Herbert Alker Tripp (1883–1954) was a keen sailor and an accomplished artist whose regular occupation was in a civilian capacity with the Metropolitan Police in London from 1902 until his retirement in 1947. Beginning as a clerk, he rose to the rank of Assistant Commissioner, with responsibility for traffic management, a field in which he was a recognised authority in Britain and North America. In addition to his sailing books, he is known for many paintings which were utilised as travel posters for English railway companies. He was knighted in 1945 in recognition of his wartime service in London. He produced three volumes of cruising yarns in the 1920s and 30s, copiously illustrated with his masterful pen drawings (whose Lodestar editions are currently out of print), then Under the Cabin Lamp in 1950, from which this tale is drawn. Most of his sailing was in Growler, a barge yacht, though this is hardly ever mentioned in his writing. In his day the type was looked down upon in some circles. There is the slightest hint of a leeboard in some of his drawings, if you look closely. At the time of writing (December 2018) Growler is under restoration in Norfolk.
It seemed an odd thing to do, but we did it. Out of harbour we went to sea for shelter.
In a heavy south-westerly blow, we were anchored in Poole Harbour again. We had come in the day before from the westward in heavy weather. Off Old Harry we had seen a yacht’s mainsail ripped in half by a vicious gust of wind (we stood by, but she was clear of the rocks and wanted no help, for she had a trysail). The weather being like that, the inside of Poole Harbour seemed at first sight a most desirable spot.
But where should we anchor? Sandbanks would be uncomfortable; and the drawback of anchoring under the lee of Brownsea Island would be that one cannot go ashore save by crossing to Sandbanks, in seas that would be too rough for a small dinghy. So we scudded on. Off Poole town there was a regular seaway with much ‘froth and bubble’; the whole estuary was a mass of foam caps. Farther up, off that little pier at Hamworthy, there ought to be a snug anchorage, the wind being across the tide. And there it was that we let go.
Snug? Not a bit of it. There was a sharp jobble of short seas, which kept the yacht busy all the time. The wind was as bad as ever in the morning, and we had had enough of it.
“Come on,” I said, “let’s get out of this.” I was grasping the shrouds as I said it; and, frankly, I needed to hold on to something, for the yacht was bucking and flopping to a ridiculous extent. A larger yacht would probably have lain almost rock-steady; but the seas were just the size to give a 10-tonner the utmost degree of discomfort.
“We’ll get out of this,” we decided. “Item one, it’s something to do; item two, it gets us away from this abominable chop.”
“Yes, but where?”
“Outside the harbour,” I replied. We began to pull down the two reefs that we had only shaken out the night before, and we busied ourselves with a will, glad of the occupation and the prospect.
“We’ll go and see what it’s like at Studland,” was the word. “If it’s snug, we’ll stay there; if not, no harm done. We’ll come back to the ‘comfort of harbour’ again.”
We made a quick passage of it. Off Poole there was an anchored lighter, full of great blocks of stone for the training wall at the harbour mouth. The waves in the fairway were breaking so smartly that the spray went right over her once or twice.
To Salterns we flew. Then we hauled our wind and beat down to North Haven Point, and thence we reached through the harbour entrance in smooth water, going like a train.
As soon as we opened Studland Bay we found the sea rough, despite the shelter of the land; and when we were close-hauled at Punch and Judy, we fairly took it over green. The yacht lay down to work, and thrashed doggedly on. A crash of crockery in the cabin told of minor disaster below; all the ordinary china was, of course, secure, but an ornamental bowl had been imperfectly stowed. Its fragments had a sea burial at Studland.
“I wouldn’t have believed there’d be so much sea,” my shipmate shouted, as he tried to button his oilskin collar more firmly round his neck. The spray fairly came in sheets. “Why, we’re right under the lee of the land, and yet…” Another sheet of spray made an appropriate ending to his sentence.
Then, as we actually closed the shore, the magical change happened. The wind blew furiously still, but it blew on smooth water. We could see the streaks made across it, like the streaks made by gusts across a little inland pond. Close to the pilot cutter, we let go our anchor. We were completely at rest, and comfortable at last.
We walked ashore in the afternoon, over the Downs. And we had a peaceful night, although the wind was as strong as ever. It is an odd fact that the very strength of the wind seems to keep the swell out of the bay; and when the wind moderates the berth often becomes less snug. Of course, we had to be on the qui vive all the time. If there were any indications that the wind was backing south-easterly, we should have to cut and run, day or night, before the sea had time to get up and make the bay dangerous. But there was no backing, we were at peace. We had gone to sea to look for shelter—and had found it.