Arthur Ransome Wiki

Sailing is either an important part or in the background to all of the Swallows and Amazons series of books. The characters either sail during each book, or hope to be able sail in the near future, as in Swallowdale or Pigeon Post.

The joy of sailing[]

Instances where the sheer enjoyment of sailing is described:

  • The klop, klop of water under the bows of a small boat will cure most troubles in this world... (BS11)
  • .... out in the lake, with the sail to set, they forgot for a moment the troubles that were closing down on Picts and martyrs alike (PM27).
  • With the sails pulling, and the cheerful lap-lap under the forefoot, nobody could feel grim for long (SW16).

And of being in charge of a vessel alone, particularly at night:

  • John looked at Jim Brading when he falls asleep at the table: So that was what you felt like after an all-night passage single-handed .... How soon would he have a ship himself .... (WD2).
  • For a few minutes John stood in the cockpit alone. Almost the "Goblin" might have been his own ship .... (WD5).
  • John would always and always remember this night when for the first time ship and crew were in his charge, his alone (WD15).
  • Nancy, at the tiller, was alone on deck .... she had the ship to herself and wished that tea in the cabin would last for ever (GN1).

The dangers of sailing[]

  • .... every minute's sailing was bringing them nearer not only to Acle but to Yarmouth and Breydon, racing tides and every kind of possible disaster. Tom felt like the newly appointed captain of a liner on his first voyage in a new ship approaching a coast long noted for its dangerous shoals (CC18).
  • Only one motto for the Goblin. When in doubt keep clear of shoals ... Get out to sea and stay there says Jim Brading (WD5). Later John recalls when drifting blind that "Get out to sea and stay there" Jim had said last night (WD9). Then You never know quite how hard the wind is blowing when you are sailing with it. It is a very different thing when you are sailing against it (WD11). He tells Daddy that he set a course about south-east as there were shallow places almost everywhere except that way. .... When they turned round "Head sea" said Daddy "Beastly" (WD23).
  • When Dick is going up the river at the head of the Lake This was much worse than sailing in open water. He learnt what every sailor knows, that it is near land that difficulties begin Later they find that Sailing against a gentle wind is very different from running with it. It had seemed to take no time going to the head of the lake. It took a very long time t beat back (PM16).

History of sailing by the characters[]

The Amazons were given Amazon by Uncle Jim "last year" (i.e.1929); previously they went to the island in a "rowing galley"(SA10).

John tells Jim Brading that We used to sail there (Falmouth) with Daddy when he was on leave .... but only in an open boat. We never had one we could sleep in (WD1). And Susan recalled that she had not sailed with Daddy as John had, going out of Falmouth on a fishing boat (WD4). Why, sailing out of Falmouth with Daddy when he had been quite a little boy, they had been among waves like these and Daddy had thought nothing of them at all (WD16). John had been taught sculling by his father long ago in Falmouth harbour (SA4), and that his father said: "One hand for yourself and one for the ship". His father had told him that years ago, when he was a little boy and had tumbled down in the bottom of a fishing boat while using both hands to pass Daddy a rope (WD12). John had handled a small boat in a big swell in Falmouth Harbour (PD23), and John and Susan had sailed out of Falmouth with their father (PD36).

The Ds sailed a sledge to the North Pole: Dick says We were sailing .... and Nancy said Sailing? In that? (WH28). They learn to sail in Coot Club, and get their own boat Scarab in The Picts and the Martyrs.

Technical descriptions[]

Instances where the technical detail of sailing is described:

  • John said of Swallow that She doesn’t seem to have a forestay ... and there isn’t a place to lead the halyard to in the bows to make it do instead. Queen Elizabeth said These little boats often do without stays at all. Is there a cleat under the thwart where the mast is stepped? John said Two (SA2).
  • John says We ought to have reefed really .... but it'd be an awful job to bring her head to wind and reef here .... (SD5).
  • Captain Flint had a good look at the Beckfoot sledge, and showed John a better way of rigging the mast, and told him that for sledge work the nearer he could come to making his sail a square sail the better (WH23).
  • Jibe her this time said Tom .... Swing her right round towards the side where the sail is .... (CC10).
  • Teasel was passing Acle Bridge and Tom put a tyer round the jib (and) untied the parrels. A note says that Parrels are wooden beads threaded on a loose string between the jaws the gaff. Until this string is untied the gaff is held to the mast (CC18).
  • Nancy said Look here. Never forget to mouse the sisterhooks when you fasten the main halliard to the yard ... Like this ... They always shake loose if you don’t (PM15).

Ransome and sailing[]

Ransome learned to sail as a young man on Coniston Water when he befriended the Collingwood family and was able to use their small sailing dinghy Jamrach. Later while living with his wife-to be in Latvia he bought several boats to sail on the Baltic, eventually ending up by arranging for his own boat, Racundra to be built. After returning to live in the Lake District, he bough one of the Altounyan family's boats, Swallow to sail after he had taught the children to sail.

Ransome sailed off the Falmouth coast with Herbert J. Hanson in Hanson’s yacht Iolanthe in 1933 while he was convalescing. He also hired sailing boats to cruise the Norfolk Broads.

When the Ransomes moved to East Anglia, he bough a cruising yacht, the Nancy Blackett which became his favourite boat and the original for his fictional Goblin. In 1938 and 1939 the Ransomes sailed with other boats as the Northern River Pirates.

See also[]

For the book Sailing see E F Knight