Thursday 29 September 2011


I confess to being a bit of a petrol head and in particular for big American V8's so when we saw a classic car show advertised at a down town lake side park we went along.

Sarnia isn't that far from Detroit, the US car capital and Motown so there was no shortage of classic muscle cars plus more than a few stunning custom cars and hot rods.

The event was organised and run by the Sarnia Street Machine Club as a charity event in aid of the Pathways Health Centre for Children. What was especially delightful was that the event was free. Parking was free for both exhibitors and visitors (pause for gasp from my UK readers) there was even a band using the municipal open air stage facilities. Around 100 cars were on display their owners bringing them along to support the event and all the money was raised by donations.

Along with the Corvettes, the GTOs and Dodge Charger (OK so the purists will tell me the Vanishing Point car was a yellow Challenger), no gathering of muscle cars would be complete without a Mustang, you almost expected to see Steve McQueen driving, he was co star to the Mustang in the film Bullet.

This Model T based hot rod looked like it really had seen action on the Bonneville saltflats back when the custom car scene started. No mudguards, white wall tyres, open header exhausts and what look like drum brakes.

Joe (well actually his Dad who has always wanted one) took a shine to this VW based beach buggy, the owner very kindly invited him to try it out for size and he seemed to like it. Hmm maybe that's the excuse I've been looking for - next year's winter project?

What a great event and a great, really friendly bunch of people.

Sunday 25 September 2011

The Gribbin

We have seen the distinctive red and white day mark on top of Gribbin Head many times from sea on our approach on Fowey and once walked there along the coastal path. While we were staying in Fowey the National Trust opened the tower for the day, so we took the opportunity to climb up the 84 feet high edifice.

Built in 1832 by Trinity House on land provided by William Rashleigh, the day mark identified Gribbin which sailors often confused for St Anthony, thus in danger of entering the shallow and treacherous waters of St Austell Bay rather than the safe deep water harbour in Carrick Roads. It also provides guidance into the narrow and rocky entrance to Fowey harbour.

Ascent is by torchlight, climbing the stone steps which spiral up inside the square gothic tower and is a surprisingly easy climb, even the short ladder which leads out onto the roof platform.

The wind was blowing a good force 5 from a clear sea but seemed stronger at that height.

The view is spectacular as this picture of the entrance to Fowey demonstrates.

Thanks to the members of the National Trust who opened the tower for the day, the Tower is open about six times a year.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Who wants to go sailing?

In England certainly one of the problems we have is the weather, but regardless when the weather is of the sort which would send us down the pub, many yachtsmen feel compelled to go sailing.

We watched this crew who were fully kitted up against the weather, from the comfort of a warm café over a leisurely breakfast. Another yacht had just cleared the rocky entrance and were heading out into a very lumpy swell, we were very pleased that we only had a short walk back home.

Maybe we’re getting soft or perhaps the magic of having buckets of water tipped down your neck as you cling to a wildly heeled yacht looses its appeal after a while.

Monday 19 September 2011

Storm Damage

A waterspout tore up the Fowey River while we were there, it was dark, but from our balcony it was possible to make out the concentrated centre where the wind was shrieking, blowing over dustbins on the shore and shaking masts in the harbour as it passed.

The next morning revealed this yacht had broken free from it's mooring and been driven up onto the shore in Pont Creek.

Fortunately it was a sturdy full keel design and had missed the rocks along that piece of shore to settle at a place which is fairly steeply sloping shingle.

The Fowey Harbour Master crew were quickly on hand in the morning and the yacht was floated off on the afternoon tide and taken back to a mooring.

Friday 16 September 2011

Marcus Lewis - Wooden Boat Builder

We dropped in to visit Wooden Boat Builder Marcus Lewis at his workshop in Fowey. Marcus was just finishing off a Plymouth Mayflower Dinghy which he will be showing at the Southampton Boat Show.

The Mayflower is a traditional 14 ft dinghy, I especially like the gunter rig which is easy to set and allows the spars and sails to be stowed within the boat. The Mayflower was a relatively local boat believed to be based on a rowing boat. Originally built by Skentlebery’s in Plymouth (see Classic Boat magazine in January 93 for more details). The first boat had a full skeg keel, presumably from it’s rowing boat heritage, which gave rather too much directional stability so the heel was cut away to improve manoeuvrability, a feature which has been retained on this latest example by Marcus.

Marcus took the lines from an old local boat, seen here is his lofting and some of the moulds from which the new boat was built.

At 14ft the Mayflower seems like the perfect all round dinghy. You can imagine the lucky new owner having lots of fun days sailing a boat like this, more comfortable than a modern racing dinghy, picnics on the beach plus a spot of classic dinghy racing to fulfil those competitive urges.

Marcus had a couple of other interesting boats in his workshop, the first is a Fowey boat, built as a tender for the pilots, she has a lot of volume in the stern as these boats were typically sculled out to the pilot boats, and so needed the extra buoyancy astern to counter the weight aft.

On the other side of the shed was a Fal working boat, used for dredging oysters in the protected fishery where engines are not allowed. The anchor would be dropped and then boat would be hauled across the oyster beds pulling the dredge. Marcus admits to owning the boat for 30 odd years and it is awaiting its third rebuild.

Marcus pointed out other differences between the two craft, the Fowey boat is clinker and the Fal boat carvel. He suggested the latter was probably made from off cut plans left over from building larger Falmouth built luggers.

