Phil Latham Serial (Part 2)

Prowess book

Prowess book

Fair play to the SSBR who this year gave to all subscribers (Yes, even overseas me!)  a free hardback book. This “The Prowess of Charlie Fielder” is by David G Wood and Richard J Walsh is nominally worth £13.50, so the Society is giving you most of your subscription back. That has got to count as generosity indeed. The book, latest publication from the Chaffcutter stable was born out of an amazing find/save by family members of Charlie, a suitcase full of papers and logs, photographs and so on detailing Charlie Fielder’s sailing career from the 20’s starting on sailing barges such as Agnes Mary (when he was 18) and then on through powered craft, small tankers and so on, especially the eponymous “Prowess”. I have not had time to read the whole book yet but I have dipped in and it is a fascinating story. Well done and Thank You very much, the team at SSBR.


Prowess 2

Prowess 2

But what of young Phil (Ginger) Latham, last heard of firmly moored outside and adjourned to the Ferry pub by Reedham as part of their adventure up to Great Yarmouth. Phil picks up the story in part 2 of our serial.


Next on the programme was celebrating Mark’s 60th birthday for which he had obtained the services of a local group called the “Cleaving Heavages” the group consisted of a three girl front line, supported by two guys on guitars. Now you have to understand that this wasn’t your classic folk group but I can imagine my old skipper trying to insinuate himself into the line-up! All went well as Mark had arranged for plenty of food plus an “open bar”. I even managed a dance with a press lady who promised advance publicity in Norwich. She survived unmaimed and my knees lasted out so we’ll call that a win-win, for me at least! So after the groups second set we settled into the back bar and commenced our own concert with a repertoire more suited to Bob, this ditch crawling can be hell!!
The next day being Monday we lowered down the main and topmasts ready for the road bridge. It’s a fact that on this road trip I was often asked if it was difficult to lower the masts down? “No”, I’d reply, “that is mostly gravity. It is getting the pesky things back up that causes the agro”. The slow recognition was comic to observe. Anyway, our tug turned up complete with brains-trust and we proceeded through afore mentioned bridge which I feel could benefit from four moderate cakes of C4 explosive, after all , what’s wrong with a lifting span on a by-pass road? It could be restricted to open between 2 am – 5 am like Norwich rail bridge which leads me to our next stop. Said Rail Bridge has seldom opened since close of commercial navigation which engendered some justified anxiety on the railway.


We moored to a short quay (Cambria 50%) after Tom had pruned some greenery overhanging the quarters (there’s a lot of fun attached to ditch crawling)! Our daytime tug disappeared to Brundall and Mark went down with it to pick up a low powered launch with towing post for our nocturnal endeavours. We, in the meantime occupied ourselves by applying a mixture known as Tom’s patent gunk to all the servings now easily accessible with the gear down. Some wires showing signs of distress were also treated. I cannot of course, reveal the recipe for said gunk but believe it was the child of necessity concocted with the Skippers approval and proved very successful if only in the fact of a short drying time. You really wouldn’t want to appear in Norwich with a wet coat of Tom’s gunk on your person, but servings clearly loved it. So at 2 pm we put our shore bosun crew, Niel, ashore by powered whaler to tend ropes and proceeded to the closed rail bridge.
In casual 2.00 o’clock in the morning type conversation we learned that a team of good old Essex boys from Colchester had been working on the (expletive!) rail bridge had deleted the controls for several days but had only managed to jack the bridge up to swing after which everything went pear-shaped so they attached a wire to the bridge and told the youngest member of the team that he now had a God given chance to find out how Grandad used to do it!! So he wound like a hero and a handraulic barge was towed through a handraulic bridge at 02 15 hrs with mutual satisfaction and on to Carrow Road Bridge which opened promptly. The Bridge master called to say that the first new bridge was open and that they’d be down to open the second. Right, time for a cup of tea, we thought, WRONG! As we towed at walking pace we were overtaken by two MUNICIPAL bridge men RUNNING and SMILING! “KEEP HER COMING SKIP WE’LL HAVE IT OPEN for YOU”!! And they did. Mark showed hidden talent as a tug skipper and with help from a check-rope handled by Niel, we were round in one. Bridge promptly closed behind us and our athletic bridge team overtook us ready to close the second bridge just above our berth, a cheery wave as they passed on the way back to Carrow Road the effect is really strong in Norwich! We decided not to heave the mainmast up at 3 am as old Reed and Colman mills have now been converted to , or replaced by “bijou” flats and the merry tinkle of windlass pawls might have annoyed, also Mark was swearing because our berth had lain fallow for eight years, however it was now covered with heavy machinery and peace and quiet seemed unlikely!!
At sparrow cough we turned out to the roar of earth movers etc. and the sight of a B.B.C. sound car from local radio to do an item on us for the morning edition. After conferring with the Skipper he asked the site boss for some quiet and received it. That effect again – the Guy had come over for a “fill-in” on Cambria and her visit so was very co-operative. This courtesy was extended to the afternoon visit from Anglia T.V. and a local commercial radio. No one heard our windlass pawls as we didn’t ask for a pause. Next day we were joined by the Albion wherry and did an open day. Visiting the wherry was a mixed affair. Her hold, to us a minute affair and the annoying habit of her skipper to boast about being able to send his mast up by the pushing with a figure was not very diplomatic, but the beautifully simplistic blacksmith ironwork was a joy. Anyway, her mast wouldn’t do her any good around Orford-Ness, even if it is sour grapes, so there.”

Thanks once again for this, Phil. Part 3 soon.


One Response to “Phil Latham Serial (Part 2)”
  1. DAVID RYE says:

    Thanks Phil and Matt looking forward to Part 3.
    All is being read up on the East Coast via other routes.
    Interesting book about Charlie Fielder, problem is I am a slow reader and in the midst of changing abodes.

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