View Full Version : Lulu Gets Wound Up

John R Smith
09-25-2000, 05:28 AM

Lulu Gets Wound Up

Following our trip to St Mawes we were both a little tired, but nonetheless raring to go again after an intervening maintenance day with Lulu on her mooring. I had cunningly arranged my leave to coincide with one of the biggest spring tides of the year, a full 5.7 metres above datum rather than the normal 5.3 or so. We intended to make good use of this particularly generous offer from Moon and Sun Inc, and to boldly go where we had never ventured - the upper reaches of the Fal itself.

Now, I know you will all find this most confusing, because it is our habit to call the whole sloshy bit we sail around in the Fal estuary. But actually, most of the time we are in the Truro River - at least until we get down as far as Tolverne, where the River Fal joins in the fun from the left. If you turn to port there (instead of wombling on down-river to Falmouth) you are venturing into one of the most remote, deserted estuaries in Cornwall. The waters are frighteningly shallow, the channel narrow and winding, and there are no buoys, sticks or other marks to guide the nervous mariner.

We had made our preparations. Food and bedding were aboard, just in case the worst happened. Extra supplies of baccy and beer were stowed below. At least we might survive for a day or so if stranded on a remote mud-flat. As we waited on our mooring for the tide we watched the heron stalking the creek's edge, chatted to Stan who was in his usual spot in the quayside shelter, and as the water came up to our transom we gazed at the grey mullett feeding in the shallows. This big tide was coming up fast and we were floating three hours before high, half an hour earlier than usual.

We set off down river, the engine flat-out, for speed was of the essence. We had to get to Tolverne, up the Fal and into position for the tricky bits well before the top of the tide. Lulu as usual was doing her best impression of a tortoise, despite Mr Yanmar's valiant efforts at creating horsepower. Our boat's strange habits under sail are by now well known. Her equally odd behaviour under motor I have perhaps previously glossed over, but I must confess that few other boats ignore the basic rules of physics quite so happily. For a start, she creates virtually no wake whatever the speed. Just a line of bubbles behind, and a tiny wash. Then again, she seems to only have two speeds. Dead slow, or very slow. Beyond that point, increasing engine power produces lots more noise and bubbles but no more speed whatever.

Consequently, in our six months of Dauntless cruising so far, I believe it is true to say that we have never yet overtaken another boat, except perhaps ones that were moored up or sinking at the time. And curiously, now I come to think about it, we have been overhauled many, many times. By just about everybody.

Once we turned the corner into the Fal, we had the tide behind us and things got easier on the propulsion front. But a lot more tricky for the helmsman. The River Fal has its source high on the Hensbarrow Moors, which in medieval times were an important source of tin. These medieval tinners most inconsiderately threw all their waste material into the river, leading to such silting that Tregony, once a thriving port, is now three miles from the tide. Even worse, the china-clay miners of the 19th and 20th centuries persisted in this unsociable behaviour, creating vast banks of white mud in the upper reaches which further choked the river. The Admiralty chart dates from 1890 and is useless here.


Luckily, I have access to our splendid large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, which show the channels and rills very well. Armed with these we navigated up the narrow channel by means of simple transits, lined up on the edges of the side creeks. The lower reaches were quite straightforward and very beautiful. For a start, there was no-one else there. Not just no other boats, but no moorings, no houses, no roads. Lulu was alone on the still waters, gliding between the high banks hung with oaks. We turned back and forth across the river, hoping that our keel was in the invisible deep water. At Ardevora Veor the river widens out, and we swung around in a broad curve before entering the narrows which lead to Lamorran Lake.

This section was easy, perhaps a little too easy. We were lulled into a sense of false security. At the end of the channel around Ardevora, the river opens out again into a wide shallow lake. Far off on the other side stands the tall chimney of the old Trelonk brickworks, where there is a crumbling quay. This was our target. Now, I had a basic plan in mind. Although the channnel is not marked, I knew there was a sandbar along its edge which is always exposed, and which I could use as a guide. We swept out into the lake, desperately looking for something which matched the chart - and the sandbar had gone. Of course! What fools - this exceptionally high tide had covered it.

There was nothing to steer by. I had the engine at dead slow, but we seemed to be rushing forwards ever faster. Kate was sounding continually, and the news was bad. 2 metres, 1.5, 1.0, 0.75, less than 0.75, no forward motion - we were aground. I couldn't believe it. The highest tides of the year, and there was not enough to float Lulu with her 18 inches draught. We had missed the channel, and were in real trouble. There was now less than an hour to high water. Unless we got her off quickly, Lulu (and possibly crew) would be trappped here for about two months until there was a similar spring tide. I have to say both of us found this prospect unappealing, most notably when contemplating a protracted stay with a diet of lug-worms and seaweed.


Luckily, we always take the precaution of running with the centreboard slightly down. So by pulling the board up, we were able (with difficulty) to free the old girl, turn her round, and beat an ignominious and slow retreat to the narrows. We anchored up, drew breath and then realised that we were sitting in a tidal race the like of which we had never seen before. Water was swirling past us at a good three to four knots. No wonder we had been swept, virtually out of control, onto the mud banks. If ever fools rushed in . . .


Across the lake, too wide to transit, Trelonk glowed in the late afternoon sun, mocking us. The expanse of calm water gave no hint of its treacherous nature, and there were no markers, no buoys, no sticks. We were beaten by the river. Time for a cup of tea. Our mood was not improved, when a few minutes later some clever dick in a RIB with a huge outboard came zooming up past us and straight across the mud flats with not a care in the world. On the plane, only his prop was in the water. Mind you, we never actually saw him come back.

