During October 1981 I was contacted by your office and asked to take the Tamar sailing barge Shamrock to sea for her second set of sailing trials.
The date chosen by the museum and the trust was the weekend of the 16-18th of October. On this weekend the tides were falling away from springs, which in the Tamar meant an early start on the Friday morning and completion either in the morning of the Sunday or after dark on the Saturday or Sunday evenings.
The conditions to be observed during the trials were set out in your letter of the 12th October. They were, in the main, to take the vessel from Cotehele, use the tide to bring her down the river, undergo sailing trials in the Sound and to return the vessel to Cotehele.
During the week preceding the trials I visited the site several times to check on the progress of ballasting, rigging and the acquisition of stores and equipment.
She was ballasted as previously with the stone ballast which was levelled in the cargo hold.
Her ballast draught on sailing was 3ft 07” forward and 3ft 09” aft.
Early on the morning of the 16th I picked up Mr A Stimson, of the museum, from his hotel in Plymouth and we proceed to Cotehele. We arrived while the tide was still rising and began to organise the ropes and moorings to leave her berth and lie alongside the river quay. Other crew members arrived as we warped her around to the quay. There she was secured to await the arrival of the tug and the remainder of the crew.
Crew for second trial:
J.F. Joint Master
A Stimson Mate
P.Bee Deck hand
J.Kraft Deck hand
J Stenglehofen Deck hand
P.Hunt Deck hand
Stores were loaded, covers removed and Shamrock generally readied for the voyage. The bow anchor was rigged outboard, with the chain through the Port hawse, on a rope slip. The tow rope was rigged through the Starboard hawse, with a snap hook for rapid connection to the tug’s towing bridle.
The kedge anchor was rigged outboard on the port quarter, also on a rope slip, with the manila warp connected.
Our dinghy was prepared and the seagull outboard motor tested. Two members of my crew were assigned to the dinghy, P.Bee and P.Hunt. They were instructed as to my requirements regarding the trip down river.
The naval tug from H.M.S. Defiance arrived and supplied us with the life raft and radios.
The naval team and the crew remaining on Shamrock were then told of my instructions and intentions. I asked the naval tug to stand clear, but to be ready to hook up and tow should it be necessary.
At 0950 the surface water was beginning to ebb and we slipped the moorings poled off from the quay and with the assistance of the dinghy started to drift down the river. The day was bright and clear with no wind so we had to use the tide and our dinghy.
The action of the outboard was a little unreliable to start with, but we found that by proper application of the pull she could be manoeuvred and kept in the stream.
Sails were checked and it was found that the outer jib had been left in the shed. The dinghy was sent back to fetch it.
At 1030 while drifting in the stream Shamrock was pushed on to a shallow patch and stopped. The dinghy was connected and was able to pull her off without too much difficulty.
Once we were off I took the opportunity to set the mizzen and the jib as a very gentle breeze had set in. It was then 1040.
Shamrock continued to drift in the tide. The wind was very fluky and unreliable. By 1105 we were logged as passing Halton Quay.
The fire and bilge pump, which had been provided through the trust were tested and although the pump motor was working well we could not obtain a good jet. it was found later that a stone had become lodged in the nozzle.
After Halton Quay the river turns sharply, but with the assistance of the dinghy and the increasing tidal flow we rounded the corner and headed for Holes Hole.
Up until this time we had not had to use the naval tug, but she was keeping station with us with her engines idling.
South of Holes Hole the channel narrows, a strong tidal flow exists and the river is severely cluttered with yacht moorings.
The tug was warned that we would require to be towed through and to be ready to connect up. Some delay ensued and the tug performed some lengthy manoeuvres before approaching for the pick up.
In the meantime Shamrock had been caught in the accelerating flow and was being rapidly set down on to the moorings at Weir Quay.
The kedge anchor was readied and dropped on a long scope of warp. Shamrock slowed in her drift and under control but in the meantime the tug had made her connection and attempted to pull us to Starboard. During this he got herself athwart the stream and was pushed down on to the first moored boat in the trots. We were safe, so the tow rope was slipped to enable the tug to clear herself.
The naval tug tried to use power to clear herself but this only made matters worse as his outboard screw fouled the yacht’s mooring and some fittings on the yacht were damaged.
(Damage report on yacht is attached to original but omitted here.)
