Category Archives: Local businesses

Sailmaking

Collins menagerie

When it came to making sails for Kensa, we didn’t need to look too far to find a good sailmaker. We’re very lucky to live down the road from Collins Sailmakers, which just happens to be run by good friends of ours. The main reason we chose Collins, however, was because Nick made our sails for Planet when we went away on our trip. Having used these sails every day for two years, in 40 degrees of Greek sunshine as well as 40 knots of Greek wind with very few signs of wear at all by the time we got home a few thousand miles later, we know they are sails we can rely on.

We spoke to Nick about the rig and sails for our boat from early on in the project while Si was drawing up the sail plan in the later stages of his design. Very generously, Nick suggested that in the spirit of our project we might like to be involved in the making of the sails as well and we jumped at the chance to do this.

We spent one Saturday down at the loft building the mainsail; learning from Nick how the various stages of the process fit together and having a go at things ourselves. Si spent a summer while he was at university working for a sailmakers in Falmouth, so had an idea already of how machines worked. I was less useful, given my ineptitude with even the most basic of sewing skills, but took plenty of photos to make up for it.

Si then spent several evenings leading up to the launch working on the main and mizzen in the loft and consulting Nick whenever he needed to. In the days just before our launch, with no time to spare and the mainsail not quite finished, Nick very kindly stepped in and completed it for us in his own time. Following the launch, Simon finished the mizzen himself.

To give you an idea of how our sails were made, here is a ridiculously over-simplified step-by-step guide to the process, illustrated by photos and explanations of how we built our mainsail. Our sails are very traditional and simple when compared with their modern counterparts, and I can’t stress enough the level of skill that goes into making a sail. This is just a Blue Peterish glance at the basics:

1.Design sail, choose material and cut the panels. In our case, the sail plan was done by Simon and then passed to Nick, who used his software to cut each component panel out on the plotter. In the past this process would have been done by hand, but now sails are able to be cut precisely to a digital design (much like Kensa’s kit-like framework); saving time, materials and ensuring accuracy. There’s a little time lapse video of the plotter cutting our mainsail panels here. We chose a hard wearing tan cloth for our sails. Not only is it the most traditional option, it’s also the most practical given the amount and type of use they will see. Fish blood and guts on a white sail would not be so becoming! In the past, when sails were made of natural materials like flax or cotton, they were tanned with cutch (a vegetable extract) and oak bark to protect them from rotting or perishing in sunlight or damp conditions.

2. Glue together and seam up panels. The cut edges of the cloth are first sealed with a hot knife, then the panels are glued together with double sided tape before being machine seamed to form one single, large panel.

Seaming up the main

3. Cut and tape up the leech. This is the vertical edge of sail furthest away from the mast.

Cutting the leech

Once the sail was all in one piece, Nick trimmed this to shape and stitched a tape into the length of it for strength.

Taping the leech

4. Make and fit patches. As with any other item made from cloth, sails need reinforcing locally in places where they are going to be under most strain or subject to chafe. This is typically going to be near the peak, tack, throat and clew (the corners of a gaff or lug sail).

Si worked to make up patches and tape them in place, which Nick then seamed up on the machine.

5. Add cringles, reef points and eyelets. Seeing the sail as it was below at the end of our day in the loft made it feel as though it was almost finished, but in reality there was still quite a bit to add. We purposefully chose a very simple rig for Kensa, so accessories (there’s probably a technical term for that…) were minimal.

Buddy helping

And here it is a few months later, along with the mizzen, on their first trip out back in October!

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Selling our first fish!!

We’ve finally had a patch of fair weather, which has been perfect for us to get out on Kensa and try out our kit. Monday was sunny with light winds but with stronger easterlies forecast for the rest of the week, so we decided to keep Kensa in the shelter of Percuil and head out to marks near there to fish.

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We were keen to try sailing Kensa up and down over a mark and practising fishing both under full sail and with the main brailed up, so we headed about half a mile south of the Lighthouse to fish round a mark down there. It was ideal conditions for there; the wind was light and easterly and not forecast to shift, so perfect for a beam reach in and out, meaning it was quick for us to sail both there and back, with no need to tack. Once we got down there we set about fishing up and down over the mark by tacking upwind under main and mizzen while trailing weighted lures and then sailing downwind back over the area with the main brailed up and the mizzen alone. Within a short while we were catching quite well, so we did this three or four times, by which time the wind had filled in slightly and the sea had built up a bit of an uncomfortable lumpy swell. We hadn’t had a bite for about half an hour, so we decided to head in.

