Striped Tops – The Breton Shirt

How many striped tops can one woman own?  I am having a wardrobe sort out  and seem to be the owner of at least 10. Long sleeved, short sleeved, zip up fleeces, all striped.

Must be my love of all things nautical but where did the striped top originate?


The striped Breton top that  we know  today came into being shortly after the 27th March, 1858 Act of France. This act introduced the navy and white striped knitted shirt as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany.

brittany seamen
Brittany Seamen

The shirt is originally known as marinière or matelot. The design featured 21 stripes, one for each of Napolean’s victories.

Since 1889, the top was manufactured by Bretagne, Tricots Saint James in wool and cotton for sailors. It then become popular with Breton workers, for its ease of wear and practicality.

The official striped navy and white shirt became more generally a working mariner garment as it was picked up by men of the sea; seafarers and sailors across the region of Northern France. The distinctive block pattern of stripes on the French striped shirt made them easier to spot in the waves. The top usually has a boat neckline and long sleeves.

Saint James Binic II sweater
Saint James Binic II sweater

The transition of this iconic clothing from traditional working class to female fashion was the introduction of more casual wear to women’s wardrobes. This was required at the time due to the increase in popularity of seaside destinations like Saint Tropez.

After a visit to the French coast, Coco Chanel introduced the design to the fashion world through her nautical collection in 1917.  Chanel designed  the shirt to be paired with long flared trousers. As the style adapted during the 1930s, the upper class would pair the top with a cravat, blazer and shorts

Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, Audrey Hepburn and James Dean all made the shirt popular.

audrey hepburn
Audrey Hepburn

Trend Leaders

The design is now synonymous with chic Parisian style. Each year the shirt is recreated in collections by fashion houses like, Balmain, Gucci, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier.

jean paul gaultier
Jean Paul Gaultier

Jean Paul Gaultier has become a modern day ambassador of the style. He makes his press team to wear a version during his runway shows and the designer heavily features the style in his work.

 The Breton is a way of wearing nautical and furthermore is still as French as garlic. No doubt there will be a few more them joining my collection. Any excuse to go shopping.

The Deck Shoe

The Deck Shoe. I bet that you have no idea that fashion’s most iconic pair of shoes was inspired by a dog. Yes, you have that right. Deck shoes come to us thanks to our four-legged friends.

The world and his wife own a pair of the comfortable shoe but very few people know its interesting history. The world’s first deck shoe was invented in 1935 by Paul Sperry. Himself a sailor, he was looking for a non slip solution to the shoes that all boaters wore on slippery decks. He was inspired by his dog Prince’s ability to run nimbly over the ice and snow without slipping, so he took a penknife and carved cuts that mimicked the grooves on his dog’s paws into a rubber outsole. Brilliant!

Inspired by dogs paws .


The Modern Deck Shoe

My choice of footware these days is the ever so comfortable. I can no longer teeter around in skyscraper toe pinching “tart shoes” for 8 hours on end. Just the thought these days make my bunions scream in submission.

So my current wardrobe of shoes consists of flip flops and numerous pairs of deck shoes  in varying forms of decay. New deck shoes are an anathema. Deck shoes are  tatty, covered in salt with a collection of interesting stains, worn down, faded and with mismatched laces. However these days they  are no longer just worn at sea.

Deck shoes have become more and more popular in this day and age and they have emerged as a standard fashion of foot wear all over the world. This is due to their authenticity, different range of colours and their uniqueness. It is for this reason that many shoe makers have raised their bars by coming up with new trends to keep up with the competition in that industry. These shoes are available for all genders and they are worn by both the young and old alike.

 Today, you can find them in hundreds of fabrics, colours and styles, and everyone from kids to adults wear them.

 Thanks Fido…..

stripe shoe

A Bridge Over Troubled water

Tower Bridge, built in 1892 from  over 70,000 tons of concrete. Clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone. This is to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a pleasing appearance.

Plan A

Along with some friends we planned a trip on the Thames with the idea being  to cruise through central London to the Thames barrier and then back to St Katherine’s Marina at Tower Bridge for the evening.

We set off on the ebb tide from Brentwood Marina heading west, down river. A slow meandering journey enjoying the sights.

All is going well as we get to Westminster Bridge where all hell is let loose. We find ourselves dodging huge commercial barges, high speed water taxis, huge RIBS and a plethora of wide beam cruise boats.

We live on the South Coast and so we are use to the commercial traffic in the Solent but this is a navigation nightmare. However we make it to Tower Bridge and onto Greenwich at which point the tide turns.

