Monday, 27 July 2015

Smell The Cotton - East Coaster Clothing: Traditional Fisherman-Type Smocks

At the last count I had six different sailing smocks and so have pulled out two of the better conditioned for a closer look. As I look around I see every conceivable form of dress is worn on board a sailing boat today. And throughout the last 40 or so years of technological advancement in waterproof and wicking clothing, with all the big name brands that spend huge sums of money on advertising in the monthly mags, there are those sailors, boating types and people in general who withhold an affinity with nautical things of old and still favor a simple piece of cotton that is the traditional fisherman type smock.
This simple smock remains a staple garment of choice for fishermen and boating enthusiasts, artists and manual workers and evolved from fishermen around our coast hundreds of years ago who would have a heavy-duty work over garment, often made using the same canvas material as the sails on his fishing smack (boat).
Both smocks appearing in this review  retail at around £25.00 and are made in England, and are, respectively, the Yarmo smock (Breton red) and The Smock Shop smock (Navy blue).
The Yarmo smock material in this review and pictures is 100% Sailcloth. Yarmo are based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and sell a large selection of sailing and fishing wear as well as work-wear.
The Smock Shop smock in this review and pictures is made from 100% drill cotton. The Smock Shop in Penzance, Cornwall sells a comprehensive range of traditional and contemporary smocks.
Traditional sailing wear - smocks
The style of both smocks is V-Neck and both have a 4 inch collar which can fold down or up to suit your mood or the weather. Both of the materials are hard wearing and tough and withstand, quite remarkably, the abuse they can get in the everyday working aboard my small cruiser and yet retain enough softness so is comfortable to wear over a tee shirt and against bare skin. The seam stitching is close knit and straight with both smocks having reinforced stitching on the tops of pockets.
The Yarmo smock has a 1.5” easing in the lower sides whereas the Smock Shop smock has not. In use, while beating or close hauled, the V-Neck can feel open and a little exposed without a neckerchief on and after one chilly northerly passage I fitted a teak toggle button to the Breton red Yarmo smock, while sat at anchor awaiting a tide, to give the option of closing it. I also just happen to like adapting things like this but it would be no problem to slip a scarf round ones neck for a time if you felt it is needed.  
Both garments are made of one piece front, back and sleeve panels with collar and pockets sewn on and are, if laid flat, T shape.  What I have found with my smocks in general is the reinforced stitching is so thorough at the pocket tops that if you do get them caught in anything the tendency is to rip a small hole in the main garment cloth as opposed pulling undone the stitching.
Breton red sailcloth Yarmo smock
Navy blue Smock Shop drill cotton smock
Both smocks have two front pockets; the Yarmo: 7” wide x 6” inch deep. Smock Shop: 7” wide x 7” deep therefore are roomy and come in very handy for small tools like pliers, a torch or a knife, food and nibbles even, while working around the boat. I find the pockets so handy in fact that it’s hard not to overfill them and end up with a swinging weight around your mid-section.  For the maintenance season, and doing any painting, smocks make a great overall and the big pockets are useful for spare brushes. For sailing, I wear a round neck smock as well. This traditionally has no pockets and you might find this type is better for working around the boat in confined spaces or when doing any kind of wood-work as there is nowhere for any wood shavings to collect and nothing to get caught on those awkward fittings on a boat such as a cleat or bungee hook.
Sizes: Smocks are an over-garment so are meant to be roomy therefore be realistic when considering the size you choose. If you are around six feet tall and average build a Size Large will suffice to wear as a shirt would be worn, however, when the weather turns chilly and you put a woolly jumper on under it, when hoisting sail or shipping 10 fathoms of anchor chain, you could do without any restriction in shoulder and arm movements therefore Size Extra Large would perhaps do you a better service.
V-Neck collar detail Smock Shop
V-Neck collar detail Yarmo (custom)
Durability: Cotton is an abundant, comfortable and natural material which is why almost every other person wears a pair of jeans today. But ‘natural’ fiber may not be best suited for every type of sailing environment... If you’re ocean sailing in storms, or blasting round the cans for a couple of hours and getting wet sodden, cotton quickly becomes very cold and heavy. Likewise, if you intend to sail a dinghy in a Force 4 or 5 wind over tide situation, or rain, in a cotton smock then this is something to be aware of when choosing to buy this type of garment. But then I rather think if you were engaged in the former you wouldn’t be looking for one of these to do it in and, like me, if you do not intend on getting wet when you go sailing you will have another waterproof over-layer to hand.
As far as 'wear' goes a smock becomes similar to a favorite pair of denim jeans. They fade in colour and can last for years. If you have a few in rotation they will last indefinitely.  A smock can also become like an old friend that has seen adventure with you - the good passages and the bad, and in this respect it can become a part of you…