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All in all it was a really good day; we managed to get Kensa working really well bar a few snags which we’re sorting out this week while the wind is fresh from the east. Nothing serious; for example, the mast needed wedging in its foot to avoid it clanking around when the main’s brailed up and we’re drifting. It was doing that quite a bit on Monday and managing to turn itself as it did so, meaning the yard ended up wrapped around the mast a couple of times. That’s now fixed and Si has also made Kensa a knife rack in which to handily store the fish killing equipment! Which we might actually need now it would seem! It wasn’t exactly a bumper catch, but the other great thing about Monday was the satisfaction of heading in with a respectable box of pollock.

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Respectable enough to sell, in fact! We are delighted to say that within half and hour of arriving back into Percuil The Atlantic Fryer, a brilliant fish and chip van in Portscatho, had become our first official customer! Ross fries all his fish to order in beef dripping and makes his own chips, batter, mushy peas and pretty much anything else you could want with your fish and chips. They are the yummiest we’ve ever tasted so we were happy with our first ever sale!

Atlantic Fryer

And it would seem that everyone else was too; Kensa pollock sold out quickly and we’ve had requests for more. So we’d better get catching again soon!

Ross

Making crab pots out of willow

Over the last few years, Simon and I have both been involved in some of the activities run by Caravanserai, an arts residency project run by Annie Lovejoy and Mac Dunlop at Treloan Coastal Holidays along with the campsite owners Pete and Debs Walker. Treloan and Caravanserai have been hosts to everything from wild food foraging to poetry and fire sculpture, and we were delighted when they contacted us to see if we’d be interested in learning how to make traditional crab pots out of willow.

The workshop on Thursday was run by Greg Humphries, who patiently and enthusiastically took us through the traditional method of pot making, helping us at each stage of the process. Greg completed a postgraduate residency at Treloan in 2009, focussing on rediscovering traditional skills for a sustainable future, and learnt how to make willow crab pots a few years ago in Portloe as part of his research.

A number of MA students from University College Falmouth’s Arts and Environment course attended and we had a great day chatting about what we were doing and discussing the implications of sustainability. A friend and former Falmouth Marine School colleague of Simon’s, Rory MacPhee, was also there and we had the chance to catch up with him about his latest project which is very close in spirit to ours. Rory is a sculptor, furniture maker, maritime law expert and currach builder, and is currently using his boat to harvest seaweed in the Carrick Roads. Currachs are Irish skin on frame open boats, similar to coracles, powered by oar. Rory has been a huge help already with our project, introducing us to other people doing similar things to what we have planned and giving us extremely helpful advice, so it was great to see him again and exchange ideas.

Jude and Tony Tomlinson from Treloan Farm were kind enough to let use the willow from their withy bed and we spent the morning cutting enough withies to make three or four pots. In the end Simon and I worked on a pot together to save on time and materials, and by the evening we had a pot that was almost finished. We still need to make a base for it, the sides are in need of extra ribs and it’s somewhat large for purpose, but for a first attempt we’re really pleased. I hope that by this time next year we’ll have several neater, more accomplished willow pots to our name, as well as a few lobsters!

Thank you to Greg and everyone involved in making the day so interesting, informative and such a lot of fun! Also thank you also to Mary Pollard for her fantastic photos of the day; you can find these here. Oh, and we got a little mention in the Falmouth Packet too!

Making a half model

Some of you might have seen my excited tweet about our half model last week when Si emailed me a picture over from Fibrefusion, the profile cutting company run by Steve Neal in Falmouth. Earlier that day Simon took over a memory stick containing his design for our boat, and Steve very kindly agreed to let him record the process of turning several large pieces of glued together MDF into an exact scale replica of Si’s design. Si also took a couple of videos, so I’ll try to get those up here in due course. In the meantime, here’s how to make a half model using a massively cool robotic three dimensional power chisel. You may want to try this at home.

Sadly, although the process of making a half model this way is somewhat akin to magic, it is not just a matter of inputting a file into the cutting machine and pressing go. The machine – a three axis router –  works from its own cutting software.

So before starting the cut, Steve had quite a bit of work to import Si’s design into the software and get it to the stage of being ready to cut. To over simplify what is in reality a complex process, it’s a case of giving the router a series of intricate directions that make up its cutting path, which in turn produces a physical replica of the original CAD drawing.

It’s also a question of working out how best to cut the shape out given the material and the cutting tools available. We used MDF, as it’s cheap, stable and readily available, but you could use an old toilet roll or some pipe cleaners if you like.

Once that was done, Steve set up the router to cut by selecting the appropriate tools and calibrating it. The sheets of MDF were then glued together to the required thickness for the eventual model, and placed on the bed of the router. The machine has a powerful vacuum which holds the materials being used in place during cutting to ensure accuracy.

