Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Around Red Devon

To all of us there come days when the earth is stale, flat and tedious.... At that extremity of misanthropy some men start a revolution and others take to drink; but for my part I go to sea. Every man to his own recreation.
- Raymond B Cattell, Under Sail Through Red Devon
I've just been reading Adventure through Red Devon, the 1984 Obelisk paperback republication of part of Raymond B Cattell's 1937 Under sail through red Devon: Being the log of the voyage of 'Sandpiper.', which is an account of the author's sailing trips around the South Devon coasts and estuaries in the early part of the 20th century.

I have to admit that - with honourable exceptions - I usually can't abide sailing memoirs. They tend to be obsessed with the technical minutiae, and often have an irritating subtext of macho mysticism, of superiority over the 'landlubber'.  However, Adventure through Red Devon is nothing at all like that; it's energetic and erudite account of coastal sailing trips by an intelligent generalist who admits to being a hybrid between sailor and writer, and who has as keen an interest in towns, landscapes, hikes, houses, and the people he meets as in the maritime detail.

This particular volume tells first of his round trip from Torbay to Lyme and back, sailing in the 13-foot Dolphin with his friend John. Their adventures include involvement in an illicit expedition to blast for gold in the (then) recently-discovered seam at Hope's Nose; misadventures with a miniature cannon; an appreciation of Oddicombe and Watcombe;  a critique of Newton Abbot (described as not sleepy but unconscious); navigating the coastline by the Parson and Clerk (with an intriguing reference to "Maurice Drake's strange novel WO2", which I must check out); the difficulties of coming to anchor in Littleham Cove ("At first I thought we had rammed a wandering waterlogged buoy but presently there arose, roaring in our wake, a vast and bulky man with a bald head"); an account of Sidmouth, Jack Rattenbury, and the 1839 Rousdon landslip; being caught in a storm off Lyme Regis; an interlude teaching a lady called Beryl how to dive; and a walk from Lyme to Torquay via Budleigh, Woodbury Common, Topsham and the Haldons. It then moves on to a later part of his life, with an account of the now-gone community on the sandhills of Dawlish Warren, where he lived for a time with his first wife, Monica; an encounter with phantom ships on the Exe; the acquisition of Sandpiper, a German collapsible sailing kayak; a fishing expedition in the dangerous currents around Exmouth Bar; an expedition in Sandpiper up the Exe to Bickleigh, including a round hike  to Witheridge; and a final dangerous return to Torquay.

The book ends with a bit of polemic about visitors spoiling Torquay and the treachery of the natives that accommodate them, but it is in general a very affectionate and informative personal portrait of south Devon in the 1930s - an affection that that the author recalls to the end of his life, writing in recollection from Hawaii.

I didn't make the connection until Googling the name that the author of Red Devon is the Raymond B Cattell (1905-1998), better known as one of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. He was born near Birmingham, but the Devon connection is that he was brought up in Torquay, from which he acquired an intimate knowledge of the Devon coastline:
... my brothers, the village boys and I sailed, swam, fought group battles, explored caves, landed on rocky islands, and occasionally drowned or fell over cliffs. My parents were carefully shielded from knowing about the times we had nearly been blown out to sea.
- A History of Psychology in Autobiography: Volume 6, Gardner Lindzey, 1974
He later taught at Exeter University, but moved permanently to the USA in 1937. His daughter Devon Cattell maintains an informative memorial site: A Memorial to Raymond Bernard Cattell (it has a picture of him in his sailing kayak Sandpiper here).  Another good online biography: Raymond Bernard Cattell (1905-1998) A View Of His Life With Reflections.

Under Sail through Red Devon, Raymond B Cattell, Maclehose, 1937.
reprinted in two parts as:
Adventure through Red Devon, Raymond B Cattell, Obelisk Publications, 1985 (ISBN 0 946651 03 5).
Under Sail Through South Devon and Dartmoor, Raymond B Cattell, Obelisk Publications, 1985 (ISBN 094665106X).
The hardback original is pretty scarce, but the Obelisk paperbacks are reasonably findable.

- Ray

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