Shoal Waters and Fairway
Suffolk Sea Borders
The Solent and Southern Waters

H. Alker Tripp

Of these three books, I have so far only read one: Shoal Waters and Fairway, but that so impressed me that I will be buying the recently re-published trio. Alker Tripp was a Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, who sailed mostly around the Thames Estuary in the early 1920s. This was the time when a young Maurice Griffiths was just beginning his sailing career. Tripp's writing is highly evocative, and I am sure that the young Griffiths modelled his writing on that of Tripp. Tripp was also an excellent artist, and illustrated his books with fine pen-and-ink sketches.

The books have now been re-published by Lodestar Books. This small publisher deals almost exclusively in rare or out-of-print nautical titles, although they do seek high quality new writing too. Books may be purchased directly from the website. Lodestar Books.

We have looked in the past at the evocative writing of Maurice Griffiths, that master of the swatchways of the Thames estuary. I have just discovered the writing of H. Alker Tripp, who also wrote under the pseudonym of "Leigh Hoe". Tripp was an established yachtsman, writer and artist at the time when the neophyte Griffiths was just commencing his brilliant career. Shoalwater and Fairway was published in 1924, and vividly describes a number of cruises around the shoals and channels of this complex waterway. The book is also copiously illustrated by the author's wonderful line drawings and paintings, something else which Griffiths was to also adopt when he took to writing on the same topic. I found it difficult to pick a representative passage from the book, because the whole book is a rich tapestry of the sights, sounds, smells and history of this area.
- David Bamford


RISING easterly the wind was. After a fine afternoon, the breeze at nightfall was beginning palpably to stir; it came over the flats with a long sigh: soughing across the dark water, it lost itself again over the land to lee.

Night had gathered, and as yet the yacht lay at her mooring, for the tide was still flowing. There was no sense in starting to beat out over a contrary tide when the tide would soon itself turn to help us. The ebb seaward would begin just after midnight. Therefore, still moored off Heybridge Basin, we had lighted the cabin lamp and made ourselves comfortable in that drowsily comfortable domain below, there to wait. We should be off at midnight.

Sailing down a dark tidal river on the ebb has an attraction all its own. Partly it derives its savour from the fact that one brief mistake brings reflection prolonged beyond the ordinary; if the deep channel is missed and the Yacht touches, she stays there. The water will be streaming away eastward all the time, and she will soon be left, towering solidly from the plashy levels, ignobly high and dry, and with nothing about her but miles of tide forsaken banks. Even by daylight it is no rare happening for a yacht to become a perverted example in this way. Through the glasses, before the fight failed and the tide rose, we had been able to see two yachts listing forlornly on the mud lower down. Clearly they had gone aground in broad daylight. And there they were still.

The wind whimpered over the dark flats; rising in gusts, it possessed the darkness. To seaward of us some dark blur greyly moved. Materializing gradually, the dim loom of it took form as a barge. A barge, running free and barely distinguishable, slipped rapidly by under a merest corner of topsail only, and let go as she swung to the tide. The rattle of cable was heard; then blown in snatches vague sounds of work and bustle came to us across the grey water, and words, deep throated. After that the blurred form of the barge rode to her anchor as if tenantless in the dark; the men had gone below.

Starlight now there was none, for this easterly wind had piled up a grey darkness of cloud over all the sky; and night was unmitigated. Full night it was when the sails were set, and at 12.15 by the clock the sheets were hauled home and the yacht began slipping through the dark water. The foam of her wake and the bow wave of the dinghy glimmered astern, greyly white in the dark level. The water was ruffled and creased by the rising wind. Some other dark yacht, moored and tenantless, seemed as if she slid by us as she dropped astern; we were really under way.

H. Alker Tripp
"Shoalwater & Fairway"

Reviewed by David Bamford, October, 2012

This article is ©2012 by David Bamford, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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