29 March 2016

Blast from the Past - November 2010

My Editor, Jo, used to live in Devon (she's recently moved to Somerset) and I visited her at least once a year. To visit her (and her dogs) of course, but when I decided to bring my pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne over to England in the Sea Witch Voyages, well, naturally he sailed to North Devon. Which meant combining pleasure with research.

At the time, little did I know that the Tarka Line train I travelled on from Exeter to Barnstaple would go right past the house where I would end up living, nor that I'd even have the good fortune to be able to move to Devon! 

Anyway here's a recycled post from 2010....


Two highlights of my few days away - strolling through the narrow streets of Appledore, and meeting with Mandi from Bideford People to chat about Jesamiah and the Sea Witch Voyages.

photo - courtesy Bideford people
Ripples In The Sand is set in and around Appledore and Instow and the estuary of the rivers Taw and Torridge along the North Devon coast. A sand bar has always made shipping coming into the safety of the rivers hazardous, yet Bideford and Barnstaple were huge centres of trade in the 1600-1800s.

I wanted to bring Sea Witch and Jesamiah to England to make a change of scene for the novels, and decided on the Instow area because that's where my editor, Jo, lives (lived!)  and I'd had a chance to do a fair bit of exploring around there. Plus I could use the enigmatic Exmoor for a few scenes (and bring R.D. Blackmore's famous Doone family into the story!)

When I started writing Ripples I had decided that Jesamiah would be bringing in a cargo of tobacco from Virginia, so imagine my excitement when I discovered that Bideford was the main centre for the tobacco trade in the 1700s. I couldn't believe I'd stumbled on a fact I had no previous idea of.

I also found that there are the remains of a very old chapel on Crow Point, opposite Appledore, of Celtic origin. A place of birth and fertility. The remains of a  Stone Age causeway was discovered - leading towards the Isle of Lundy, which is one those Celtic places, like Glastonbury, that has association with the dead. So - a link with birth to death. And Tiola, of course, is a midwife - birth - and midwives also laid out the dead.

So by sheer chance I had found an ideal spot that fitted perfectly with my idea for a plot.

I was to have another of those OMG hair prickling moments when I started investigating the cobbled streets of Appledore with Jo on the first full day of my Devon Break. The old Appledore streets are very "quaint". narrow, twisting and turning; a rabbit warren maze - a smugglers' haven if ever there was one.

I needed to find a suitable location to place my fictitious tavern where Jesamiah and Tiola are going to stay. I had decided on a name before I'd even started writing - either the Triple Moon or the Full Moon.

Wandering along Market Street, and studying the guide book, Jo and I came to One End Street. Named for obvious reasons. Originally it was called Cock Street, however.

Rather coyly the guide writer assumes the name was given either because a man named John Cock lived there or they held cock fights in the street. Ahem. Appledore was a sailor's port. Cock Street was not a thoroughfare (only having one entrance/exit) so any "street entertainments" would not be interrupted by passers by. Cock Street, I'm afraid, probably has a far more, um, robust - origin!

 I wandered on along Market Street reading the guide book. The present Coach and Horses Tavern was there pre 1800 - though called something different, and at that time it would have had frontage onto the river and harbour (there is a later-built row of shops and cottages there now)

Then my jaw dropped and I felt that prickle of excitement mingled with an "oo-er" moment.
There had also been a tavern on the corner of Cock Street.

I'll give you two guesses as to what it was called....

Market Street - an old photograph.
In Jesamiah's time there would only have
been the left hand side buildings

... Answer:- The Full Moon.

a spine-shiver moment! I had no idea  of the real tavern when I chose that fictitious name!