All plans to reach the Barrier are now scuppered as what I can only describe as a tsunami hits us. We have forgotten that it is a Spring tide,  one of the highest tides of the year and there is no slack water in the Thames. It goes from quite calm to boiling surging frothy eddys in a blink of an eye.

River Thames
River Thams

Plan B

We make a decision that as we have an hour before the lock at St Kats Marina opens we will take refuge on the inside of one of the water taxis pontoons. OH BIG MISTAKE! So strong is the flow of water that it rips our central cleat clean out of the boat. The spring line it’s attached to snaps back like an elastic band just missing hubby. We think we would be safer in the midstream so we make our way back out into open water and slowly back to Tower Bridge.

St Katherine’s Dock is just below the bridge and has a few mooring buoys to tie up to and wait for the lock. The marina is tide dependant.

St Kats Marina
St Katherines Dock

I gingerly made my way to the bow armed with a rope and boat hook. The tide was racing in. Wearing a life jacket made it difficult to lie on my front over the bow of the boat in order to lasso the buoy and I dropped the rope. Hubby unaware of this is at the helm fighting the current and decides to get closer. He swings the boat around unaware of the loose rope, which promptly wraps its self around the prop and cut the engine. We are in a 8 knot tide, no power and heading for the buttress of Tower bridge. Not good news.

The Rescue

Remember what I said earlier about 70,000 tons of concrete and granite?

Our friends, sense we are in trouble and put out an emergency MAYDAY call. The next thing we knew 2 Thames police boats turned up with full blues and twos. “A fouled prop” I shouted. The entire stretch of the Thames between Limehouse and London Bridge was brought to a complete standstill. We were thrown a rope, which was thick enough to pull the Queen Mary and towed into St Kats lock where we could untangle the engine.

Thames River Police
Thames River Police

As with all boating incidents, spectators had been bused in. Bear in mind that  it was August bank holiday and there were hundreds of Japanese tourists on the bridge capturing us on every smart phone imaginable. People are 5 deep on the lock side and all armed with cameras. Facebook and Youtube are going to be busy tonight night. We are going viral!

I thank the officers and apologise for the inconvenience. Traffic is still stationary and backed up on the river.

“You will be amazed at the amount of fouled props we get darlin’” says the officer. “All sorts of rubbish gets thrown into the river, you’re lucky that it wasn’t a steel cable or a body! Mind you we do get a few idiots that get tangled up with their own rope. Bloody amateur sailors”.

Redfaced, I just didn’t the heart to tell him.


Swinging from the Hook

Swinging from the hook is a colloquial saying meaning to Drop Anchor
Anchors are a pretty important part of any boat. They keep it in place out in the open sea. They bring up mud and discarded shopping trolleys at inopportune moments and anchor lights are designed to discharge all batteries before daylight.
The vast majority of anchors that you see on the bows of boats in the marina are woefully inadequate.  Your £200-£400 anchor is going to be holding your £25000-£500,000 boat, so spend more money if you need to.  Most boats come with rubbish anchors, even new from the manufacturer!
Anchoring is a form of art and needs practise to get it right.

Choosing your Anchorage

You cannot simply lob the hook out willy nilly where ever you feel like it. The south coast waters are littered with potential hazards such as under water cables and submarine barriers. Marine protected areas are a considerable “verboten”
Ideally, your anchorage should be as flat as a mill-pond as any swell will make it extremely vomit making.  If the boat starts rolling, things seldom get better.  Get the heck out of there  and seek  alternative anchorage.
The sea  has  challenging bottoms. Mud, clay, weed, sand and rock. You need to choses an area where you anchor will bite. The best surfaces are sand or mud, which allow the anchor to dig in deeply. however a nightmare to get the blasted anchor out of again. Rock and weed or shingle will provide a less secure holding and will require either a good anchor alarm or someone on constant lookout.


Nothing to do with partner swapping! All boats will swing as the wind or tide changes. Your boat should have room to swing through a 360 degree arc, without hitting  nearby boats.
As you approach a busy anchorage, every eye will be on you, praying that you are not going to invaded their swinging circle. Mind you after a couple of stiff Bombay Sapphires, anything is possible
Don’t be shy about picking up and moving if you come to rest too close to another boat.  You will know if you are getting too close as there will lots of bad-tempered shouting and your neighbouring boats will be chucking every available fender in your direction.

