Sailing with a safety net


While serving his time as a sixteen-year-old apprentice aboard the three mast barque, Pass of Killiecrankie, bound round Cape Horn with a freight of phospate from Chile for Dunkirk, my grandfather, Richard Stephens Durham, was helping furl sail on an upper weather yard arm when he witnessed his crewmate – another apprentice – lose his grip and fall from the same yard.

‘Boom, boom, boom,’ my grandfather said 70 years later in his 86th year as he cuffed his fist into his palm recalling the sound his shipmate’s boots made on Pass of Killiecrankie’s steel hull: ‘He hit the hull before he hit the sea,’ he told me, the event seared in his memory.

Grandpa went on to sail in a second tall ship, the Pass of Brander, and completed some 10 years under sail before securing a berth in a steamship. All of which came to mind this week when a tall ship organisation asked me to go and climb the rigging in one of their ships to raise money for charity. When I found out that the climb would have to be made with a safety harness I declined.

To me it seems meaningless trying to recreate the ‘spirit’ of sailormen with health & safety netted stunts. Had grandpa asked for a harness before going aloft again he would not have retired a master mariner with a DSC and OBE for services rendered in both the Great War and World War II.