The North Cornwall coast historically has been treacherous for sailing vessels.
Bere and Dudley Stamp explain in The Book of Bude and Stratton (1980) this is because it is a lee shore, meaning the wind blows towards the land (rocks).
The coastline is difficult for the forty miles between Padstow and Hartland Point, with even Bude’s harbour, sheltered by the Breakwater is problematic, punctuated as it is by awkward tides and rough seas. In the past, ships needed hobblers (in their small, open rowing boats) to pilot them in to the shore.
There are many wrecks recorded along Bude’s coastline; here are a few interesting ones:
1467 the Raphael – hailing from Bristol, it was homeward bound from Danzig, when it was driven ashore near Stowe House on Duckpool Beach. Locals took £1000 worth of cargo and gear. Was it a wreck or was it plundered? There followed a complex legal wrangle, outcome unknown.
1770 – a small sloop loaded with casks of gin was wrecked – no tragedy fortunately, but the captain gave one John Heard of Poughill a barrel of gin, so a very merry time was had by all, including the captain.
1862 – the Bencoolen. This is probably the most famous of Bude’s wrecks, and the name lives on in the town. The ship was a 1415 ton steamer on its way from Liverpool to Bombay, with a cargo of iron telegraph poles. She was totally wrecked on Summerleaze beach. The captain retired to his cabin, drunk, and drowned with 29 others from a crew of 32.
1894 – three ships were wrecked in one week of December. They were Elter Water of Dublin, Tullochorum of Plymouth, and Robert of Norway. Between 1862 and 1900, there were more than 80 strandings in Bude Bay, according to Bere and Dudley Stamp, and at least 70 lives were lost.
1900 – Capricornio was another famous wreck. She was driven onto rocks near the breakwater on 20th December, and only 2 of the 14 strong crew survived. She was an Austrian barque taking coal from Cardiff to the Adriatic.
1904, Wild Pigeon was carried away from her mooring by the canal when the inner lock gate was broken by a huge wave. Others around this time included Crystal Spring, a coal carrying schooner, and The Llandaff, a steamship from Cardiff which ended up with her bow high in the air at St Thomas’s Pit.
Of course, many ships were not wrecked (but that makes for a less interesting story).
Many of the old sea captains lived in Breakwater Road, for obvious reasons. They would frequent the Jolly Sailor public house (now The Globe).
Around 1800, Captain Moyse traded between Bude and Bristol, using his sloop, Mayflower. John Banbury of Bude owned a ketch called Alford, while John Cornish and later, the Parkhouse family, owned a ship called the Clara May.
The best known ketch was Ceres, which was built in Salcombe in 1811 and lengthened in Stapleton’s Yard in 1868. She was owned by four generations of the Petherwick Family of Bude, finally sinking in the Bristol Channel in 1936, having sailed regularly to continental ports and up to Liverpool.
Ceres sailed for 125 years without drowning a single crew member, which was quite an achievement.