I ordered the bow anchor to be dropped and with the two anchors and the strong tidal stream we dragged into the centre of the channel and held there. Shamrock was perfectly safe at this time so we secured the vessel, lowered and stowed the sails and prepared for the next stage.
The time was now 1230. the tide was running at full ebb and there was nothing that we could do.
The tug in the meantime had parted the mooring to the yacht and they were lying alongside each other with the tug “moored” with chain round her screw.
When the tide eased and I was sure of the safety of Shamrock I went across to the tug to make some assessment of the damage.
This is the subject of a separate report to the insurance underwriters.
However I noted with some dismay that on a recent visit to Holes Hole to survey another craft that the yacht was beached, but the repairs specified had not yet been attended to (February 1982)
Contact was made by radio and telephone to the Naval base and the port control. Diving clearance teams were sent to clear up the fouled mooring and a naval pinnace was deputed to take the place of the Captain’s barge and to tow us the rest of the way to Plymouth Sound.
The tow was connected, our anchors raised and we proceeded under tow down the river directly to our arranged berth in Sutton Harbour.
The tide had turned and it took the pinnace all of its power to navigate the narrows. However we finally reached Sutton Harbour and berthed, Port side to, on the South West pier.
Shamrock was tidied up and everything secured for the night.
During the night the wind picked up from the SE and it came in to drizzle. The moorings were tended throughout and Shamrock was at no time in any danger. At dead low water she was just aground in the berth, but the bottom is reasonably soft and she was in no danger.
Saturday 17th October 1981
The day dawned heavy and overcast with drizzle and rain squalls from the E.S.E. I contacted the pilot office and obtained an up to date forecast which indicated that the wind would be E to S.E. force 6 with rain, veering later to S and clearing.
The crew on board breakfasted and prepared the vessel for sea. The remaining crew joined and we then awaited the arrival of our tug. The naval tug arrived, secured alongside and took us off the berth and out into the Cattewater as an alongside tow.
Once in the clear I ordered sail to be raised, Jib, Main and Mizzen. My intention was to raise sail, see how she reacted under virtually full sail and then to reef and to alter the configuration. All the halliards and sheets had swollen up due to the wet weather and great difficulty was experienced in setting the sails properly. The main in particular was very difficult because of its size, the weight of wind and the stiffness of the cordage, including the main sheet, which was even with the sail pulling well had to be overhauled though the leads.
In the meantime Shamrock had lifted her skirts and was racing out past the Mountbatten breakwater and heading for the sea.
I kept her as close to the wind as I could to keep in the lee of the land, to enable the sails to be set and to weather to Eastern end of Plymouth Breakwater. A naval vessel was moored to the swinging buoys in Jennycliff Bay and several merchant ships were anchored in the Sound which restricted movements.
The wind was easterly about force 6 and Shamrock really revelled in the conditions. On the heading out towards the breakwater she must have been making about 7 knots. Although she was able to point quite well she was making considerable leeway.
I had a colleague out in a 33 foot sailing yacht and he sailed astern of us and estimated our leeway to be at least 25 degrees.
Due to the congestion in the Sound I deemed it imprudent to attempt our first tack too soon and so I headed through the Eastern entrance to the Sound, still keeping within insured limits, to the clearer waters of Bovisand Bay. When conditions were right and the crew ready I tacked her and headed back into Plymouth Sound. She handled well but once again due to the size of the gear and the stiffness of the ropes the crew had their work cut out to trim and rig.
The tack into the Sound went almost as quickly as the first with Shamrock racing along at about 6/7 knots. She had considerable weather helm, but this was eased by spilling wind from the main and mizzen.
Leeway was again the problem, but we headed back keeping as high as we could in the conditions. We reached a clear area of the Sound and tacked to starboard to head back again on a reciprocal course.
The naval vessel on the buoys was manoeuvring to leave and so I determined to try and repeat the previous action.
The clew line on the main blew out, the main had to be slackened off and a temporary clew line rigged. It was found afterwards that the line had rotted in the splice due to the entrapment of freshwater while at her berth. This is one of the major problems of natural fibre ropes in a static situation. The securing of the clew cringle was also suspect.
At this time I would have liked to have been able to reef the main but I was in doubt as to the strength and ability of the crew to handle and reef the sail in the conditions.
The main was dropped and we continued under mizzen and jib. We tried to tack her twice with this configuration but she would not carry her way through the wind. In the end I decided to wear her around as further runs and attempts at tacking would have taken us further to sea. She came around but by now we were unable to make the Eastern entrance and so we headed for the Western entrance.