Voyage Five: On The Account
Published June 2016

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EXCERPT: Ripples In The Sand:
Jesamiah takes Sea Witch up the River Torridge  from Appledore to Bideford

The rain had stopped, leaving a damp chill in the early morning air. Jesamiah was making ready to begin the arduous task of taking Sea Witch upriver. The pilot, a small man with bow legs, red face and ears as large as a donkey’s, was advising him to pay the local boatmen to tow her up.
Standing on the quarterdeck, a mug of steaming coffee – that really was coffee – in his hand, Jesamiah took a last assessment before answering. The flood tide was running past Sea Witch’s keel, chattering and gurgling as it swept into the estuary and the two channels of the Taw and Torridge. Taking a ship up a river on the tide was a skilled task, not easy, but Jesamiah knew his vessel, and his men.
Many of them had sore heads from a surfeit of drinking last night, but Jesamiah was not so stupid as to permit them to drink themselves into a stupor with a job half done. They had only received a handful of their due pay, the rest would be tallied once the tobacco was sold and the hold cleared of cargo. Then they could go their own sweet way and do as they pleased. Most would return when he decided to set sail again. If he decided to sail again.
Shoving the uncomfortable thought aside, Jesamiah concentrated on the matter in hand: getting Sea Witch to Bideford and finding a buyer who was desperate for several hogsheads of mediocre tobacco. He snorted. How likely would that be?
“Why would I be paying unknown boatmen,” he asked, “when I’ve good men of my own, and wind and tide to use for free?”
The pilot screwed up his pale blue eyes and peered at the sky a while. The sun was shining weakly, glistening on the blanket of snow covering the higher ground of the Exmoor moorland. “This be a big vessel. Her tonnage be larger’n most. It’ll cost thee a lot more if’n thee run aground.”
That was true.
The fishing fleet had left with the last ebb tide, along with the only other ship that had been anchored last night. Sipping his coffee and peering over the rail at the almost empty Appledore wharves, Jesamiah asked, “How long would it take to assemble these boatmen of yours, then? There don’t seem to be many around at the moment.”
“Aye well, they all be at Bideford. Take a bit of a while to bring ‘em down agin. An hour mebbe?” Scratching at his whiskers the pilot added, “Ye should have arranged a tow las’ night.”
“An hour ain’t no good for me. We’ll work her up.”
The pilot sucked in a long, slow intake of breath. Shook his head, exhaled as slowly and loudly. “I be not so sure, Cap’n. Not so sure.”
Ignoring him, Jesamiah stepped up to the quarterdeck rail and called forrard to Rue, who was supervising setting the anchor to hang a-cockbill from the cathead, held only by the ring-painter with the shank-painter already let go. If they ran into trouble the anchor would need to be dropped in a hurry.
Rue raised his hand in acknowledgement that all was ready. Joe Meadows also gestured that he was prepared, showing the lead line held in his hand. It would be worked constantly the whole three and a half miles upriver.
“On your head be it, Cap’n,” the pilot said. “As long as ye take heed of what I’ve advised.”
“If runnin’ aground is a possibility, why am I botherin’ to pay you a pilot’s fee? Ain’t you ‘ere t’ensure we don’t?” Finishing the coffee, Jesamiah turned to Isiah Roberts. “Bring in the kedge. Let’s get going.”
Playing its part overnight, the small kedge anchor had kept the ship steady while she had rested in the river channel. The last thing any captain wanted, with the change of tides, was for his vessel to swing round and ride over the principal cable, entangling herself and maybe loosening her anchor. At an ebb tide, when most of the river had drained to mud and sand it did not matter, nothing was going anywhere, but the sea came in and out and only a fool relied on the one anchor. Jesamiah had seen the damage created by a drifting ship. He grinned at the thought as he handed Finch his empty coffee cup. On more than one occasion he had seen the consequences of an unsecured vessel set loose deliberately. A useful way for a pirate to slip out of harbour while everyone else was desperately trying to avoid disaster. Useful, but highly irresponsible. Amusing to observe the resulting scrabble of chaos, so long as you were well clear.

