Looking across the average British harbour, the variety of shape, size and purpose of craft gets Jonty Pearce thinking

As the wind tugged at my jacket and blustered me along the pontoon, I took the time to gaze at the variety of craft moored in Milford Marina. Aurial is still enjoying her winter break here, though she can hardly be said to have been bathing in the sun. Reaching the top of the ramp, I found a little shelter to sit and ponder as I looked out over the windswept pontoons. I was struck by the variation in size, colour and type of the moored boats. There were all sorts here – from working craft to ocean greyhounds; from dinghies to houseboats never likely to move in any direction except downwards.

My interest intensified. On the far port wall lay a fishery patrol warship drab in its military grey; a brightly coloured classic lifeboat sat astern of it. One of the Haven Pilot ships rested close to a speedboat, while fishing and potting boats of all sizes, both old and new, bobbed busily in the breeze. I considered the balance between motor boats and sailing yachts – probably 50:50. Sleek ocean girding craft shared finger berths with sound family cruisers. Grandad’s Delight, a small fishing motor boat, occupied the next berth to a beautifully varnished classic yacht. Ketches, cutters, and sloops mixed it with ribs, speedboats, gin palaces, and trip boats. A ‘never-mover’ liveaboard contrasted with the sleek lines of a Contessa 32, while floating caravans eyed up neighbouring catamarans. I felt the dock lacked the presence of a trimaran to complete the display – probably the space they needed was excessive – but then I spotted a middle hull lurking beneath what I had taken to be a big cat. A true exhibition of leisure and working craft lay before me, all contentedly sharing the shelter of a Welsh working harbour.

Some were ready for action at any moment, but many were covered by tarpaulins, cockpit tents, or covers; it was plain that a good few were stripped of all canvas like my own Aurial, and sat with only fibreglass to brave the elements. Likewise, some shared my preference for spars bare of sails for the wind to work at, while many left their genoas rolled on the forestay and their mains wrapped on the boom beneath well secured sail bags. Come commissioning time sprayhoods, dodgers, liferafts and outboard motors would adorn currently naked boats, and a stronger sense of purpose would return to the dock to banish the winter lassitude.

As I mused, my eye turned to the names emblazoned on the craft; my interest sharpened to draw me to wander the pontoons. Such an encyclopaedia of nomenclature! Simple girl’s names like Jessie and Mary-Anne contrasted with whimsy – Nauti Lass teased the imagination while made-up names such as Fredemily and Jackjill gave a strong hint about their owners identity. OK, I admit I made the last two up, but you get the drift. Then there were bravely named craft such as Storm – personally I might have opted for the less challenging Moderate Breeze. I was relieved that more risqué offerings  were absent. And finally, there were names whose origins have been lost in the mists of time; my own boat, Aurial, is an example – what does it mean? Who named her? I suspect I shall never know unless her first owner reads this piece and enlightens me.

But does it matter? No, not a jot. It is the extremes of design, dressing, and personalisation of this wide range of craft that makes the sailing world so interesting. If all boats were AWB’s and built to a standard pattern our harbours would become far less attractive places to lean on the dock railings and muse about life. Eccentricity? Bring it on!