Still, it was now a magically beautiful evening, and Lulu dutifully plodded back down river with the crew soaking up the scenery. The setting sun shone in through her little portholes in the cabin front, lending a rosy glow to the proceedings. I had the engine dead slow, but after a while it seemed to me that things were rather more sluggish than usual. A little more throttle, perhaps. Strange, nothing there. A lot more throttle. Oh Lord, no response. No increase in noise or revolutions. By now we were almost stopped. There was something dreadfully wrong with the engine. We swung faultlessly into our emergency procedure, turned to starboard away from the bank and dropped anchor.

Once again visions of being stranded for weeks in this remote place caused near panic in Lulu's crew. No pubs, no fish-and-chip shops, no baccy . . . fortunately, some last vestige of common sense made me look at the propellor first, before dismantling the Yanmar. Aha, there was the answer. A huge mass of brown weed was wrapped around the prop. Unwinding it took some time, but was easily achieved with the boathook over the transom. Thank heaven for this boat's sensible design. The exceptional high tide, we realised, had lifted the weed normally lying at the top of the foreshore, and floated it off all down the creek.

The Dredger

By the time we had all this sorted out, it was getting a bit dim. But it gave us the opportunity to test our new navigation lights under voyage conditions. And they worked, at last. It was worth all that messing about with little connectors, wires and plugs, hooray - now we were a proper ship. We passed the last down-river Enterprise boat and exchanged waves, skipper to skipper, first mate to first mate, hardy old salts of the river. Once back on our mooring, we cooked up some supper (red pepper quiche, new potatoes, French bread) and relaxed with a beer. I idly contemplated the dredger which is moored over on Lighterage Quay, and for which I have a strange affection. Battered, blue, and with a huge grab at the bow, it can clear a path through the most glutinous mud with a certain uncouth panache. Perhaps if we tempted the master with the promise of a couple of pints, he might be willing to go ahead of us next time? No, I suppose that's cheating, really.


Greg H
09-25-2000, 09:02 AM
Thankyou Mr Smith, another fine story. I hope these gems are being collected for publication.
Maby you could save us in the 'slow day at the office' thread?

Ian McColgin
09-25-2000, 09:06 AM
Another grand tale and an auspicious time for one of the more pleasurable duties of my office to

Hereby Proclaim

JohnRSmith of Lulu

Kedgers' Club, East Atlantic Fleet


If you ain't hit the dirt, you ain't been there.

Keith Wilson
09-25-2000, 09:22 AM
Oh yes! The collected adventures of John R. Smith and Lulu would certainly be worth putting on the shelf next to Tom McGrath's Townie saga (which started out as articles in Messing About in Boats, BTW) and even, dare I say it, Maurice Griffiths. In fact, the stories remind me of Griffiths quite a lot, both in quality of writing and the fact that they involve huge tides, lots of mud, and running aground. You even have the perfect picture for inside the back cover.

John R Smith
09-25-2000, 10:27 AM
Well, Ian, it's really nice to be commodore of something. Is there a nice club burgee, at all?


Tom Dugan
09-25-2000, 11:49 AM
John, I believe the burgee is a solid brown pennant. No markings, for none are needed for such an auspicious organization.

Another fine tale, which just makes me want to visit Cornwall and Devon that much more.

Are you convinced yet to go find yourself a dinghy? Looks like Trelonk was a short row away.


Don Bailey
09-25-2000, 12:15 PM
Thank you John for another great Lulu tale.
And thanks for the info on how to post a picture. I finally figured it out.
Don B.

Jim Goodine
09-25-2000, 09:12 PM
Thanks, John. Another in the fine series.

09-25-2000, 11:02 PM
Thank you once again, John. I also hope for a book. Have you read John Lewis's "A Taste for Sailing" by any chance?

John R Smith
09-26-2000, 04:08 AM
Hmm, yes Tom, you are right about the dinghy. Mind you, we'd probably manage to get that stuck, too. And ACB, I shall search for this book you recommend. As for a Lulu book, well you know there is a lot of difference between these little pieces and a proper book. Each Lulu story is between 1000 and 1500 words, to fit within a sensible limit for the Forum. That would be a very short chapter in a book.

Just in case you wondered, everything in these tales is true. I never invent anything for the sake of the story, although I do sometimes leave out the really boring bits. And I should also give Kate the credit for taking all the photographs. Well, there is one more voyage to come from Lulu's Holiday Album . . .


09-26-2000, 08:30 AM
May there always be another voyage....


Peter Kalshoven
09-26-2000, 08:08 PM

Ian McColgin
09-27-2000, 09:08 AM
Since the Kedgers' Club is open to all who proudly sail where seagulls walk, people can make their own burgees.

It's a triangular field, usually blue since that's what I usually have as scrap, with a white fisherman style anchor laying sidewise, flukes at the hoist.

The easiest way is to make the anchor of scrap dacron from an old sail. Double stick a suitably large trapazoid of the stuff to each side of your field piece, stitch the outline of the anchor with a tight zigzag - light thread regular machine will do it - and then cut away the part that's not an anchor. That gets your emblem correctly registered on both sides of the burgee finastkind.

Garrett Lowell
03-09-2005, 03:07 PM
Just re-read this again.

James R
03-09-2005, 03:50 PM
Thanks for bumping these. smile.gif

06-09-2015, 10:56 AM
A timely bilge cleaner.

Michael D. Storey
06-09-2015, 11:52 AM
Do statements made without the aid of pix really define real events?
So sed the Sage of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland.

06-09-2015, 04:56 PM
:dI well remember these posts and stories from my early days on the forum, thanks.

06-09-2015, 07:41 PM
a fine read, reminds me of Jerome K. Jerome.