The router then performs a series of cuts, each one more accurate than the last.

The first cut is a very coarse one, which produced a rough shape of the hull for us and discarded much of the redundant material.

As you can see, even by the end of the first cut the shape of our boat was beginning to emerge.

The machine then performs a second cut using a different tool. This produced a close likeness of the computer model and left the hull ready to be faired.

Finally the machine uses a third tool to sharpen any edges that the rounded second tool can’t make square, and to hone the final shape.

And that’s it, a finished model! Si gave it a quick light sand, but apart from that it came off the machine completely smooth and perfect. So here’s one we made earlier…

Including the time taken to set up the machine, change tools and make small adjustments during the cut, the whole process took less than three hours. It’s pretty incredible.

We’re both absolutely delighted with the half model, and incredibly grateful to Steve at Fibrefusion for all his patience, time and effort.  We now have a tangible representation of what is to come and a solid and sturdy scale version of our boat. Which is exactly how we like our models.

Introduction to Fishmongering

Despite a 4.30am start which made me question the point of going to bed the night before at all, we had an excellent day today attending our second fishing industry training course run by Seafood Cornwall Training, in association with Seafish. Today’s course was the ‘Introduction to Fishmongering’ course, and we had a really interesting and informative day. Thank you very much to everyone!

We started off at 6.30am with a tour of Newlyn market and harbour by Andy Wheeler of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation. This was fascinating as we had a chance to look round the market while the buyers were there, with Andy explaining the process to us as we went round. Although the weather’s been poor recently, a couple of beam trawlers had landed in time for market, and there were several boxes ready to be sold. It was predominantly monkfish but there was also a large quantity of cuttlefish, as well as some squid, ray, hake, megrim and whiting amongst others. Once the market finished, despite being well before 9am it felt as though it was about lunchtime, so we all gratefully retreated to the Fishermen’s Mission for a bacon sandwich.

After breakfast we headed off to the harbour where Andy was able to give us some insight into the fishing methods and grounds of many of the boats in the harbour. It was particularly interesting to see a small ring netter used to fish for Cornish sardines (the artist formerly known as pilchards). Despite using traditional methods, the boat’s layout had been designed for purpose with modern efficient equipment to allow sustainable fishing without the same effort and workforce historically required for pilchard fishing.

There were some really interesting people with us on our course. Kevin Penney fishes from Newlyn on his 21ft boat Bess. We were able to have a look at Bess during our harbour tour and she’s a great boat.  It was invaluable to talk to Kevin about his boat and fishing, given that he is already catching line caught fish using sustainable methods from an under ten metre boat. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_penney or via the South West Handline Fishermen Assocation (Tag no. 101).

We also met Lynda Filmer, who fishes with her husband from Helford on their catamaran Emily Jane. They fish mainly using static nets, taking care to catch their fish and shellfish as sustainably as possible, avoiding bycatch and unnecessary environmental impact. They also have a sailing rig on their boat in order to economise on fuel when conditions allow. I was delighted to meet someone who’s already fishing as part of a husband and wife team, and you can have a look at their website here.

Finally, we had a chance to catch up with Charlotte Taffinder, who runs a farm shop from Curgurrell Farm just a few miles from us in Portscatho.  Her family have two under ten metre fishing boats that supply the shop with fish and are the only remaining commercial fishing boats working from Portscatho. It was great to exchange notes about our thoughts and plans.

The remainder of the day was devoted to learning some of the skills required of a fishmonger, building on what we’d learned in our filleting course at Cornwall College. This was led by Annie Sibert, who also runs her own seafood school My Fish Kitchen in Mawnan Smith, and who taught our fantastic fish filleting course two weeks ago.

We spent some time discussing our businesses and talking about the issues relevant to running a fish shop such as quality awareness, marketing and presentation. Finally, we watched Annie start to put together an arrangement of fish for a shop counter, and finished the day by completing the display ourselves as a group. There was a lot to think about today; ideas I would never have considered and first-rate advice from experts in the industry, and we drove home utterly wired on coffee and four hours’ sleep.

Fish Filleting

A few weeks ago while looking into training opportunities within the fishing industry, we came across Seafood Cornwall Training‘s website and the range of courses they run in conjunction with Seafish, the national seafood authority. We were lucky enough to be given a place on their Fish Filleting and Introduction to Fishmongery one day courses, so today we went west again, although this time only as far as Camborne, to Cornwall College where the Fish Filleting course was being run.

