Sunday 21 October 2012

Small Boat to the Skagerrak - book review

Small Boat to the Skagerrak
by Roger Pilkington
October 2012

I have to admit that Roger Pilkington's watery tales from the 1950's and 1960's are casting their spell on me.

This volume, the fourth in the series, follows the progress of the Commodore from a winter berth in Holland and across Eastern Germany towards the Jutland Peninsular taking in a whole range of waterways previously unknown to me. 

As with contemporary water journeys, the best laid plans don't always come to pass and variations are needed if progress is to be maintained. This volume follows the Commodore as inland routes are blocked and she is forced to take coastal passages which place her at some peril. Eventually the dogged crew make it to the Kiel Canal and we are treated to an extensive review of its construction and the alternate trans Jutland routes mooted over the centuries.

From the surging tides of the North Sea they tell a delightful tale of their exploration of the Danish islands and channels which thread between them, carrying the currents and shipping from the Baltic. This is an area about which I knew almost nothing, but Roger draws out a rich seam of history and geology which makes for a fascinating read. Perhaps this volume carries a bit too much history and not quite the right balance with the travel report aspect. But its a mild criticism and it was fascinating to learn of the navigational opportunities in this area. 

In the end the crew reach the 3 mile wide gap between Denmark and Sweeden, making a crossing to the northern lands fairly straight forward. They then sailed north aiming for Gothenburg and the entrance to the Gota Canal, but once again fate intervened and a huge landslip blocked the route for months. As an alternative they pressed on up the coast, nearly reaching the only Norwegian canal at Skien, only to be driven back by a petulant Skagerrak. and re- entering the Gota Canal - gateway to Sweeden's extensive waterway network. 

It is a little daunting the this journey involved about 400 sea miles, all undertaken in a craft of about 45 ft by 10ft and  a 30hp paraffin engine. Its not one I would try in a narrow boat but quite possible in something a little wider.

If you fancy a trip into the wilderness than you could do worse than follow in Rogers wake.

Possibly not an area which offered Pilkington the richest scope for a book, but highly readable none the less.

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