Not Enough Scope

An anchor functions by digging in while it’s being pulled along, horizontal to the sea floor.  For this to work, there needs to be enough rope or chain out that the angle of the force is mostly along the floor, not up and down.
It’s surprising how many times you see someone throw out the anchor and then tie it off as soon as it touches the bottom.  How could a 15 kilo anchor hold a 1 tonne boat by just resting on the mud?

 Tide and Wind

In areas with significant tides, you need to have a general idea of the current state of tide and the highest and lowest tide during your stay at the anchorage.
Check the highest tide, nothing more embarrassing to find you don’t have enough rope to let out as the tide rises.  Also check the lowest tide and make sure you’ll still be floating!  Living life waiting for the tide to come back in at a 45 degree slant is not Fun. Champagne glasses simple slide off the table
Often, if the wind starts blowing hard, it will also blow in one direction, so you can forget about your swing circle but you will need to let down more weight. When the wind starts whistling in the rigging at 3am, you’ll go up top to find everyone in the anchorage letting out more scope in their underwear and headlamps.


If you’re anchoring with all chain, then you have a very strong but rigid system that will shock load the anchor. Your boat will snap back and forth on the rope with a large clanging noise. At  3am it’s like Chinese water torture and you will spend the night talking to the big white telephone in the heads.
Snubbers are not antisocial people but energy absorbing pieces of rubber you thread onto your mooring lines. Well worth the money.
If you avoid the  mistakes above, you’ll be able to have many confident, sleep filled nights knowing you’ll be right where you expect to be when you wake up in the morning.
Finally, we were leaving a popular anchorage on a sunny afternoon. We spotted another yacht leaving but he had not hauled his anchor in completely. It was swinging  precariously off his bow threatening to puncture his gelcoat.
I stood on the topside yelling and pointing “your anchor, your anchor”
He just calmly turned round and gave me the 2 finger salute, not quite sure why. You just can’t help some people.

Grab Bags

Anyone who knows me, recognises  I have a bit of a Mary Poppins handbag. Enormous, bottomless, full of impractical  “crap” and completely useless in an emergency.

No one wants to abandon ship, but knowing what to pack in  grab bags could one day make a short stay in a life raft more bearable and might even save your life

You need to chuck out the sticky fluffy boiled sweets, the crumpled tissues, odd loose change, leaky biro and pack these essential items instead. Remember you will never ditch in a warm mill-pond calm sea under cloudless blue skies. It will be dark, cold, blowing a hooley and hissing down with rain.

Essential Items

Handheld VHF
Essential to communicate with the rescue services.  A DSC-enabled VHF with integral GPS would be a great help. Waterproof and floatable is useful Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Navigation tools
A handheld GPS will let you communicate your position accurately to a potential rescuer, as well as work out your drift rate.  A hand bearing compass is a good back up. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Reading glasses
Essential to peer at the tiny buttons on the radio in the gloom – Cheap, flexible plastic ones will do. Poundland do a nice range. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
A good torch is important. Something waterproof and powerful. Essential to illuminate tiny buttons on radio. Pack spare batteries, cold water is notorious for draining power.. A strobe function is particularly useful. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Make sure it’s sheathed or is a safety knife . One of those multi tool knifes are useful. The type boy scouts use to get stones out of horses hooves. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Hmmm. Remember they are classed as EXPLOSIVES. A decent strobe torch or one of the newer LED flares are a better idea. Not a good idea to hang them around your neck.
Some sort of high-energy food, like chocolate, as well as something that releases energy more slowly, like a fruit/nut mix, is good for keeping energy levels and spirits up. Keep them in the bag. Hanging them around your neck will make them go soggy.
Foil blankets
You may look like a ready basted turkey but they are essential for helping cold people warm up. They are not expensive, but could keep hypothermia at bay.
Personal effects
What is the point reaching terra firma if you can’t drive home, unlock the front door once you get there or being unable to call a taxi due to lack of funds and phone? Include your house/car keys, wallet, credit cards and mobile phone in the bag whenever you set off somewhere. Common sense but I guess most of us forget. I know we do.
A small pack-towel to dry off with, a hair brush and decent lippy, well have you seen some of these hunky lifeboat men??
Last but not least, a neck brace, you have some considerable weight around your neck.