Custom toggle
Pocket detail
If you are unlucky to be holed through your beloved smock being a natural material this can easily be stitched up again or, as I have done on one of my smocks, I have used one of the pockets as donor cloth to patch over a tear that happened getting off the boat one night while sliding over a cleat in darkness with my heavy backpack on.
Aesthetics: Well, that’s a very personal thing to each and every one of us but, personally speaking, a smock has a timeless look about it and an old boat coupled with a skipper in an old smock will, perhaps, always have a certain old England charm that continues to appeal. If, or when, you slip one overhead and ‘smell the cotton’, take a moment’s thought before you set about the deck, for wearing your fisherman’s smock you are partaking in a seafaring tradition that has carried on for centuries. Good sailing, Tony
Side relief in Yarmo smock
Pocket detail

No relief in Smock Shop smock

Monday, 13 July 2015

Voices in the Sands - Part Two

The next morning I took the last of the flood-tide into Old Leigh. The sun was beating down and the skies were blue - a belter of a day! I found a gap in-between a  fishing boat to beach Shoal Waters and watched as the cockle boats came alongside to shed the mornings catch, and helpers were going about their business loading 1- ton bags onto an articulated lorry sat on Bell Wharf.
I came ashore to refill the cans with fresh drinking water at the tap on the wharf and then met the owner of a Paglesham-built barge-yacht. We had a yarn about boats and he told me of his extensive world cruising he had undertaken in the past. I hung on to his tales as I’ve no experience of sailing around the world. My circumnavigations amount to the tiny mud-islands abound in my very own low, muddy world that is sea-country. Consequently, I was intrigued to learn how most of those who say they are ‘sailing’ around the world are in fact 'motor-sailing' around the world. This was food for thought and did smear the spume over my romantic, imaginary view of world cruising under sail. I may never think of a 'sailing' circumnavigator in the same way…
Old Leigh with cockle boats unloading
 My experience at engine-less cruising has taught me many things. The main points being one has to be truly reactionary, resourceful and have a respect for Nature. I guess in a way I’ve been fortunate in that the skills I already possessed from decades of martial training are naturally applied in everyday life, and that goes for applying them in the micro-cruising context as well. The Japanese have a term called ‘Mushin’ meaning ‘no mind’.  Historically speaking, in Budo, this means to be trained to such an extent that one can react to whatever comes at him or her without thinking. Today's Mushin is applied as much on the boardroom table as it is the Dojo.
To give an example of this we can take a look at the combat arts of Judo and Brazillian Jiu-jitsu. These are very similar wrestling styles with a little more emphasis placed on one area of hand to hand combat phases. Basic techniques in attack and defense can be learned, quite quickly for some individuals, with a compliant opponent, but to then be able to apply them on an non-compliant opponent in a smooth way takes years of randori or ‘sparring’(free practice). This practice of free sparring is where skills are learned and honed and where one can eventually arrive at this state of 'no mind'.
In a cruising context our ‘techniques’ are the basics of how we sail a boat, how we navigate, our choice of weather, sea-state, time and tides, etc. Our mind has to decide on the countless equations that go toward a scenario. Our arena is the open coast where all those techniques must be applied during our bouts of ‘sparring’ with Mother Nature. It’s fair to say that in both Judo/Jiu Jitsu, and Cruising, many just starting out apply the basics in cumbersome, even hazardous ways, and often pay the penalty by painful defeat, to those on the Judo mat, or by sailors running aground unintentionally for instance and being caught out in bad weather, etc. Mistakes are not all bad though, as that is how we learn things. The important point at the early stages of learning is where you make the mistakes - (it is pretty safe in the classroom or local creek).

