A Life Around the Dart - Tony Hoile
“Early morning tea. Glance out of the window to see the flag on St. Saviour’s Church hanging gently on a windless day. The sun is out and the sky blue - it looks like being a good June day, and a perfect day for the programme of boat trips for Falcon of Dart. Hop onto the trusty bicycle, down to the pontoon and onto my dinghy for the short trip across the River Dart to where Falcon lies moored close to the woods of Kingswear.
It is still early and there is little movement on the Dart and its surface is only broken by the odd Cormorant surfacing after trying to catch fish. Engines are checked and I slip the mooring lines ready to be alongside the Embankment at Dartmouth for the morning trip and to advertise the seal watching trip for the afternoon. The boat is cleaned and the seat cushions are out ready while the coffee brews.
The first group are a private charter of friends and family who have been out on Falcon before, but this time they want to venture up the estuary and take in the tranquillity of the Dart. The passengers are loaded, the safety brief completed and we are under way up the Dart at a leisurely pace, pausing to watch herons and egrets fish, a kingfisher’s iridescent blue flash and one of the seals making its way down on the ebb tide. Falcon makes its way up to the entrance to Bow Creek with frequent pauses for me to describe some of the fascinating history and the many stories associated with the Dart. We moor up, cut the engines to enjoy the tranquillity and the kettle goes on to make the coffee for everyone.
Later, under the cliffs of Coleton Fishacre we can hear the chicks from another peregrine falcon’s eyrie and glimpse the male bird looking for prey. Another 10 days and we will witness the chicks fly for the first time.
The return part of the trip takes us out to the east bank where the tide is pushing the seasonal mackerel up towards the surface and a large flock of spectacular gannets with their russet crowns are plummeting down to catch their food. The feeding frenzy is joined by kittiwakes and petrels scavenging the leftovers. An 11 year old girl comes into the wheelhouse “This is better than DisneyLand” - she’s made my day! Time to get back to port.
This is not a 9-5 job and the next group are celebrating a retirement with a boat trip for colleagues, and a sundowner evening picnic. We cruise around to Redlap Cove through the needle like Coombe Rocks and Dancing Beggars, where Falcon is anchored in the shelter catching the last of the day’s sun while the picnic provided by a local deli unfolds and the wine is popped - we could be in the Med with such an idyllic setting - mind you, it’s not always like this.
We cruise back into the Dart with setting sun in our eyes and entering the Dart is always spectacular between the two castles. The group disembark in good humour and it’s back to the mooring, wash up the dishes and then get the boat ready for the next three days when I have a group of 8 divers with me exploring the wrecks and reefs from Dartmouth - this job is nothing but varied and I meet some great people.
Just for a moment I sit out on the stern and reflect on the day, never tiring of the sight and sounds of the Dart . I steer the dinghy as the sun dips and look forward to a well earned beer in the local pub once ashore before I go home to prepare the home made soup and ploughman’s I provide for the ravenous divers’ lunch.
Being a solo operator - owner, captain, cabin boy, cook, chief engineer, crew and chief accountant make it hard work but it is a great life.”
For more information see www.dartboat.com/skipper.htm
First published May 2009 By the Dart