Watching the men jump-to with a will, Jesamiah caught sight of a woman on the jetty opposite the Full Moon. He would recognise her anywhere, even without that distinctive dark green cloak. He hated green and wished she would permit him to purchase a new one, but Tiola was adamant about the wretched old thing. He laughed under his breath. She had made a bargain with him. She would have a new cloak if he would get a new coat.
There was nothing wrong with his shabby old buckram longcoat that had once been a dark blue and was now faded to a sun-bleached grey. She knew perfectly well that he would never part with it willingly. Lifting his hat he waved to her, did not bother with shouting a repeat of what he had insisted earlier before coming aboard. “Do not tire yourself!”
“I want to walk,” she had answered. “My strength is returning now I am ashore. In a day or two I will be as right as a robin.”
Beside her stood Pegget Trevithick. Their arms linked. Rapidly becoming friends, a camaraderie helped along by Tiola’s promise to ensure that Master Trevithick, safely ensconced in one of the smugglers’ hiding places, was mending well.
Movement further along the quay. A flash of red, the militia forming into rank. Jesamiah lifted the telescope from the binnacle box, twisted the tube to bring it to its full length and set the glass to his eye. There was that bastard lieutenant from last night. He moved the telescope slightly, observing each face as the men swung into a brisk march towards the larger of the two ferries. Heading back to barracks in Barnstaple? Jesamiah hoped so; he was not too keen on meeting with them again. The one he was looking for among them, a soldier with a broken nose and probably a black eye, was not there. Maybe they had hanged the idiot for incompetency.
Closing the instrument, Jesamiah waved again to Tiola. No point in sending mind words to her, he was unable to initiate their personal conversations. The ability came from her, and her alone. It was a relief to know she was a little better, up on her feet and able to take some air, but she still looked pale and fragile.
Free of the restraining kedge, Sea Witch was drifting broadside with the tide, her mains’l aback to avoid gathering too fast a speed. A few yards only, then losing the strength of the tide, Jesamiah, at the helm, spun the wheel in reverse. With her bow facing almost directly towards the broad sweep of the bend ahead, and turning alarmingly fast to windward – the direction from which the wind was coming – Jesamiah allowed her to fly up and head into the wind, until her stem was almost touching the point of losing control. Quickly, he shouted for the head yards to be braced aback, and again he spun the helm. For a moment Sea Witch drifted backwards, but with skill he brought her to the wind, and the sails filled. The only way to turn a ship when there was not sufficient room to manoeuvre, but a method that, if it failed, could result in disaster and earn the everlasting contempt of the pilot. That momentary pause, when the vessel was hanging in stays, showed the ability of the helmsman and crew. To miss stays – to miss making the turn – was poor seamanship. In a narrow channel it could be the difference between remaining afloat and running aground.
Her sails filling again, Sea Witch glided across the width of the river. Almost it seemed they would hurtle into the opposite bank, but listening intently to the calls from the leadsman, Skylark, the sound of the water, the wind, and his own instinct, Jesamiah shouted the order to tack an instant before the pilot, standing beside him, was about to give a warning.
His sudden alarm subsiding, the man grunted, a gesture of reluctant admiration. He mumbled that Captain Acorne was to carry on. Tactfully, Jesamiah refrained from grinning. It would not pay to be cocksure too soon. They had a couple more miles to go yet.