In Judo it has been said that it takes 1000 hours of practice of one particular throw to have learned it. Now, there are 67 throws and hundreds of variations of these as well. Add to this the dozens of ground techniques and we can see that to truly master Judo will in fact take a life-time and more. In Cruising there must be a comparative in hours spent on the water doing what we do to be able to say we have learned it. I don't know what these figures are or if there are any as I can only gauge from my own learning which is that indeed, it takes thousands of hours spread over a number of years to truly assimilate this type of knowledge based skill-set.
Sailing courses take up 40 hours or there about, spread intensively over 5 days. Or, there are the two weekend options. Courses for Judo vary in hours of attendance but are usually just an introduction to further classes that can be taken, almost daily, and it takes a couple of years of commitment to reach a standard with a high level of knowledge and skill.  It would be foolish to think we had mastered Judo in two years though, just as it is with navigation for instance if we had just completed a day skipper course in 40 hours - especially if we are coming into cruising as complete beginners. As individuals, to absorb the foundation knowledge required may be one thing but to competently implement it in the scenarios intended could take an infinite amount of time - something that is confounded if we only pop out on the top-of-a-tide once a fortnight.

Creek-sailing is not something to be rushed. It is sea-rambling in its most pleasant form. However if we were to shoot a 'ball-park', and say that in measured time learning one creek takes three or four days of sailing up and down its length, studying it at low water as well, then there are thousands more on the Thames Estuary... How long would it take to truly learn the area? We can read all the books in the world while sat at home but the knowledge they contain will only help us if we are putting in the hours out on the water as well. Only then can we develop and get to a stage where we don’t need to look at that book, for you simply know - 'no mind'…
For cruising, and the application of our hard earned skills, there happens to be one fundamental difference though, and that is being alone and in the real world where there are no rules and no-one to watch over you. An era in judgement here can be a matter of life and death…
The snug beauty of 'sailing small' - ashore for fresh drinking water at Bell Wharf

I think I could safely say that the late CS had arrived nearer than most could ever hope to the mastery stage of traditional, single-handed, engine-less cruising in and around the Thames Estuary. This was evident in the boat and when he left me his worn, out of date, chart of the Estuary, a compass, a pair of dividers and a sounding cane. ‘There you go son, you don’t need anything else’… Well, it has taken me a while, and I’m by no means anywhere near knowledgeable on the greater estuary, and at sea I use some modern gadgets at times, but even so, I can see where Chas was coming from. He, and ‘we’ meaning us – you and I, really don’t need this modern garb that we are bombarded with constantly. If you can see where you’re going you can feel it too. What a fantastic place to be in your chosen field (sea in our case)...

Planning a passage over the sands, all part of 'learning the Thames Estuary'
Anyways, shall we move on. When I left Leigh just after high-water, at 0730 hrs, I sailed out to the tall ships that had gathered throughout the night, off Southend pier, and had some fantastic sailing among them. For a while it was like the clock had been turned back and I was sailing in Victorian England. Someone was flying a camera drone off one tall ship and then, suddenly, Pelican of London appeared from the sea-mist on the eastern horizon and glided majestically by. Her course was set for London. I sailed around her, excitedly dipping in the swells of a luminescent green sea. I skirted Tenacious and the others for a few hours and then headed inshore to the sheltered waters of Thorpe Bay and dried out for the rest of the day. I walked ashore at 1300 hrs and had a lovely meal in the yacht club. When I was leaving I got a lift from the commodore round to the shops and stocked up on milk and bread.

Ultimate Sea-Rambling - Living A Dream... 
 Back on board I watched the sea crawl over the sand and felt the bubbles of the young flood rush around the hull of Shoal Waters. I had a good look over the charts and hummed and ahhed at what the tides would be doing next. I sat out the tide until it was time to move on again and then got dressed for sailing and set the mains'l.
All the passage planning I had done at Thorpe Bay was somewhere in my subconscious as I wandered out to sea during the last of the afternoon tide, reaching in a perfect, upright manner.

Friday, 10 July 2015

No Wellies Required

Bonjour - it was great to catch up with Tom Cunliffe while crusing in Brittany recently.