Monday, 12 January 2015

Goatsucker Harvest: The watery wonderworld of the Humber Keel

“Rise your tack!” 

Thirza clung onto the tiller kicking against her, the neck of a huge oaken sea-monster butting her in the ribs. The calls of keelmen and women, wharfingers, the cough of wind in sailcloth, had been her lullaby since before she was born. Voices of salt and shimmering rainbows of sound whispered all around her. She'd heard it all from the snug shelter of her mother Dinah's womb. Back then she couldn't tell the womb's throbbing walls from the sea swell beyond. But she knew they were both her home." -(c) Joyce Barrass (2014) 'Goatsucker Harvest'  Kindle Edition. 

"Thistle," the Humber Keel in 'Goatsucker Harvest,' I named after the boat on which my 3x great grandfather, Samuel Barrass & his family were captain & crew on the night of the census 1881. I come from a long line of Barrass & Pattrick mariners, sailmakers, keel and sloop families from Doncaster, Stainforth, Thorne & Hull. They were born, lived, worked, played and often died afloat on canals such as the Stainforth & Keadby. They inspired much of Thirza's story, as the book's dedication reveals. 

I've had the joy of sailing on the restored-to-sail Humber Keel "Comrade" a few times, between Ferriby Lock & Hull. You'll see Comrade's mainsail & topsail on the cover of the book, one of the many photos I snapped while aboard. I even took a turn at her tiller under the Humber Bridge! As the skipper, Colin, wryly quipped: "Your Barrass ancestors would be turning in their graves!" Maybe. Though quite a few of them came to a watery grave down the years, faceplanting off boats, drowning, choking in the mud, colliding with the quayside or getting accidentally knocked senseless by the yardarm. At least I didn't ground her (quite!).

It was such a thrill & privilege to taste what my family's and Thirza's lives were like on the Yorkshire waterways. That's  thanks to the amazing volunteers of the HKSPS - 'The Humber Keel & Sloop Preservation Society'. See more photos & info on these historic ships on their site Humber Keel & Sloop Preservation Society website & FB page HKSPS Facebook page
The Yorkshire Waterways Museum at Goole (the "Venice of the North"!) is also a wonderful place to visit to learn more about this watery wonderworld.

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