Bideford and the River Torridge
Appledore and the sea was hidden behind the curved brow of the hill and Jesamiah had no spare time to think of Tiola. She was safe where she was, and Sea Witch was demanding his full attention. Even with the tide in their favour and a willing crew, she was a large craft to manoeuvre within the confines of the two hundred or so yards that were the width of the River Torridge at this point.
Despite the noise, the shouted orders, the harsh screams of gulls flocking overhead, and the cursing and grunting and straining of the men, the pilot barely ceased talking of his personal troubles. His nagging wife, the ungrateful children, even more ungrateful merchants and traders. “They think these ships get themselves upriver on their own, they do. Where’d Bideford be without me as pilot, eh? Ruined, that’s where. River’d be full of wrecks, this entire channel packed with rotting keels and broken masts, aye, and the bones of the dead. Not appreciative, none of ‘em.”
Ignoring the pilot’s idle prattling, by backing, filling and shivering the mainsail while again in stays, that danger time when all control could be lost, Sea Witch sailed neatly and safely around the next headland point. Jesamiah ordered the foresail to remain aback. Once clear of the bend he let the tide take her and the wind fill the sails. Sea Witch proceeded sedately diagonally across the river to the far bank, where at exactly the right moment he put the helm a-lee. The mainsail swung around and she was swinging to face straight upriver again. There, a way ahead, was Bideford with its impressive multi-arched stone bridge spanning the river.
“It will be a bugger getting a vessel up here if this ever starts silting up,” Jesamiah remarked.
The pilot snorted derision. “The Torridge’ll not silt up. We’ve plenty room. Your’n be one o’ the biggest I’ve brought to Bideford, I grant, but look how busy we be!” He gestured towards the town, a mile and a half away. “Fishing boats that bring cod back from Nova Scotia, merchants shipping baccy and cotton from the Colonies. From the Indies, silks and spices, tea and china. The lime boats, the clay boats. If ever we had problems with silting up, Captain, I assure you we’d be manning dredgers from full moon to full moon to keep the channel open. Give up all this? It would be the death of trade ‘ere in North Devon!”
Maybe his denial was right, but Jesamiah had seen it happen in other ports. He kept quiet, not wanting to disillusion the man, or start him off on yet another tedious anecdote.
Concentrating on his ship, Jesamiah could not permit her to come round too much. The wind was gusting, not being particularly helpful. “Steady, my beauty,” he murmured, as again, he spun the helm and completed another sternboard movement. Clear of the bend on the east bank, Bideford was getting nearer. With sails filled, Jesamiah encouraged Sea Witch to stretch ahead along the fairway, sailing elegantly forwards.
Down river of the bridge, an array of other vessels was moored or at anchor, yards, spars and masts soaring skyward like a forest of trees. Small boats bustled between those out in the channel and the quayside, while Bideford itself looked to be a busy place with its array of wharves and warehouses, chandlers, taverns, sail makers, rope makers, coopers, carpenters, saddlers and vintners. Stacks of hemp rope and sail cloth. Pottery, lime, fish, tobacco. Bakers, butchers, tanners, drapers, haberdashers and tailors – Bideford was the second largest port to London for trade from the Colonies. A swarm of people buying, selling, trading or merely passing the time of day.
Mindful of the eddying water and the commanding breeze, her bow now facing away from the town, Jesamiah glanced over his shoulder and let his ship swing round a little more, the tide, rudder, wind and her own momentum neatly dropping her, stern first, into the current.
“Lay mains’l aback. Clew up tops’l. Let her ride t’ windward. Drop anchor!”
There was a splash, and Sea Witch pulled back on the cable, the anchor held, and she came to rest. As neat a bit of seamanship as Jesamiah had ever achieved. Grinning at the pilot he said, “Was that good enough for you? Reckon we still need your lackeys to tow us?”
The pilot grunted, then conceded. “Fair bit o’ sailin’ I grant ye. But I still wants payin’.”
Jesamiah fished the required coins from his pocket and, slapping the pilot’s shoulder, handed them over willingly. “I didn’t need you this time, but who’s t’say I might ‘ave done? You know this river, I know m’ship. We’re safe anchored, that’s all I care about. What’s the draft here at low tide? She won’t lay over, will she?”

“The mid-channel river’ll be a minimum eighteen feet here at Bideford in winter time, lower in a dry summer. Fix your anchorage firm an’ ye’ll be right enough. You can warp her in to any vacant mooring at high tide if’n you need t’ unload that cargo of yourn, or boat it across. Good day to ye, Captain, m’compliments for a smooth passage.”


  1. It just shows, never say "Never," as to where you'll wind up in life (especially when you have a pirate like Jesamiah in your life).

  2. Life moves us in mysterious ways. If you go with the flow (as you've done!) it can only be a continuing adventure!


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