Looking at the random thickness of the planks it’s easy to see the logic. The Fowey boat by contrast being clinker built has to have neat and equal width planking as the plank shapes strongly define the lines as shown here on his Mayflower Dinghy.

If you get the opportunity to meet him, Marcus is a very nice chap, generous with his time and hugely knowledgeable about traditional boats, he was also very relaxed as Joe waved a screwdriver around far too close to his immaculately varnished show boat. Here Joe is showing an early interest in wooden boat construction, the small saw horses are actually coffin stands. Mum looks pretty relaxed too although I'm not sure I could persuade her that we need another dinghy, even one as lovely as this.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Full Moon

No werewolves, but it's certainly going to be a big tide with a 4.7 meter range down here in the west country this afternoon.

Pics were taken with the camera propped up on a railing using a Panasonic DMC-TZ8 Lumix (that's what it says on the back) on auto it automatically calculated exposure and even counted down the eight or nine seconds required, sometimes you just have to love technology.

No apologies for the fuzziness in the bottom picture there was enough breeze to keep them in constant motion.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Low flying - boat

This International Moth was undergoing pre flight checks down on the slipway, judging by those foils and the fuselage hull.

Despite the delicate appendages and the sheer size of the hull and outriggers launching seemed to be a fuss free procedure.

It wasn’t an especially windy day perhaps 8-12 knots near perfect conditions so after a couple of short tacks the Moth was up of its foils and hurting down river. The picture doesn’t show it very clearly, the hull was some 9 inches to a foot out of the water supported on those tiny hydrofoils and the uplift generated as they travel through the water.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Bursledon Regatta the Venetian Carnival

It was a grey start to the day as the dinghy fleet gathered off Lands End Point on Saturday morning for Bursledon Regatta, the dinghy course takes the fleet down river to Hamble or Warsash depending on conditions and then back up the finish line off the Jolly Sailor pontoon in Bursldeon Pool.

The Hamble has some 3500 boat moorings added to which the river is busy with Saturday morning boaters coming and going so it’s a challenging course.

The theme for this year’s regatta was Venetian Carnival and the Elephant Boatyard had been transformed into a scene from the Grand Canal.

Complete with Bridge of Sighs on the main pontoon.

As usual the afternoon water festival was complete with a dinghy parade; this former mirror dingy had been transformed into a stylish Riva Sports boat.

Clearly the only way for Venetian Carnival party guests to make a spectacular entrance would be to arrive by gondola, although perhaps one of the masked lady guests went slightly too far with the false beard!

Inevitably with the competitive nature of such events, some spontaneous water fights broke out during the dinghy parade and ended with the sinking of the well over laden boat, “The Venetian Blind”.

A favourite of the afternoon rowing and fun races is the dinghy egg and spoon race here one of the competitors concentrates on balancing her egg and spoon while standing in an inflatable which is rowed around the course, surely the most challenging race of the day.

Our thanks as always go to the Regatta Committee, the Elephant Boatyard and all those individuals and companies who support the regatta.

Monday 5 September 2011

Niagara Fools

It’s disconcerting to arrive at one of the natural wonders of the world only to find it hidden behind high rise hotels, casinos, nigh clubs, burger joints and amusement arcades.

Disconcerting and disappointing, but eventually after driving up and down the commercial strip, we did eventually find the falls, we even took the boat trip on the Maid of the Mist.

Clearly the majesty of the most famous waterfalls in North America aren’t enough for some people, no problem then if your trip could not possibly be complete without a game of crazy golf among these replica dinosaurs.

Only a couple of days before our visit a tourist had climbed up on the safety railings at the top of the falls apparently to get a better photograph. Somehow she slipped and had been swept to her death in seconds. Despite the wide news coverage the incident didn’t seem to have had much of a deterrent effect.

Thursday 1 September 2011


Sarnia, Ontario isn’t a typical holiday destination, but we had the opportunity to visit this small city (population 70,00) which sits on the southern tip of Lake Huron. With the proximity to the lake, August temperatures between 25-27 degrees and only the occasional thunderstorm we had a great time.

The Great Lakes waterway system flows from Huron, down the St Clare River into Lake Erie on its way to the sea. The scale is immense with huge freighters plying their trade between the America and Canadian ports. A seemingly popular pastime in Sarnia is sitting in the park at the entrance of the St Clare River watching the freighters pass under the Blue Water Bridge which links the US with Canada. A couple of food vans were serving real chips, not fries these were the real thing which made the park especially popular at lunch time and early evenings.

For the more active there was fun to be had floating under the bridge, the current runs at some two to three knots so it’s easy to swim out with a float and drift down on the current. Great in summer, in winter we were told members of the local scuba diving club do the same circuit holding onto ice flows.

Mostly it’s just a great place to look across to the US and while away some time watching the freighters going by. Back in the 1970's Gordon Lightfoot sang about a 27,000 ton payload aboard the ill fated Edmund Fitzgerald a freighter which foundered with the loss of all hand on Lake Superior. Some like the Algolake (above) are familiar modern bulk freighters, but others like the Manisteee (below) are very distinctive. It looks like a forward bridge ferry has been joined to a counter stern tramp steamer with a couple of foot ball pitches worth of ship added in the middle.

Right along the lake shore broad leaved woodland still comes right down to the water’s edge with miles of sand, much of it private but equally huge stretches of almost deserted public beach.

The obvious thing was to just head out of town along Lakeshore Road, past the delightfully named Bright’s Grove, Kettle Point, Ippawash Beach, enjoy the lake and the big sky.