I like to think my offshore interests lasted most of my life, but it is true to say that owing to force of circumstances my really active activities in marine matters peaked in the two decades spanning the late 1960’s to early 1980’s.
I grew up, however, in the firm knowledge that my mother’s family had close connections with the sea, and in particular with sea-going from Southampton. Her father, JF Clark, was secretary of Southampton Docks, and her mother, Cecelia Harvey, the daughter of the Captain Harvey who in 1870 became a hero by ‘voluntarily’ going down with his ship, the steam ferry ‘Normandy’. I have written of this elsewhere. Of the two sons of Captain Harvey one died in another shipwreck (the ‘ss Mauritius’) and one abroad, in Cape Town. My Harvey root was definitely deeply immersed in the sea.
One of my mother’s brothers, Cyril, became a senior engineer at Southampton Docks, and thanks to this circumstance we were able during our twice yearly Southampton visits to tour the docks in a tug, sometimes going aboard the great ocean liners of which many were based there in the years between the wars. I see them lined up bow to stern, some with one funnel, others with up to four, alongside the long wharf of the New Docks. One vivid memory is of the land reclamation taking place between this new wharf and the original coastline – a mixture of water and silt spouted in mini-fountains into what was then a watery waste-land. The explanation provided was that the land was being built up by pumping a slurry of dredged silt and water from farther offshore.
In the 1930’s my parents took to having three weeks of family camping by the sea in south Cornwall during the summer holidays, usually at Pendower Beach. These were the years of my growing interest in matters biological, and at low tide I spent many hours on the wave cut platform west of the beach. My early biological interests did not, however, prevent me from becoming a predator on the prawns then to be found lurking below the bladder wrack in the many rock pools. I was a conscience-motivated vegetarian in those days, but since I cooked the prawns by dumping them in boiling water my concern for animal rights appears not to have extend too far beyond the class mammalia. I was proud, though, of the agility which I developed in leaping from rock to rock during these activities, and which later proved to be a useful accomplishment in my geological career.
It was in Cornwall when I was about 16 that I decided I was going to build a boat. I got as far as designing it, and when we arrived back home…