Tag Archives: What we did on our holiday

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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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We Did Mean To Go To Sea by Octavia Pollock

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Filed under adventure, Arthur Ransome, Autobiography, boating, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story, Uncategorized

‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We have just returned from Rendez-vous de l’Erdre in Brittany, when we rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes.

RDV poster

The journey started in Portsmouth,

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where the crew from our boat club, City Barge, gathered to load two boats onto the cross-channel ferry to Le Havre.

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We took Serena, a Venetian sandalo and The Royal Thamesis, a thirty-six foot shallop belonging to the Draper’s Company. Towing them from Oxford to Brittany was no mean feat, but other vessels from Great Britain had also made the crossing, including a thirty-three foot steamboat.

RDV flag

We launched the shallop at a pretty town called Nort sur Erdre where a jazz band was already playing to herald the festival de la Belle plaisance française.

RDV map

Stephanie Pasgrimaud from France Televisions Pays de la Loire came aboard to interview me – in French and English for the regional News on France 3.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on France 3 TV

That afternoon we rowed some way down to Monsieur et Madame Courant’s B&B on the river where we met up with other members of the party and stayed for the next four nights.

The gite

I had the most lovely room overlooking the water; chambre d’Empire.

Chambre d'Empire

As the mist rose the next morning we put up our canopy to transport our passengers downstream.

Passengers in the shallop-001

We have a crew of six oarsmen,  with a cox and a wiffler. I alternated with others, taking on all three tasks.

Rowing the shallop

We row in medieval fashion, one oar each, seated on a fixed thwarts.  Please click on the image for a history of the vessel. You may have seen our boat if you watched the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, rowing in third place, while old Father Thames glared down from our badge on the stern, elvers peaking from his beard.

Father Thames

That first morning in Brittany we practised various manoeuvres before rowing a short distance to a boat club, where we moored for a picnic lunch.

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Here we met oarsmen from all over Europe.

Pauline with the Venitians

Including those who row standing up.

Gondaliers

We rowed on to moor up for the night at the small town of Suce-sur-Erdre

Reflections

where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

France Television

Here the crews of the 240 boats taking part in the event were treated to a special dinner held outside with a jazz band playing sea shanties.

Diner with sea shanties

The organisers had brought together traditional boats, passé nautique, of many kinds.

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Although there were four steamboats and a number of canoes

Steamboats

most were in the class  de voile-aviron ~ row and sail ~ principalement des bateaux de petites tailles, souvent anciens, et correspondent pour la plupart à des critères de rareté ou d’élégance.

French boats

At every stop for coffee or lunch, laid on by the festival au point de vue, we were accompanied by le jazz.

trombones

It was phenomenal. Much was traditional but new experimental jazz was also being played to appreciative audiences.

Saxophone

With the music came with the most amazing food.

fruit

We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

passengers

we were honoured with the task of leading the procession of historic boats into Nantes.

Nantes

On the Sunday morning we were invited to the Hotel de Ville, the town hall

Sophie in Nantes

for a reception with speeches

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and prize giving when our club, City Barge, was awarded a very large bottle of red wine.

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Filed under Memoir, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story