We started at 9am and finished at 4pm and learned A LOT. Our course today was brilliantly taught by Annie Sibert, who has been working as a fishmonger in Cornwall for the past twenty five years. She now runs her own seafood school, My Fish Kitchen, in Mawnan Smith. Simon and I were both really looking forward to the course, if a little apprehensive about our skills. We both thought we knew how to make a reasonable job of filleting, albeit to a standard nowhere near acceptable by proper professionals. We knew we had a lot to learn, but neither of us had any idea of quite how much.

We started by filleting and skinning whiting, following a skillful demonstration by Annie, which made the process of producing two beautiful, clean, skinless fillets look effortless. Needless to say, it wasn’t.  Neither was filleting plaice, head on or off. Every time I got to the end of the process and was faced with something the right shape and size, but with lots of meat still on the bone, or else with a bedraggled looking fillet in front of me. Or both. By lunchtime Si and I were feeling a little bit despondent. I had forgotten that feeling of concentrating so hard on something, putting in maximum effort and finding that you’re still hopeless. It was a bit like me and maths GCSE, except this time I was really interested. After lunch we started by single filleting gurnard, and despite a disastrous first attempt I started to feel like I was getting somewhere, and I managed the skinning fine. The next task was preparing sardines, and again I felt like I was making progress. Finally we had to take one enormous hake, and produce three neat and equal steaks, two tail fillets and two boneless loins. Chuckle. Annie left us for a few minutes to get on with it. I looked at the enormous fish in front of me and considered the fact that I am often incapable of cutting neat and equal slices of bread. I would blame left-handedness, but Simon has no such snags. Was this really going to work? I had visions of me finishing with a few hacked at scraps and a fish head in front of me, covered in scales and shame, but a lot of concentration and many deep breaths later, I managed it. Or at least a respectable version of it. As did Si, and we were delighted to find that we had both passed the course. We have a lot of practice to do, but we both feel sure that with time and experience we will be able to do this well, and are very grateful to Annie and Seafood Cornwall Training for today.

We left with the most enormous box of delicious looking fish, and after consulting Rick Stein in the car (not literally), we grabbed a few ingredients, invited some friends round for dinner and feasted on our efforts, with escabeche of sardines, baked hake and roasted tomatoes and grilled plaice with chilli, garlic and thyme. Yum yum.

Newlyn and the harbours of West Cornwall

Today started at 5.45am as we wrenched ourselves out of bed and into the dark to head to Newlyn for a peek at Monday’s fish market. Obviously Monday’s not a big day for fish, but we hoped some of the trawlers would have landed their catches over the weekend.

Newlyn was pretty grey and blustery when we arrived just before dawn, but although the market’s not open to the public we were able to have a look in from the quay, and we watched the boats sorting out nets and one come into the harbour. It was pretty quiet, but very interesting all the same. We had a walk around the trawlers and the large basin in the harbour,  then retired to the warmth of the nearest cafe and ate bacon, sausages, eggs and beans in the name of research. I discovered that a) if you want a cheeseburger at eight thirty in the morning, Newlyn is the place to go (bloke at next door table), b) there exists a (very informative and interesting) newspaper called Fishing News, and c) old Rovers don’t die, they move to Penwith (rare sight of a Rover sign outside a showroom on our way to the beach).

We took some time to have a good look at the inshore fleet in Newlyn, in particular the under ten metre boats, looking at gear and arrangements and fittings, thinking about what we’d need and how best to incorporate it into Si’s boat design from the start. Before we left we stopped in at the fishmongers’ on the quay and picked up a few pouting to practise filleting with, in time for tomorrow’s course.

Our next stop was Porthleven, gated in against the swell that was making its way into the outer porth. There were quite a few boats on moorings in the inner harbour, and a few people going over pots and nets on the quay.

We visited Mullion; a small harbour now owned by the National Trust, where three or four open boats were pulled up the slipway. You could see the old winding gear that would have been used in the past to haul boats up the beach to protect them from the weather, and allow fishing to continue all year round.

        

Finally we stopped in at Cadgwith and Coverack. Of the two, Cadgwith seemed to have the most active fleet of boats.  Although none of them was working today given the conditions, there were half a dozen boats of about eight or nine metres pulled up on the shingle, next to a tractor used for launching and hauling.

Coverack’s harbour is similar in size to Portscatho’s, but it was interesting to see how many more fishing boats there were, all with registration numbers and gear on board.

Today’s given us a lot of food for thought, and inspiration for modifications to Si’s design for our boat. We’re planning to visit some harbours closer to home and further east next, at Mevagissey, Polperro and Looe.

How it all began….

