National Geographic : 1961 Aug
sails fluttered a moment before curving with the wind to their task. Owner Tom Blackwell, who comes with the ship when he charters her out, took the wheel in the narrow waters he knew so well, and we were off. The swift tide bore us seaward in the wake of a liner. Soon we were dipping and rolling in English Channel seas. Even out here, a crowd of racing yachts sailed by-15 or 20 of them, sturdy fellows, setting out on one of the many cross-Channel races, to Cherbourg perhaps, or Dinard. I had sailed these turbulent waters before, many times. I'd led landing ships by the doz en across the Channel for D-Day in Nor mandy; mine-swept here in the dark days of 1940-41. I'd come up here by steam and sail and motor ship and gone down again from and to the ends of the earth, in peace and war. Night Watch Sees Heavy Traffic The night came slowly, for summer days are long in England. Friendly lights flashed from lighthouses ashore and lightships on shoals at sea. Out in mid-Channel a steady parade of steamers plowed by, for this is one of the busiest sea highways in the world. The crew were on watch-and-watch (the old sailing-ship system), one always at the wheel and one on lookout. They were all good sea men. There was a dish of boiling hot tea at the changes of the watch, at midnight and 4 a.m., and a mackerel line trailed hopefully from the stern. The stout old ketch rolled gently through the starlit night and down the historic sea road where so many ships have passed and so much has happened. The very water lapping at the sides seemed to sing old stories - of how Spain's great Armada had once passed this way, never to return, of Julius Caesar with his legions invading England, and Wil liam the Conqueror in 1066, the last invader. Somehow 1066 didn't seem so long ago, and 1588 only the other day as we slipped on, si lent and graceful in the night, under sail. In the middle watch a huge Cunarder passed inbound, a fantastic blaze of lights from stem to stern, as if everybody was still up having fun, or maybe packing to land in Southampton with the tide in the morning. The hours of the night watch slipped past rapidly, for this was a grand place to dream. The last time I'd sailed down-Channel had been in a full-rigged ship, my Joseph Conrad, outward bound to New York and round the world. It was the fall of the year and stormy then. I'd had to fight the southwest gales, HS EKTACHROMES© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Capt. Alan Villiers, sailing the ketch Tectona, captures the spirit of Cornwall in the accompanying article. From Cowes on the Isle of Wight, he cruises England's south west toe. Rounding Lizard Point for Land's End, he beats across a graveyard of ships and threads the rocky teeth that impaled them. By car, he roams the cliff walled north coast with its Celtic crosses, sweltering tin mines, mist-shrouded moors, and castles haunted by mem ories of King Arthur's time. Lulworth Cove in Dorset shelters Tectona,headed down the Channel to Cornwall. Its narrow entrance flanked by cliffs, the scallop-shaped cove seems a perfect smuggler's hideout. History records its use as a lair for revenue cut ters that pounced out upon vessels running illicit perfume and spirits from France.