Cornwall LivingIssue #71

The wind in our sails

We experience the magic of a weekend exploring the south Cornish coast aboard a traditional working tall ship, Johanna Lucretia.

As you wind through the steep and ancient cobbled streets that lead down to Fowey harbour, descending through the mist that hangs in the valley, you imagine yourself treading the same footsteps as countless sailors – of both good and ill repute – over the centuries. It’s the perfect starting point for a maritime adventure.

“A taster weekend such as this is the perfect way to test out your sea legs, and get a feel for traditional sail…”

Johanna Lucretia, a 96ft, two-masted topsail schooner, is easy to locate, moored up on the pontoon on the harbour front – home for the next three days for a tall ship taster weekend. Daphne Du Maurier’s childhood home, Ferryside, sits directly opposite on the other side of the river at Bodinnick.

Stepping aboard, I’m greeted by our captain, and owner of the boat, Rodger Barton, and his crew. Originally built in 1945 in Belgium to a traditional design, Johanna Lucretia has a colourful history, including a few outings on the silver screen as well as near dereliction, before being painstakingly restored in 2010, largely by Rodger himself.

You don’t need any prior experience aboard a sailing boat, traditional or otherwise, to enjoy a taster weekend such as this. Among my fellow passengers there’s a range of abilities, experience and age groups – all visibly excited, if slightly apprehensive at what lies ahead. The beauty is that you can join in as much or as little as you like, though we are encouraged to try our hand at the ropes and wheel, under the crew’s careful guidance – this is proper ‘block and tackle’ sailing! At all times we feel safe in our captain’s hands, with Rodger putting all at ease and talking us through procedures.

We head down river and into the Channel, sailing southwest, over the course of the day passing Charlestown, Mevagissey, Gorran Haven, and the Roseland peninsula. At various points, we are joined by a fluther of jellyfish bobbing along the water; we catch a fleeting glimpse of a pod of dolphins; and we hear the apparently distinctive blows of some porpoises – or so we’re informed!

Shortly before dusk, we reach St Anthony Lighthouse, turning into the Carrick Roads, ably guarded by Henry VIII’s twin fortresses, Pendennis and St Mawes Castles. We pass Falmouth Docks, the third largest natural harbour in the world, then St Mawes, Mylor, and St Just in Roseland. Our voyage confirms that one of the best ways to experience the coast is afloat. You get a fresh perspective on the locations you thought you knew so well; familiar yet foreign. Remote villages and peninsular harbours that take so much longer to reach by land sail past in quick succession.

Yet any passage on a boat is guided largely by the weather – our experience is no different, and we sample the best and worst that the Cornish weather has to throw at us. But when the sun shines, shimmering off the water’s surface, there’s nowhere on earth you’d rather be. As such, no two sailing weekends will ever be the same. Yet Rodger and his crew are experienced sailors who know this coastline like the back of their weatherworn hands. They will adjust the course accordingly, and know every cove, harbour and shelter to retreat to, finding some of the most beautiful and secluded locations to drop anchor.

Tonight Rodger has chosen a stunning spot in the shelter of Channals Creek – the grand portico of Trelissick House sits proud on the hillside, above rolling lawns that cascade down to the beach below.

Rodger is not only our captain but, as it turns out, a very good cook. Over the weekend, we are treated to a range of dishes – wholesome, hearty and refreshingly unfussy food – packed with flavour and just what we need to refuel and warm our cockles at the end of a long day on deck. When not battling the elements above deck, Rodger even finds time to homebake a quiche from scratch – including the pastry! The evenings are spent in the saloon, playing cards, board games and sharing yarns from the sea, preparing for the journey back the following day.

A taster weekend such as this is the perfect way to test out your sea legs, and get a feel for traditional sail, before stepping up to a longer voyage. Indeed, one of our crew is so taken by the experience that he swiftly signs up for a trip to the Canary Islands aboard sister ship, Bessie Ellen. We might well see him there!

"A taster weekend such as this is the perfect way to test out your sea legs, and get a feel for traditional sail..."