Beryl and Miles Smeeton: High Endeavours

Miles Smeeton and his wife, Beryl were cruising trailblazers. Their daughter Clio recalls a lifetime of sailing with her parents and in her own boats

Miles Smeeton and his wife, Beryl were cruising trailblazers. Their daughter Clio recalls a lifetime of sailing with her parents and in her own boats

A heavy squall blew up in the Bay of Biscay. I was right out along Tzu Hang’s bowsprit and all my parents could do was to shout for me to hang on while the spray soaked me. From my perspective it was better than being on a roller coaster.’

Clio Smeeton, the only child of the trailblazing cruising couple, Beryl and Miles Smeeton, looks back warmly on an adventurous childhood.

‘Growing up with my parents certainly gave me confidence,’ she recalls, as she described the voyages she undertook with them. Now approaching her 80s and hanging up her sailing boots with the sale of Pescadou, the double-ended, 40ft steel ketch she owns with husband Ken Weagle, seems an apt time to look back at the legacy of this remarkable family.

Clio’s parents, Beryl and Miles Smeeton, were both destined for the Army, a lifestyle which kindled each of their appetites for adventure.

Miles and Beryl Smeeton Tzu Hang

Watching her parents, Beryl and Miles Smeeton, sail is an enduring memory for Clio. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘My mum was born into a military family that travelled around a lot, returning at intervals to the huge house they had in Devon,’ explains Clio.

‘My grandfather was killed in the First World War and my uncle Myles was severely wounded. My mum had to do the debutante thing, which she hated, and as a result married into the Army, though not to my father.

‘My father, as he always said, was a Yorkshireman, and after he left school he went to Sandhurst and won the highest honour for riding, then joined the Green Howards. At that stage, as you can see, there was no sign of seafaring there, for either of them. The Green Howards ended up in India, as did my mum and her husband. My father transferred to Hodson’s Horse and was then given command of Probyn’s Horse (both Indian army cavalry regiments) and my mum and her husband split up.

Clio with her husband, Ken, also a keen sailor. Credit: Clio Smeeton

Clio with her husband, Ken, also a keen sailor. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘My mum then rode from Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego for fun (as described in her book The Stars My Blanket). This experience made her determined to become totally self-sufficient and have a ranch. Then after a bit, she married my father and they did a lot of adventurous stuff together, including some notable climbs in the Himalayas. In the late 1930s she travelled from Europe to Shanghai by train with her brother Charles, before walking from Shanghai to Rangoon, also for fun [documented in her book Winter Shoes in Springtime].

‘When the Second World War broke out, my father’s regiment fought in North Africa and then in the Burma campaign. My mum joined the Women’s Auxiliary Service in Burma, so she was there too. On one of her leaves she came back to India and went to a cocktail party in Calcutta where she met a guy who was trying to sell a largish piece of land on Saltspring Island, British Columbia in Canada. She bought it, sight unseen.

Beryl and Miles Smeeton: The seafaring begins

‘When the war ended she went to B.C. to Saltspring Island and my father resigned from the Indian army and joined us there. They didn’t have any money because my father’s pension was frozen in the UK and they were on an island. I was eight years old by then, and they decided it would be a good idea to return to the UK, buy a boat with the pension money there and sail her back to Saltspring.

‘They had sailed a dinghy and my father had navigated in the desert. They got some How To books, bought the 46ft ketch Tzu Hang and we set off. Once back at the farm on Saltspring my father was miserable and finally persuaded my mum that they should sell up and we should go to sea again. We sailed from Canada to Australia and then my parents sent me to school in the UK and, with John Guzzwell as crew, decided to sail around Cape Horn.

Tzu Hang

Tzu Hang, the canoe-sterned ketch that took Beryl and Miles Smeeton around Cape Horn three times. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘On that voyage Tzu Hang was pitch poled but survived, was fixed up in Chile, and set off again, and was rolled. The voyage generated a lot of publicity and that resulted in my father’s first book, Once is Enough, which has just been republished by Harper Collins. Because Tzu Hang had been insured, she was shipped to Burnham to be refitted. Undaunted, my parents then set off again, this time leaving the UK to travel the other way around the world, as described in their next book, Sunrise to Windward. I joined them at intervals and when it looked like fun. My school friend Henry Combe and I joined them in Japan to sail to the Aleutian Islands and back to Canada [The Misty Islands]. Henry took a tonne of movie film on that trip, which he then lost, but amazingly we have just rediscovered it.

‘Once we got home to BC my parents set off yet again, this time to successfully round the Horn [Because the Horn is There] before they finally sold Tzu Hang. She was bought by Bob Nance, who subsequently sold her to a drug runner. He was arrested, the boat impounded and she tragically sank on her mooring in a hurricane.

‘My parents were immensely practical and their sailing was motivated just by the fun of it. I loved sailing beyond anything. When I was eight I stood my watch (daytime only) while
they slept below. It was wonderful for a child and equally wonderful as I grew up and shared more of the responsibilities, though I was never particularly good at navigation. Of course, most people can get by with a phone these days, or think they can.

Tales of adventure

‘Drama was in plentiful supply at sea. In another Biscay storm, it became really rough so my parents decided to heave to and wait out the storm. I had a blue teddy bear as big as me. They dressed him in my oilies and sou’wester and tied him to the tiller so he would be on watch. We went down below and were playing cards when we heard an engine through the hull. They rushed to look out of the doghouse portholes and there was a freighter upwind of us. The captain was out on the bridge in his braces, peering though his binoculars at Tzu Hang.

