The History of Polruan Shipyard

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Every year, Bessie Ellen is hauled out to Polruan Shipyard near Fowey for all the work that is needed to keep her afloat and in survey. Paul Toms, 4th generation ship builder now runs this charming yard right in the heart of this picturesque Cornish village. C. Toms & Son’s own story is just part of a long history of boatyards in Polruan, and we are pleased to be able to share some of the history of ship building in the village written for us by Maritime Historian, Dr Helen Doe.

“If you look at Toms yard today, you are looking at a site that has built and repaired ships and boats for centuries. Today’s craftsmen follow a long, long line of skilled shipwrights.

In the medieval period, ships from Polruan included the Edward that was involved in the wine trade with Bordeaux and was also known to take to piracy on occasions. This was a large ship and she was described in 1433 as carrying over 200 men ‘armed and arrayed for war’.

There is little to say exactly where such ships were built or by whom and it was not until the 1700s that a little more information could be gleaned. What we do know is that the site where Toms’ yard is now has been a shipbuilding site for a very long time and it can definitely be traced to William Geach & Son. They were certainly operating there from 1789 and were probably based there well before this date. They built sloops and schooners, the largest being 93-ton Mary in 1824.

William Geach & Son went bankrupt in 1836 and the site was idle for a while. At some stage Butson arrived and set up his business there, later moving upriver to Brazen Island. It is almost impossible to find out exactly where ships were built as information is limited.

Another shipbuilder in Polruan was Christopher Slade, who may have been an apprentice to either Geach or Butson. Slade’s first yard was below West Street and he operated there from 1841. When Butson moved to Brazen Island, Slade moved into the yard below East Street but retained his West Street yard and also leased a second yard further along West Street (this yard had originally been leased by Marks & Rendle until 1840s). The Slade family of shipbuilders remained on the site below East Street until the Second World War.

Beside the dock at Newquay lived John Edward Hocken who had a sail making business there until 1910. Many famous Polruan ships were built here during the 19th century and Polruan built larger and greater numbers of ships than Fowey during the last half of the century. The largest ship built in the port of Fowey was the E S Hocken, a 237-ton barquentine launched in 1879. Many of the ships were small and fast and built for the Atlantic fruit trade. Among these was the Jane Slade, 170 ton schooner, later to be immortalised by Daphne du Maurier as the Janet Coombe in her novel ‘The Loving Spirit’.  It was a period of boom for the local economy with many Polruan families investing in the ships and providing the masters and the crews.”

Bringing Helen’s history up to date, in 1922, Charlie Toms started his business working in a blacksmiths shop near the dock at Newquay. Over the years, he and his son Jack grew C. Toms & Son and took over the whole of the Newquay yard, using John Edward Hocken’s old sail loft as their offices. Meanwhile Daphne du Maurier purchased the boatyard below East Street in 1943 from the business partner of Thomas Slade and the Hunkin family ran the yard on her behalf.

Later in 1968, Ms du Maurier sold this yard to Jack Toms and his wife and in 1987, the beach between the East Street yard and Newquay was filled in to achieve the larger premises you can see today.

Sailing to The Hidden Olive

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On Easter weekend, Bessie Ellen and the crew will be sailing into Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, helping to launch a new eco-friendly initiative by one of Plymouth’s newest eateries, The Hidden Olive.

Returning to a traditional method of importation, we’ll be the first of three historic tall ships to deliver produce from all over the world, carrying premium Caribbean rum and chocolates, paprika and several Spanish products right to The Hidden Olive’s kitchen door. This is not only a sustainable method of transporting food but also gives out zero emissions, reducing the carbon footprint – something the crew and I feel very strongly about.

We’re no strangers to Sutton Harbour – we visited last year during Plymouth Pirate Weekend and really enjoyed meeting the visitors, and this time will be that bit extra special to us as we’ll have a chance to catch up with the owner of The Hidden Olive, Sam Bagshawe, who sailed with us for four years and we miss very much. We’re so excited to see that he’s integrated the Bessie Ellen’s history into his new business though!

If you’re in or around Plymouth between 25th and 28th March and would like to take a look at Britain’s last wooden trading ketch, please come and say hello, and why not pop into The Hidden Olive for a delicious bite to eat? We certainly will be!

Skipper, Nikki Alford

 

Bessie Ellen – Supporting the INSPIRE Foundation

We’re proud to support the INSPIRE Foundation, a unique national charity that’s dedicated to raising money for research, practical solutions and ultimately to improve the quality of life for those with Spinal Cord Injury – some 40,000 people in the UK alone.

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Why have we chosen INSPIRE? Quite simply, it came about chatting away during a long night watch with our Bosun James Steevenson about what our assorted families were up to.  James is on board to gain experience and hands on training before continuing towards a career in the sailing industry and is doing superbly well in all fields. We’ll be sad to say goodbye to him in June when he continues on with his maritime training.