Distress Flares

We  need to replace our out of date flares. No, not my 1970’s purple Crimplene trousers but the distress flares on the boat.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Oh its no problem buying a new set, any chandlery will help you part with serious money for some. Its the disposing of the old ones that creates humungous problems. Quite simply no one wants them.
Flares contain explosives. Therefore, once  they are past their expiry date it is essential that out of date flares or Time Expired Pyrotechnics (TEP) are disposed of carefully.
For the benefit of non boaties, flares come in various forms

  1. Hand held in Red and White
    • bright enough to blind you at close quarters and will give you nasty first degree burns if you are not wearing asbestos gloves and a welding mask. The oven gloves from the galley just won’t cut the mustard.
  2. Parachute flares
    • does exactly what it says on the tin. Shoots a large blob of white hot burning material into the sky which gently floats to earth on a parachute.
  3. Smoke flares
    • yes you’ve got it. Creates a huge amount of foul smelling bright orange smoke. If the wind blows away from you all well and good. However, if it blows towards you, the smoke takes on the attitude of mustard gas. Your eyes will stream and you will be too busy coughing your socks off to notice the approaching helicopter.

It’s illegal to let them off in anything other than an emergency. So you can’t stock pile them for bonfire night and you can’t use them at Glastonbury to find your way back to your tent. Well not unless you fancy having the local SAR’s helicopter give you serious grief. You can’t let them off at sea, the same thing happens with the SARs helicopter but you will  be joined by 2 or 3  lifeboats. The Coastguard is now seriously pissed off

The Big Bang.

A few years ago when we were still novice boaters, we needed to dispose  of some flares. We knew that the coast guard were uninterested so popped into the local police station to ask for some advice.
Remember, they are classified as EXPLOSIVES.
We said to officer that we had a canister of flares in our car boot and could they advise us on how to dispose of them safely. The scenario that unfolded was pure comedy.
The looks on their faces was of horror. It was as if  they had been told we were part of a terrorist cell about to blow Fareham sky high. 2 officers emerged with large fireproof gloves and one of those long grab poles, the type park keepers use to pick up litter. They proceeded to pick up each flare and drop them gingerly into a lead lined box before taking them away.
I  expected to be surrounded by a SWAT team and in addition for  Fareham High Street to cordoned off with an unexploded bomb warning!
Today we no longer have the problem and have replaced all our TEP’s with LED laser flares.
Actually, we do still have a small canister of flares in the garage.
Bring on New Year fireworks and sod the Coastguard.

Signal Flags

Come on own up.  Who has a set of pristine unused signal flags languishing in the bottom of a locker?
Other than the yellow Q flag, how many of the others do you use?  Who can actually  put the correct letter to any of them because quite frankly I don’t have a scooby!!
We only ever use them to “dress” the  boat at special occasions when we festoon the top side with yards of them. I have no idea if they are even the right way up.
The designs of the individual flags are now lost in the mists of time. They were developed separately for various  naval signal codes over the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The most famous of all, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was sent by  Nelson, from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence on 21 October 1805.
The signal is still hoisted on HMS Victory in Portsmouth on Trafalgar Day every year. Today however the signal flags are displayed all at once, running from fore to aft, rather than hoisted sequentially from the mizzenmast.

Flag Semaphore

Other flag signalling techniques include  semaphore. This  is the telegraphy system conveying information at a distance by means of visual signals with hand-held flags. Information is encoded by the position of the flags.  It is still used by the Navy even today.
As a Brownie in the 1960’s, I was taught semaphore. Not sure what use it was to a five year old in land locked Nottingham. I just thought it was akin to those rubber stick insects competing in the rhythmic ribbon twirling gymnastics event at the Olympics.
Before semaphore the Admiralty use a system of shutters on a large frame. A series of observation towers passed the message on.
But here is a humbling thought. The next time you are on hold for 30 minutes  listening to “please hold your call IS important to us”, remember this.
In 1796 a  message could be sent from Plymouth to The Admiralty and back to Plymouth with  a reply  in 15 minutes.
No on-hold “Greensleeves”, no dodgy mobile signal, no satellite delay echo and no “please leave your message after the beep”. Just great commmunication
pass me those flags……..

Rule Britannia

September means The Last Night of the Proms and a rousing sing song of Rule Britannia. A spot of outstanding patriotism that brings The Albert Hall and Hyde Park to a Union Jack waving frenzy of solidarity.
What I didn’t realise is that Rule Britannia is the last part of the Fantasia on British Sea Songs, a vital part of the Last Night.

