Sam is a natural raconteur with a dry humour that many of us know from his articles in Practical Boat Owner, republished in “The Minimum Boat”. If you haven’t read it, do. It is as funny as “Three men in a Boat” but more useful to us who are into boats.
As Sam explained, the Gulf Stream (long may it flow!) has an extraordinary effect on the climate of our west coast, allowing plants of the kind one would normally only expect to see in the tropics, to flourish, up to latitudes close to that of Moscow. The start was accidental. Logs brought back from Australia, as ballast to Falmouth, sprouted. An idea was born.
Sam was borne in the Scillies. The family once rooted there included his great-great-Uncle, Augustus John Smith, who had owned them (having acquired them under a lease from the Duchy of Cornwall, in 1834). Sam didn’t tell us this in so many words, as he is a modest man, like his Aunts*. The great-great-Uncle was mentioned in the context of having founded, on Tresco, one of the tropical gardens that were the focus of Sam’s talk. This Uncle was a philanthropist and avant-garde educationalist – it being notable that most of the male alumni of the schools he started went to sea to become officers, and very few of the female alumni went into service. Extraordinary, in its day.
Over the years, many ships and lives have been lost on the rocky coasts of the Scillies and Augustus built up the “Valhalla collection” of about 30 ships’ figureheads, name boards and other ships’ carvings from shipwrecks – mostly of small merchant vessels – that peppered the coastline there.
So Sam talked us through a sea passage, sailing from Falmouth, avoiding the treacherous Manacles rocks off The Lizard peninsula, up the west coast of the British Isles, through the dreaded Irish Sea, to Scotland and its Isles, visiting many of the gardens along the coast and on the islands. He interposed pictures of the lush gardens with pictures of the sea, harbours, bird life, and the boats he’d visited them in.
The boats (idiosyncratic all) included an open Drascombe Longboat with a tent on top, a little gaffer (a Cornish Shrimper), a raised-from-the dead Corribee, and finally in an (also raised-from-the dead) Deep Seadog – a bigger, competent boat that does not challenge the aesthetic of the others. To put it kindly.
Sam brought along, as authors do, a selection of his works to autograph and sell. These include his sailing thrillers, and a book with a garden focus “Digging with the Duchess”. I am glad to report he did a good trade. It was great to see and hear from him again!
*Aunts – when last at the Club Sam told us of his Aunts, who had sailed round the world but hadn’t told anybody as they would have thought that was showing off.