operated around the coasts of northern Europe until the First World War were among the most seaworthy and beautiful craft of their size ever built, while the small number that have survived have inspired yacht designers, sailors and traditional craft enthusiasts over the last hundred years.

‘They possessed a charisma unlike any other working craft; their speed and close-windedness, their strength and seaworthiness, fused together into a hull and rig of particular elegance, all to guide the mariner through the rough and tortuous waters of the European seaboard, bought them an enviable reputation.

‘This new book is both a tribute to and a minutely researched history of these remarkable vessels. The author, perhaps the most experienced sailor of the type, describes the ships themselves, their masters and crews,and the skills they needed for the competitive and dangerous work of pilotage. He explains the differences between the craft of disparate coasts – of the Scilly Islesand the Bristol Channel, of northern France, and the wild coastline of Norway – and weaves into the history of their development the stories of the men who sailed them.’

I notice that whoever wrote it has managed to capture the characteristic Cunliffe persuasive and salty style.

PS – A more recent release from Seaforth is Brian Lavery’s book Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace, which is published this month to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her launch.

Brian is also guest curator of an exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, if you have time to get over there.

The publisher’s notes promise the book is the most comprehensive book yet published on the topic and includes new and surprising revelations, including that:

  • she was almost wrecked on her launch
  • diplomacy conducted onboard her played a crucial role in provoking Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1912
  • 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm set the First World War in motion sitting at a desk made from her timbers

The book also tells the story of Horatio Nelson, who was born a few weeks before his most famous ship was ordered.