November 2014 – Sam Llewellyn

Sam's Corribee

Sam’s Corribee

Sam LLewellyn, sea novelist, celebrated storyteller, columnist for Classic Boat and PBO and editor of the Marine Quarterly,  talked about Britain’s attitudes to, and relationship with, the sea.

Sam was the first CNYC speaker not to use visual aids. We did not miss them however, as Sam is an author by trade, and a wordsmith who can conjure up images with a well-turned phrase. His talk was humorous, personal, provocative, erudite and challenging-  refreshing, in a word.

Sam’s theme was the sea in the context of our island nation and not, as he put it, as a “bathing platform for the bourgeoisie”. He offered six perspectives: the sea as nuisance, moat, motorway, fishery, heritage and playground. He stressed the importance of understanding the sea, not from looking at it from the land, as though it were a backdrop to a watercolour, but by getting up close and dirty.  (My inelegant phrasing, not his – ed.)

Sam dismissed the moat perspective as being a ”Daily Mail” view… (politics showing, Sam?), and told us that the Navy still run those “useless 35 knot sharp grey ships” – frigates and destroyers – because one can’t rise to the rank of Admiral without commanding one. Rationally they’d be better off with less sexy craft, in the style of container ships, carrying helicopters.

We tragically waste the opportunity of the sea as a motorway, given how many small ports can still accommodate coasters. There are 150 that can take a 3000-ton coaster, he told us. Think of the lorries that could be taken off the road.

We have made quite a hash of managing our fisheries, according to Sam. He harked back to the day, long gone, when the then novel technique of trawling was outlawed, on pain of death. Not, he hastened to point out, that he favoured capital punishment.

CuttySarkHeritage? Pity we’ve spent so much parking the Cutty Sark aground on a greenhouse, when for the money we could have built one (and a half, he claimed) replicas that could sail.

As playground, ‘tis a shame, Sam opined, that 33% fewer people get out on the water than did 10 years ago. Sam has a strategy to reverse that, and get us all out there, and not just for a few minutes between yachtmaster courses. Sam’s teenage experiences included character-forming time at Les Glénans sailing school (“boot camp?”) with a languid Gauloise-chewing instructor, and he recommended the Glénans Sailing Manual to us. It transpires that Sam’s characterful Aunts were sailors, and did at some point sail around the world but didn’t want anyone to know, as that would be “showing off”…

We had some culinary advice, centring on ships’ biscuits’ tendency to rot if only cooked once and the meaning of “bis-cuit” – which is, naturellement, French for twice-cooked. That stops the rot. In the context of safety at sea and changing attitudes he told of the captain who insisted his crew wear lead divers belts, so that he wouldn’t have to waste time going back for them if the went overboard…

Sam talked of boat show paranoia, and the way the salesmen size up their victims. He dislikes big plastic boats, TVs on boats, marine mortgages (“you can’t call that freedom”), and inboard engines (outboards have the great advantage that when troublesome they can be taken off and sent away). Sam asked if any of us have experience of a Yuloh. None did. But at least one of us knows what it is, which is unusual. That’s Chipping Norton Yacht Club for you.