A Sailorman’s Story.
As the age of sail as a widespread commercial activity drifts beyond memory, we increasingly have to go to the archives to find out how things were done. And so a book like this autobiography from Jim Lawrence is a very welcome addition to the library of such works.
Jim, a practical sailor who spent 23 years as a Thames Sailing Barge mate and skipper, tells it how it is, and so there’s a lot of detail about how to run a barge and how to look after her and her rigging.
The writing also has the rhythm and twang of Jim’s pre-war Essex burr and so the stories are full of his personality. The life of barging under sail was a hard school and the fiscal rewards largely impecunious; no-one was doing it for the money. So the harsher yarns, like how his first skipper threw his sodden army surplus greatcoat overboard because he didn’t like it hanging in the rigging to dry, make you wonder how he stuck it. The coat was both duvet and oilskin to the teenage Jim. He also relates how the same skipper made him lick the bottom of the leadline when he called out that it was mud rather than the expected shingle… “It’s just soft mud, skip,” he shouted back. “Yeah I thought so – we’re just going over the sewage outfall,” was the skipper’s sadistic reply. Neither he nor the mate were on that barge for long.
In a surprisingly short time he became a skipper, aged 18 and already with knowledge enough to mend and make sails. As sailing freight turned to sailing with charter passengers, at first he repaired and made sails in the barge hold and built up a second business that kept him busy during winter.
This aspect of his life only occurs in the final couple of chapters of the book – the other chapters concentrate more on the late 1940s 50s and 60s, in the barge trade.
It’s a good read and has been reprinted in August 2019.
London Light, Hardback, 192 pp, 150 illustrations, £13.50 +£2.50 p&p
Copies can be purchased on line through www.chaffcutter.com
or send a cheque for £16, including UK postage & packing to:
39 Friars Road
See Classic Sailor’s feature on Jim: HERE