As a child, shortly after I had lost my golden mantle of ‘the-youngest’, my father would take my two brothers and I to St Anthony. My Dad had made several ‘shrimping nets’ which we would push around knee deep in the cold numbing, esturine water. We would catch tiny shrimps amongst the muddy seaweed. The smell of the mud comes back to me as I write this. We would tear bunches of mussels off the rocks and cook them in old tins of brine over makeshift fires. Often we were startled by crabs leaping and scuttling out from the rocks and weeds. On some occaisons we would rent a fishing boat from ‘Sailaway’ and putter out past all the moored day sailers, dinghies and fishing boats to The Manacles.
In later years my Dad went through a few boats of his own. His last was a huge old clinker built fishing boat which he shared with Reg our neighbour. In my memory those boats were never as satisfying as the crab boats we rented from Sailaway. With one exception, a small rowing boat we owned for a couple of years called, ‘Snip’.
‘Sailaway’ is a name I have always linked to St Anthony with its mudlocked salt smell. Like most of my fathers dealings renting a boat involved a lengthy chat, in this case with Sailaway’s proprieter. A worried looking man who I had always presumed was called Anthony, obviously dropping the Saint moniker to avoid showing off. It is only now that it occurs to me, I was probably mistaken. I quite liked half listening to them talk about their respective travails. Business in Cornwall in the 1970’s was apparently not good and (Saint) Anthony might have to close down or sell up. Other customers would be coming and going everyone had a story and seemed to know each other. One time, standing up to the knees holding a shrimp net, my Dad met a fellow he had not seen since he was schoolboy. I excitedly thought this would unlock tales from my Dad of his adventures when he was my age but he just said, “Well, we weren’t really best of friends”.
Out at The Manacles I caught mackeral on a feathered line. I was too little to pull them in by myself. There would be 5 or 6 of them flashing blue and silver on my line, my brothers or my Dad would spring in to take over in case I lost them. The first fish I reeled in myself was an orange gurnard, all gills and spines. My Dad thought I should throw it back but I refused. With a sack half full of fish and the afternoon sun on our cheeks my Dad turned us back into St Anthony. He would chat to everyone again as he was returning the boat. Us boys would wander up ahead to the Pay’n’Display car park stopping at the damson bushes to fill our pockets and mouths with the deliciously tart wild plums. We drove back through Manaccan with frequent stops to reverse back. The single lane roads were sign-posted on the wider sections with the words, Passing Place. Often with the first P scraped off. I don’t know why I mention this except that it say’s a lot about the era I was to grow up in.
My Dad would stop at the old misnamed New Inn at Manaccan. If my father met someone he knew we might get a lemonade whilst he had a chat and a beer. We never stayed too long as we normally had our catch in the car. I never remember the journey back from Manaccan, I think I would fall asleep until our bumpy lane woke me up. Carthvean was a warm and cosy house back then, always a lovely place to go home to. My Mum grilled my gurnard in hot melted butter that night. It was the first time I ate fish without complaining about the bones which is funny if you know about all the spiny little bones in a gurnard.
Fourteen or so years later I was a few miles as the-cormorant-flies north-west of Sailaway in Falmouth. I had met a fellow called Carsten Rassmussen who offered me passage on his boat in exchange for taking watches. That day I sailed out of Falmouth, past the Manacles, southwards and away from Cornwall.
It has been over thirty years since I left and there is not a day that I don’t miss home. The sea does not smell the same in Australia. My oldest brother told me not dwell in the past. He once said said, “Have one more look through all your old photo’s; notebooks; letters and other junk then shove it in a box and put it away and never look at it again”. He gave a short joyless laugh after he told me. Obviously I mostly ignored his advice, but maybe he’s right.
Although I have no photo’s from that first voyage I do have this sketch I did after crossing the Bay of Biscay. I cannot even remember the name of the boat. In my defence I did not enjoy sailing with Carsten and I suspect the feeling was mutual. We were both too polite to say anything but I changed to another boat at the first opportunity. I read and reread the books I took with me on that journey. Oscar Wilde’s collection of short stories, “The Happy Prince and other Tales” was the only one that has stayed with me. I spent a day or two floating around some caves and rockpools and wrote this with the shadow of the Happy Prince in mind.
There was also this letter which I never got round to finishing or sending addressed to my Aunt Joanna. I am hopeless at sending letters.