Sailing the Nancy Blackett in Dutch waters – part two

Nancy Blackett, the 28 foot cutter that Arthur Ransome bought with Spanish gold, as he called his royalties from ‘Swallows and Amazons’, is an old lady now. Built by Hillyards of Littlehampton in 1931, she turns eighty-five this year and yet looks pristine. If you ever wanted to sail the Goblin in ‘We Did Mean To Go To Sea’ you must know that it was Nancy who took this starring role in Ransome’s novel, first published eighty years ago.
Nancy Balckett in Middleburg photo Sophie Neville
Nancy Blackett
I arrived in the Netherlands this summer to find Nancy receiving visitors at a nautical festival in Midddleburg, while a jazz band played on the quay.  She was moored by a lifting bridge in the centre of town, neatly rigged and ready for anything. After taking a look at a number of old gaffers, her crew enjoyed a cold beer and walked down the canal to vittel-up at a supermarket before having dinner in what was once a packing house for silks and spices imported from the East Indies.
Nancy seen through the bridge in Middleburg
Nancy seen through the swing bridge in Middleburg
As the swing bridge rose the next morning, we made way and motored down the wide canal to Veere, mooring up by the grassy port bank. 
Hollyhocks of Veere
Hollyhocks of Veere
After being granted permission to go ashore, I passed the historic town well and walked down lanes bordered by hollyhocks to visit the museums of this ancient port. They house a number of charts and medieval maps that would have delighted the Swallows, along with old photographs of Dutch natives in traditional dress. I was tempted to buy a pair of clogs to take home for Bridget.
The waterways of Zeeland
The waterways of Zeeland
We left Veere to explore the islands and creeks of the Veersemeer before sailing down-channel and through a modern lock into the Oosterschelde estuary formed by the River Scheldt. It was once an important shipping route that bought wealth to the Netherlands but is quieter now. I spotted a seal and watched a cormorant swallow a large eel, that wriggled and jiggled inside its gullet.
Windmill of Zeeland
A windmill of Zierikzee
After negotiating the impressive Zeelandbrug that spans the delta, we sailed down to Zierikzee where you can climb the church tower, if you dare, and look out across the once fortified town. The windmills, ornate spires and ancient buildings help one to imagine what life must have been like in the 1500s when it became famous as a trading centre for salt and madder. I found scold’s stones and a whaler’s kayak from Greenland at the Stadhuis Museum in Zierikzee where Veronica Frenks was once the curator.
The lock gates of Zierikzee
Our skipper, Ian McGlynn, wondered if we could sail back under an arch of the Zeelandbrug instead of waiting for one section of the road to lift. Built between 1963 and 1965 the Zeeland Bridge is more than five kilometres long and hardly comparable to the arch of Potter Heigham but Mate Judy Taylor didn’t want to take any risks. We had Nancy’s new mast to consider.
Crewing the Nancy Blackett
It was only on our last evening-but-one that rain hit us. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all week. As the salt water was washed away from Nancy’s portholes I opened the pages of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ to find Ransome’s illustrations and read the final passages of the Swallows’ unplanned voyage to Holland. The book is eighty years old this year and yet moves me still. There is Nancy, portrayed as the Goblin moored up in a foreign port, which is where we left her to be enjoyed by other members of the Nancy Blackett Trust.
Nancy Blackett in Zeeland
 A marathon reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ is planned, to celebrate the 80 year anniversary of its publication, at Pin Mill Sailing Club on the Orwell in Suffolk on Saturday 21st October 2017.
Pin Mill from the Water
To read more about Nancy or join the Nancy Blackett Trust please click here
Nancy has been featured by Country Life in a July issue you can read here
We Did Mean To Go To Sea by Octavia Pollock

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

10 thoughts on “Sailing the Nancy Blackett in Dutch waters – part two”

  1. Misse Lee and Peter Duck were my favourites, (both made up stores by the children). I had all of the them and as a result of reading these books, I spent many years at sea professionally from Cadet to Captain.

    1. Arthur Ransome has influenced so many lives – I meet a lot of sailors who happened to be called Roger. They all tell me that they were given Ransome’s books as a child and determined to learn to sail as a result. Are you a member of The Arthur Ransome Society? I am sure members would love to hear from you. We have a Literary Weekend coming up in Edinburgh on 1-3rd Sept. Let me know if you can come.

  2. In other posts its mentions that the yacht was towed in by the RNLI due to engine failure, it also states that there was a fair wind, so why the need for a lifeboat, surely the yacht could have sailed home?
    Besides my professional time at sea, I was a long distance single handed yachtsman.

  3. I gather some of Nancy’s skippers try to avoid using the engine and sail whenever possible much like my father who would only use his engine in an emergency. Other skippers like to use the engine as much as possible. I would imagine they feel more safe and secure with it running. Have you ever sailed Nancy?

    1. Well Roger is a Jolly name, (sorry a very poor pun). I have not sailed on her, but have sailed on a similar Hilliard. It appears that the lifeboard was called out on a non emergency. There was fair wind blowing and the yacht was not in danger. Just curious.

      1. One of Arthur Ransome’s other yachts is for sale. It belongs to a member of the Nancy Blackett Trust who lives in Woolverstone. I’m planning to go up for a marathon reading of ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’ on 21st October. It’s going to be quite an event.

  4. I had a good look at the ‘Nancy Blackett’, from the outside, on my recent trip to Suffolk a couple of weeks ago. She is a beautiful boat. I hope to book a sail in her at some time in the future.

      1. I can well imagine that. I am really looking forward to, hopefully, booking a sail next time I go to Suffolk, probably in the autumn.

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