James’  father, Rory  was selected as Executive Director of the INSPIRE Foundation in September 2012. He is Secretary to the Trustees, responsible for all fund raising and coordinates all research projects with the National Scientific Committee in the major teaching hospitals and medical schools throughout UK.  On leaving the Army he fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition rebuilding his 27 foot yacht now moored in Keyhaven near Lymington and furthered his interest in voluntary charity work. Rory has two student sons Bill (23) and James (22) and his main interests are cooking, DIY, sailing, skiing and country pursuits. He is a member of the RNLI and a Trustee of the Royal Hampshire Regiment.

One of the charity’s main fundraising events takes place at the Royal Navy vs. Army Polo Tournament held at Tedworth Park, near Andover, every summer. A packed day of celebrity polo matches, a two-furlong dash, a wheelchair relay and a three course lunch, it culminates in a fundraising auction, in which we’re pleased to offer the ‘Bessie Ellen Experience’ to the highest bidder –  a week’s sailing on board Bessie Ellen, or a bespoke corporate day for 12 passengers to fit in with the ship’s itinerary.

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Anne Luttman-Johnson, INSPIRE Patron and a keen paraplegic sailor, pictured below, thanked Bessie and the crew:

This is one of the most generous gifted auction lots ever and the Patrons and Trustees are simply delighted that Nikki Alford and her crew are able to contribute so much to the INSPIRE Foundation with this wonderfully opportunity on board Bessie Ellen. Thank you so much’

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If you’d like to find out more about the charity, or donate to this amazing cause, visit www.inspire-foundation.org.uk

 

Our Gourmet Galley : Orange and Almond Cake

We bring you another tantalising recipe, this time for Orange and Almond cake, baked under sail! Watch and learn as Bessie Ellen’s owner, Nikki Alford, gives Classic Yacht TV a lesson in baking whilst at sea!

Using a recipe from the Polpo restaurants in London, this delicious cake is now a firm favourite with those who sail with us. This particular recipe requires a moderate amount of gas, but on the other hand no flour so it is a great wheat free treat for those concerned. (An oven is essential!)

How to service (serve) a rope

 

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The arts of a sailor such as serving, splicing and knotting is fast becoming a dying art, skills are lost, tools are harder to come by, and sailors seem to have less & less wish to whittle or turn out their own   Drugged by the power of smartphones, social media, the fo’c’sle has become a very different place than when I started life at sea 20 years ago.

One of the first arts we would learn was serving a splice.  Aboard sailing ships much of the wire rigging would be parcelled and served, rope eyes and strop-blocks all dressed smartly in turns of marlin. Today, even though materials are modern and hardier, serving is still an important task to learn, finished off with a waterproofing of linseed oil and tar offering the appearance of a well-dressed ship.

TO WORM AND SERVE A ROPE – TAKEN FROM THE RIGGERS GUIDE & SEAMANS ASSISTANT – PUBLISHED 1877.

Set up your work between two points and heave taught.

Worming the rope is to fill up the vacant space between the strands of the rope with spun yarn in order to render the surface smooth and round for parceling.

Parceling a rope is wrapping old canvas round it, cut into strips two or three inches wide according to the size of the rope.

The parcelling is put on with the lay of the rope.

The service is of spun yarn, put or hove on by a wooden mallet; it has a score in the under part according to the size of the rope so as to lay comfortably on the rope.

The serving is always laid on against the lay of the rope, a man passes a ball of spun yarn taking the turns well out of it at some distance from the man that is serving the rope; when the required length is put on, the end is passed under the last 6 turns and hauled taught before cutting off.

 

Our Gourmet Galley : Paella

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It goes without saying that on arriving at a foreign port, a trip to the local market is a must, and in Galicia each stall is piled high with wonderful ingredients not found at home. The fish stalls display an array of strange looking fish, shellfish and seamonsters, all looking so appetising that you cannot help but buy a little of everything. For example, our chefs bought: calamari (squid) langoustine (big prawns) almejas (clams) and mejillones ( mussels) to go along with chicken for our Paella.

Preferably you need a large paella pan and a burner

This recipe serves 18, so adapt to the number in your party.

Ingredients

18 chicken thighs, 2 whole garlic, 4 onions, 2 whole chorizo sausages, 1 pack paella seasoning (saffron, white pepper cumin & paprika mix), 1.5kg paella rice (long grain works just as well), 2.5 litres stock, 1 bottle white wine, 3 large squid cleaned and cut into rings, 2 kg prawns, 2 kg clams, 2kg mussels, 1 large bag frozen green beans, 3 red peppers sliced

Instructions

  1. Fry chicken pieces in olive oil until brown and nearly cooked through. Add a good handful of chopped garlic along with some chopped onions and chorizo, fry for two minutes or until soft.
  2. Add your rice (a good handful per person) then add the stock and wine to cover the rice along with paella seasoning. Leave to simmer. You can add more stock or white wine if necessary.
  3. About 10 minutes before the rice is cooked, add all your shellfish to the pan along with some green beans and sliced red pepper. Keep stirring until cooked, adding more liquid if required.
  4. Serve with a good sunset!