Leeway was again a problem and we had several anxious moments in trying to clear a boat fishing at anchor.
By this time the wind was gusting to gale force and we were quite glad to be without the mainsail.
We contacted our tug and told her of our intentions, but she was having some difficulty with the heavy seas and was a fair distance astern from us. We reached the western end of the breakwater and sheeted in hard to come close to the wind. From this position and with the amount of leeway she was making she was unable to clear Picklecombe point and was being set down on to a lee shore.
We tried to tack but once again she would not come through the wind. The anchors were checked and crew members instructed what to do if I ordered the anchors to be dropped.
The tug was called to re-connect the tow. The sea was very rough and the coxswain had to make four attempts before he was able to take our line and connect the snap hook to the bridle.
During this time we were set even further towards the shore and I had to seriously consider the possibility of wearing her again and heading back out to sea for safety.
If that had happened we would have had to weather Penlee point and then headed for Fowey, St.Austell Bay or points west.
Once the tow was connected I asked the tug to take us as far to windward as he could so that we could anchor in Jennycliff Bay in the lee of the high ground.
Then we dropped anchor and relaxed.
There was absolutely no point in attempting to continue with the sailing trials as it was obvious that we would simply repeat the previous experience and may not be so lucky next time. I felt also that the crew would not have been able to produce any better results under the prevailing conditions.
Shamrock was tidied up and we waited for the wind to ease.
By mid afternoon the wind had fallen slightly and I decided to leave the anchorage and head back up the River Tamar to the safety of an anchorage north of Saltash.
We secured the tug alongside, raised the anchor and sailed, towing the tug, back across the Sound, through the narrows and up the Tamar.
The tide was flooding and the wind was free so we made very good progress towards Torpoint.
On the passage up the Hamoaze the wind came more abeam and we were hard put to maintain our weather gauge. The tug was asked on several occasions to give us a loft to windward.
On passing under the Saltash bridge I asked the tug to take us as far to windward as he could and then to release us so that we could sail up to the anchorage, turn and anchor without the encumbrance of the tug.
At 1715 on Saturday 17th October Shamrock was sailed into a small pool north of the ammunition trios, turned into the wind, and anchored for the night.
Soundings were taken, checks on our position made and the anchor was found to be holding well.
The decks were tidied up, all gear stowed and secured and Shamrock prepared for the night, the tug returned to the naval base with the additional crew, being instructed to return at 0800 the following day ready for the tow back up the river to Cotehele.
The night was very wet and windy with gusts up to gale force from the ESE. Shamrock lay well to her anchor and was at no time in any danger.
At low water she had nearly two metre of water under her keel.
Sunday 18th October 1981
The wind dies away during the night and by dawn had reduced to a gentle breeze. It was still from the east and in the reaches above Saltash she would have made too much leeway to have been able to sail. I decided to tow up the river to keep the tide and to be able to return Shamrock to her berth at the top of the tide.
We made good progress up the river creating no danger or incidents on the way.
We reached Cotehele before the tabulated time of high water and went alongside the quay for a short time before manoeuvring back into her berth. It was decided that she should berth port side to with her bows out and we attempted to do this by warping her ahead and then pivoting her back on the upstream wall to run stern first into her berth.
The manoeuvre started well but the stream had started to turn and instead of pivoting on the corner of the wall she drifted down onto the end of the slipway. We tried to pull her off, to pole and push her off, but all the time the water level was dropping, although it was not yet high tide, and we eventually gave up and secured her at right angles to the bank with her stern on the slipway. There being nothing else we could do, the crew were dismissed and asked to return that night at about 2200.
Shamrock was constantly attended and as the tide fell she settled on the slope of the bank in an ungainly but safe situation.
That evening we reassembled at Cotehele to complete the berthing on the tide. We did no have the use of a tug so I decided to stretch a rope across the river to heave her out so that she could be shifted upriver and then back into her berth. The rope was tied round a convenient tree and rigged to the winch. Shamrock lifted on the tide, was pulled out into the stream and slid back into her normal berth. She was secured in a proper fashion, the rope across the river removed and the remaining gear returned to the store.
By midnight everything was secure and all hands retired for some well earned rest.
The ballast was removed during the following week by the workforce at Cotehele and Shamrock was handed back to her keepers.
J.F.Joint. Extra Master. M.Sc. M.C.I.T. M.N.I.