In September 2009 Simon and I set sail from Percuil on our Heard 28 Planet. Planet is a 28ft gaff cutter, built in Mylor just the other side of the river from us in Portscatho, and is the younger sister of the Falmouth working boats that fish for oysters in the Carrick Roads.  Before we left Simon was working at Falmouth Marine School as a CAD and boat building lecturer as well as working on other design projects in a freelance capacity. I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing part-time and working as a Spanish tutor, having previously worked at Truro College as a learning support assistant. We left for our trip with mixed feelings about coming back to the same jobs and lifestyles, and decided to make our minds up about our plans on our way.

Spending all our time together in a very small space gave us a lot of time to think and to chat. We spent many hours talking about the perfect job, the perfect location, the perfect salary. We thought about what we we liked to do and what we were qualified to do. Without the distractions and constraints of television, pubs and early starts we thought carefully about our lives and how we wanted them to pan out, but by the time we reached the Mediterranean near Marseille having travelled through the canals from Northern France, we were no closer to deciding. What we did know by then, 175 locks later, was that we were happy to work together. And we knew that having got used to spending so much time together we were not prepared to go home and drive an hour to work every morning, fun as the dawn race to the 7.30am ferry was. It would be nice to work locally and travel less. See each other more.

We started to think about how we could achieve this. Being determined to work locally to Portscatho narrowed down the options somewhat. So many businesses and work opportunities in Cornwall are tourist related, which necessitate working and indeed being busiest in the school holidays; times when we would choose to be sailing Planet or visiting family in our free time. Having been spoilt already by teachers’ holidays, we weren’t sure this would be for us. We put our plans aside for a while and got on with varnishing and antifouling. We thought perhaps we’d go back to working in education after all.

Two weeks before the deadline in February 2010, we found out about Classic Boat magazine’s Design Competition; a chance to design an eco-fishing boat and win a half model and published designs. Si was keen to enter, so came up with the best design he could in the little time he had available, and we spent a frantic morning running around Port Saint Louis trying to find an A3 printer. Eventually we found one, posted Si’s design and thought no more about it. We didn’t realise it at the time, but I suppose it must have sown the seeds for our plans to go fishing.

We set off into the Mediterranean and sailed as far as Greece. As more and more people asked us where we were from and how old our boat was and I found myself translating our standard patter about how Planet was related to the Falmouth oyster boats, the last sailing fishing fleet in Europe, into French and then Italian, it struck us one day that perhaps one of the few industries in Cornwall to flourish in the winter was fishing. And from that moment we couldn’t seem to get away from it.

In the way that happens when you think of a new idea, every new place seemed to have a link to it. This is perhaps not so unexpected; after all we were travelling by sea, so you would expect to come across a fishing boat or two. But we found ourselves followed around by it. In Greece we made friends with Manolis, a Skopelos fisherman, and for want of in our case fluent Greek, and in his case fluent English, we communicated (eventually very well) via a Colllins Gem dictionary, endless pieces of paper and Rick Stein’s Seafood recipes, or βιβλίο fish, as it came to be known. All this time we weren’t planning on getting home and going fishing; it was just something interesting to talk about. We turned up in Siracusa and were unexpectedly offered a cheap berth for the winter five minutes away from one the best fish markets I have ever seen. We got storm bound for three days in Porto Palo, in Southern Sicily, where there is a quay, a cafe and a lot of fishing boats. So we got chatting to Giovanni, whose family run the fish merchants on the quay and he gave us a tour of the facilities and we talked about fish. Then he gave us a lift to the nearby village and looked after us for an evening which started with a quiet drink in his friend’s bar…but that’s another story.

We turned up in Tunisia to find that the only ports open to us were fishing harbours, and got chatting to people there and ended up swapping a lobster for a cigar. Again, we got storm bound in Spain, and watched the fishermen mending nets, repairing boats and getting the tuna almadrabas ready for the season. In Portugal we ate chargrilled sardines and wandered through Portimao with time to kill to find that there was free entry to the fishing museum for one day only. We sailed through mussel rafts in Galicia and celebrated crossing Biscay with bass roasted over an oak fire. By the time we were ready to set sail for home we had talked through every possibility and almost decided on our plan. 

We had narrowed down our options to a self-employed jointly run venture working from home. We didn’t want to be confined to an office after all this time on Planet, and we weren’t keen to spend our lives permanently on dry land. Si wanted to design boats, I wanted to write. But neither of us wanted to do both these things all the time. We thought back to home, to our house, and realised that there was one thing staring us in the face, every time we looked out of the window. The harbour. What was our village built on? Fish.

You can read more about our adventures in Planet here.