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‘We debated waving to him but in the end decided not to so that he would have something to talk about at dinner parties. ‘Then there was sailing through the Aleutians, the most wonderful bunch of deserted islands, but prone to fog. There is an American-Russian observation base there that was generous enough to give us fuel for Tzu Hang’s engine, which my father hated for its unreliability. It turned out to be the wrong fuel so that was the end of the Perkins.

‘We had no wind and no engine when we sailed from the Bering Sea into the Pacific and so we drifted, spinning quietly, between the islands. It could have been a mess, but it wasn’t.

 Tzu Hang with a jury rig

A close-up of Tzu‘s jury rig. The canvas covers the hole where the doghouse was swept off the deck. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘By then I was working in Calgary Zoo, my first ever reliable job with decent pay. My parents drove up to Calgary to see me and they fell in love with the land, mountains and prairie. They built a house and we decided to undertake ecosystem restoration. Together the three of us founded the charity the Cochrane Ecological Institute, which is still alive and well today (www.ceiwildlife.org), with the aim of preserving biodiversity, reintroducing extirpated species, and rescuing injured wildlife.’

New endeavours

The love of the sea was never far away, and Clio and her husband Ken kept sailing. Combining their joint passions of conservation and sailing, they came up with a new idea.

‘We thought that blue water and coastal sailors have plenty of time, sailing for pleasure to look at the sea they are sailing over and the coasts they pass. It shouldn’t be too hard to do their bit to look after what they enjoy by keeping an eye out for cetaceans, garbage and so on, and send the info to us, so we set up WhaleForce.

‘There are many cetacean species that have not yet been scientifically “described” yet, just identified by bones or flesh in a fish market, so there is a chance they might be identified with a camera.

Pescadou on the hard in Kelheim.

Pescadou on the hard in Kelheim. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘When we started in 1986, it was sextants and snail mail, now it’s phone cameras and the Internet.

‘Many sailors can’t identify cetaceans, so Ken and I created a book to help with this. For $50, those taking part get the book, regular updates, and a WhaleForce burgee.

‘Later Ken and I wanted to do some sailing of our own. Our friend John Guzzwell advised us to get a steel rather than a wooden boat, but there was nothing suitable on either the west or east coasts of Canada. After much trawling online, we found half a dozen potential boats in Europe, with three quite close together in Turkey, so we headed there first.

Pescadou was a 40ft Dutch double-ended steel ketch. She was old, but perfect for a couple of OAPs to undertake some adventures on.

Pescadou steel ketch

Clio and Ken explored the Mediterranean, Baltic and North Sea in Pescadou. Credit: Clio Smeeton

‘We sailed around Turkey’s Mediterranean coasts, bits of Greece, the Sea of Marmara, then the Black Sea to Georgia, before heading up the Danube from Constanza in Romania to Bavaria. Being Dutch-built, we could raise and lower the masts by ourselves. There we pootled around in the European canals, which are deep enough for her 1.65m draught and 15-tonne displacement.

‘From there we made it through to the North Sea, the Baltic, and up the east coast of the UK before heading through the Caledonian Canal to Scotland. All the way we were conducting surveys for WhaleForce. We got to Rhu, but we’re touching 80 now and due to COVID-19 we haven’t been able to take her anywhere for a year. She is stuck in the warehouse at Silver’s Marine near Rhu and our time with her has come to an end, so we’re looking to sell her. She has given us great adventures, and we hope she’ll do the same for someone else.’

Tzu Hang

Beryl and Miles Smeeton aboard Tzu Hang

Tzu Hang was built in 1939. Credit: Clio Smeeton

Tzu Hang, a 46ft bermudan ketch, was a beautiful boat. She was built in Hong Kong in 1939 to lines drawn by HS Rouse.

If you have seen the movie Mama Mia you’ll see her sister ship, Tai-mo-shan. They look very alike only Tai was bigger and didn’t have Tzu Hang’s canoe stern.

Tzu Hang naturally sailed herself, with no electrics or extras other than her sails. The way she was built saved my parents’ and John’s lives, her canoe stern prevented her from being pooped (though she was pitch-poled instead).

Her flush deck meant she didn’t fill when the doghouse and hatches were swept off.

My father, all 6ft 6in of him, could stand up down below despite being flush decked. She was laid out comfortably for living in, though she had no heads, just a bucket.

There was no shelter if you were on the tiller and if the weather was awful there was no getting away from it.

Pescadou

Pescadou steel ketch

Pescadou was last refitted in 2006. Credit: Clio Smeeton

Pescadou is a 12m (40ft) double-ended steel ketch. Built in Holland in 1965, she was refitted in 2000 and again in 2006.

We fitted her state-of-the-art electronics and a new autopilot and had her hull scanned to check the thickness of the steel throughout. Her masts and spars are solid spruce.

She is fitted with a diesel stove for heat, an alcohol stove for cooking, and Rheinstrom marine toilet with brass fittings, after Ken got fed up with poor-quality plastic fittings.

She isn’t elegant but with enough wind she’ll do 5 knots. At 15 tonnes, if it does blow hard you won’t have to seek shelter, and I’ve never felt seasick in her.

The masts can be raised and lowered with two people on board. She has 1,000 gallons of both water and diesel tankage, plus a reliable Gardner engine. cei@nucleus.com

Books by Beryl and Miles Smeeton

Buy The Stars My Blanket by Beryl Smeeton from eBay (UK)

Buy The Stars My Blanket by Beryl Smeeton from eBay (US)

Buy Winter Shoes in Springtime by Beryl Smeeton from Amazon (UK)

Buy Winter Shoes in Springtime by Beryl Smeeton from Amazon (US)

Buy Once is Enough by Miles Smeeton from Amazon (UK)

Buy Once is Enough by Miles Smeeton from Amazon (US)

Buy Sunrise to Windward by Miles Smeeton from Amazon (UK)

Source: Yachting Monthly

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