Cornwall Living 2018

Out of the storm

A chance to own a bit of Cornish history at Porthleven’s Great Baulk Auction on March 18th.

Porthleven is world famous for its stunning fishing harbour, the clocktower, and the waves photographed soaring over the tower and the harbour during severe storms. The baulks are the huge blocks of wood
(they weigh about two tonnes each) that are lifted by crane to block the gap into the inner harbour where the boats shelter. Watching them being lifted in or out of the gap is mesmerising, and listening to the hugely evocative noise of them bumping and rubbing up against each other during bad weather is a not to be forgotten moment on a dark night when the seas are rough.

But after the storm on 5th February 2014, the harbour was badly damaged, windows smashed, buildings flooded, the old lifeboat station (now and art gallery) lost its roof, and the strength of the water tossed big chunks of granite into the road and moved the huge canon. Worse still, two of the baulks protecting the inner harbour broke and others bounced out.

Ten boats were lost and equipment damaged. Overnight fishermen lost their livelihood. The community rallied round clearing up and raising much-needed funds. I spoke to Julian Waring from the Fishermen’s Mission. “The people of Porthleven have been amazing, Leigh, landlady of the Atlantic Inn, was the first to start fundraising events, raising thousands of pounds to help the fishermen. And if it hadn’t been for the quick action of the Harbour Master things could have been a lot worse. But we still needed to raise yet more money for the Fishermen’s Mission.”

Then one morning on his way to work Julian came up with the idea of the auction; to use the baulks to raise money for fishermen in need. So he set about getting them cut into chunks for sculptors and furniture, and slices for artists of all kinds, local and internationally recognised or, like Caroline Quentin, just plain famous. From Dame Judi Dench and Dame Carol Ann Duffy (the first woman Poet-Laureate) to Naomi Frears, David Hosking and Mark Surridge, all acclaimed artists, everyone approached has willingly agreed to feature or produce a piece of art. Julian took me for a look at some of the things that have come in already and they are beautiful.

On February 5th this year they marked the anniversary of the storm by projecting images of the art onto the wall of the Bickford Institute (the clocktower building). And from 5th to 10th March the work will be on exhibition at the Lifeboat Station gallery as a preview before the auction itself. Well-known auctioneer David Lay will conduct the auction on March 18th from 4pm in a marquee on the Harbourhead, the auction will also run online. Leigh at the Atlantic is really pushing the boat out too, with a bar and food in the marquee. It’s going to be a very popular evening! to register online


This month’s features