Voyage Of The Jessie West

The Newport Sea Scouts annual trip to the Channel Islands which doesn't get quite so far.

By Jim Dyer
First published in the South Wales Argus 1986

© Jim Dyer 2012

It was with some trepidation I accepted the invitation to accompany the Sea Scouts on their annual July cruise to Jersey. They were to be away from Newport for a fortnight, and had the course charted well in advance; across the Bristol Channel, down the Somerset, Devon and Cornwall coasts, down round the Lizard, along the South Coast and from there across to St Helier.

With a bit of luck and good weather they would be in Jersey by the Sunday morning, some two days sailing, and I could be back in Newport by Monday.

The Jessie West.
The Jessie West.

The Scouts have been based at Newport Docks for years now, and had a small boat to play around with prior to acquiring the Jessie West some seven years ago.

Terry Lloyd, who works for a firm of commercial printers, was our navigator and an experienced seaman, a member of the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service. He explained 'It's a sturdy boat; 69 feet long, ex-trawler. We bought it in Scotland and I helped bring it down in just over a week, travelling through the Caledonian Canal to Fort William and down the Irish Sea.’

'We had to shelter from a Force 8 in Larne, he continued, 'but it was great fun. She's a tough old tub, and the boys spent months doing her up and getting the engines into tip-top condition.'

Great fun indeed!

I stowed my gear in then aft area having been allocated a tiny top bunk. All in all 'Jessie' can accommodate a fair number, and 17 of us were to travel. The boat was a hive of activity by the time our skipper, Eddie Watts , Group Scout Leader (Acting), boarded and everyone had a job - cook , engine room and watch duties. The compulsory and necessary lecture by the indomitable Huw Bevan, an ex-second mate foreign-going merchant seaman, on safety aboard, fire precautions and life jacket drill was duly given.

The enthusiasm of the boys was remarkable, although 'boys' would be bending the truth. The youngest was 14 but they ranged up to 26, all under the expert care of Eddie, Terry and Huw.

Unfortunately when we pulled out of the lock gates late on Friday evening, the weather was very unsettled. At first it was a pleasant ride with time to look back from the stern to see the lights of Newport port gradually diminishing. Things changed a little when we reached Breaksea Lighthship and it became more and more difficult to stand or walk properly.

'Oh for a pair of sea legs, ' I muttered.

' Wait 'til we get to Bull Point!' shouted Bonehead, as he stuffed down a salmon pate sandwich. 'This is nothing.' but by this time Jessie was well into gear and working like clockwork while those not on watch were trying to sleep, those on the bridge were keeping a vigilant lookout for monster ships passing stern and starboard.

Our engineer, Chris Piddington, was constantly in and out of the engine room (more oil on him, I thought, than the engines), but clearly relishing every moment.

Steve Wadley, the cordon-blue cook, was in the galley sorting things out (what a thankless job that is). Eddie and his Mates were steering their course steadily at 268 degrees, no hint of panic or alarm and this was refreshing. I too had a go, struggling at first to hold her on course but I got into the swing after half an hour. In a quieter moment I talked to Eddie over a much-needed cup of coffee, clinging to anything stable I could latch onto.

'You have to be careful when you have so many responsibilities aboard - I always err on the side of safety. We've voyaged a lot over the years – Ireland, Jersey, Poole and the South Coast, and we have been in some really bad weather, but I’ve been fortunate in having experienced sailors aboard, and you can see for yourself the lads love it.

' I think it helps to form their characters. We don't overplay discipline but you have to have some to make it work. Even now lots of our old boys come back year after year, and I can honestly say none of them are unemployable. It's better than hanging around on street corners.' I think he's right.

We ploughed on through the dark night as the weather deteriorated. The skills of those on the bridge was impressive and demanded admiration for their range of navigation knowledge – reading compasses, charts, discerning lights on other ships and shore, weather, and tidal flows, seeing that the boat was ship-shape and running properly, and dealing with radio messages.

At Hartland Point on the north Devon coast, it was make your mind up time. Having been lifted out of my bunk at least twenty times I decided to go up to the bridge.

We can make it, but if you go on, Eddie, the lads might be in poor shape by the time we reach Jersey.' said Terry. The cautious Eddie Watts plumped for shelter and we gently approached the safe waters off Clovelly. The swell inshore however made Jessie roll a lot and we were soon heading for the sheltered waters of Appledore, where the fast flowing waters of the Taw and Torridge meet.

By mid-day Saturday all were refreshed after one of Steve's scrumptious meals – 'I once cooked bacon and eggs in a Force7.' It gave everyone a chance to get on Terra Firma for a while, but the weather was getting no better and the forecast confirmed a stay 'til at least Monday or Tuesday. Over a few beers that night old salt stories were exchanged with glee and contact was made with the local RNLI volunteers who also joined the revelry.

There was no rest on Sunday though, and as the boat was somewhat of an attraction, it was commandeered to participate in the RNLI Open Day and Fete. All worked hard cleaning-up the old boat from stem to stern until it was good enough to take the many visitors who boarded that day. Appledore was a hive of activity with air-sea rescues, amphibious craft, and red-masted yachts complemented by the 'Whizzer' giving high-speed rides around the estuary.

Those not on watch cooking duty were directed by Eddie to help out on the various stalls on shore. Nobody objected in the slightest and the Jessie and the 29th were a credit to Newport, earning much respect and deserved appreciation from the Appledore RNLI' Proud as punch we were.

But my time at sea was drawing to an end, and after another of Steve's superb dinners (roast chicken) a cry could be heard from the shore, 'Where the hell are you?' That colourful and popular Newport character, Bob Earnshaw, who had been group leader of the 29th for more than twenty years, had arrived to collect me, pipe clutched in hand.

As Huw rowed me ashore I reflected on Eddie's words that last steamy evening. 'I wish we had more support. Money is always a problem and it cost over £1,000 to fund this trip. The lads have saved for months and thankfully we have a stalwart four who give up their time freely. Jessie costs a lot to maintain too, but we struggle by somehow. Wherever we've been we've been welcome and I think it helps to put Newport on the map, be it in a small way. It would be sad if one day the whole thing had to fold and I hope it never happens.’

When I left morale aboard was still high, though Jersey was still a long way off. The last I heard they were at Newlyn after being stuck in Appledore for over a week. I hope they get there : Steve, Flange.Trog,. Bonehead, Tobin. Little Glyn and the rest deserve it for their efforts.


Because time was running out, the Jessie West had to make it for home. But even then their problems were not over. Newport Docks was shut, the crew had to put into Barry Dock so they could disembark to return to work. Better luck next year.

Jim Dyer – 7th January 2012


  • First published in South Wales Argus 13th August 1986
  • The Jessie West was sold in the 90's but is still sailing on the South Coast.