Sea Songs

This is a medley of British sea songs arranged by Sir Henry Wood in 1905 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar. One of the most famous bits is of course the Sailors hornpipe.
It comprises nine parts which follow the course of the Battle of Trafalgar from the point of view of a British sailor, starting with the call to arms, progressing through the death of a comrade, thoughts of home, and ending with a victorious return and the assertion that Britain will continue to ‘rule the waves’:

  • Bugle Calls
  • The Anchor’s Weighed
  • The Saucy Arethusa
  • Death of Tom Bowling
  • Sailors Hornpipe
    • The dance that gets faster and faster and the audience clap along, trying to keep up with the orchestra. The proms version has an extra beat written into it right at the very end so that the orchestra always finished first. It catches out even the most dedicated promenader every time.
  • Farewell and Adieu, Ye Spanish Ladies
  • Home Sweet Home
  • See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes
  • Rule, Britannia!

Rule Britannia  originates from the poem  by James Thomson and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. The song is a reference to the Command of the sea status which the British Empire had throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. It is strongly associated with the Royal Navy, but also used by the British Army.

September 1982

I was very lucky and earned the right to be a promenader in 1982 – the year the Falkland War ended. Patriotism was at fever pitch. Solidarity was the name of the game. We took the roof off the Royal Albert Hall.
I will leave you with a recording of that night – I sang my socks off.
Last Night of The Proms – 1982

Mae West

The Mae West is a common nickname for the  inflatable life preserver because the great American Actress was famous for being  well endowed in the chest department. Therefore someone wearing an inflated life preserver often appears to be as large chested as the actress.
Believe me when I say I don’t need any help in that department!! They are not the most flattering nor comfortable of items to wear.

Modern Lifejackets

There are various types of lifejackets on the market with specific features aimed at different sports. As a result, Lifejackets come with or without harness attachments or with different types of firing mechanisms and buckle fastenings. The most important aspect of a jacket is its buoyancy rating which are measured in Newtons
Boring scientific fact alert!
Ten Newtons equals 1kg of flotation. Newton ratings are relative to the weight of the intended user.  A level 150 N lifejacket designed for a child or young adult will not sufficiently float an adult. When you buy for an adult you must get a level 150N lifejacket designed for an adult’s weight.
The other vital part of a life jacket is the crotch strap. Again not the most flattering or comfortable things to wear. They are designed to stop the life jacket from torpedoing off and over your head on inflation.
On a recent trip to the Channel Islands I needed to go to the heads. Unfortunately I picked the precise moment the boat hit the Alderney Race and took on the attitude of a washing machine. I slithered down below and took on a brace position to stop me head butting the walls. I tried to disrobe forgetting about my jacket straps and consequently was left with shorts at half mast around my knees whilst I clung on for dear life.
Note to self: – Undo them first!

To wear or not to wear – that is the question.

Ask any racing yacht crew and all of them will say that they never wear a jacket. Its just too dangerous for them. They catch on equipment and impede movement. If they fall off they just hope the next carbon fibre catamaran doesn’t mow them down as they pass doing 40knts.
Since most recreational ribs owners  seem to think they are exempt, every weekend they pile a zillion kids on a rib, fire up two  150hp outboards and head off into a packed Solent. The only life jacket  worn is by the family labrador who with all due respect is the strongest swimmer there!!!
Anyone sailing with us is instructed in the wearing and the use of a lifejacket. I try and curb the urge to recite in my best British Airways trolley dolly voice ” Place jacket over head, pass the tapes around the body and tie in a double knot in the front and do not inflate until well outside the craft.”
Please remember the mantra of the RNLI – Lifejackets, useless unless worn.

Ceremonies At Sea

Ceremonies at sea take on all forms, shapes and sizes. These days people give birth and get married in all sort of places. Death is a little different as its a bit more regulated. But the choices are huge.
Is being at sea one of them?


I cannot think of one good, sane reason why anyone would choose to give birth at sea on purpose. Its traumatic enough on terra firma!

  • Seasickness mixed with morning sickness, oh please shoot me now.
  • Frequent trips to the boats tiny heads while you are the size of a whale, I don’t think so.
  • Cravings for pickled gherkins and coal whilst miles from anywhere, Ahhhhhh!!

Nope.. stay on land and pass me the hard drugs and gas. The little blighter has been swimming in water for last nine months it can wait a little longer to go back to sea.


Wedding ceremonies at sea have long been associated with the idea that any captain of a ship has the powers to marry. That is in  actual fact complete tosh.
Appealing though it may be, the myth of a ship’s captain presiding over nuptials of couples has for most of the last century been pretty much just that. A myth.
Most cruise ships make a killing out of onboard weddings but it all has to be done in the presence of an ordained minister of religion
A shame really  as I have this  vision of Roger standing at the bow in full flowing cassock yelling across the marina “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…..”


In Nelson’s navy, burial at sea was  a necessity. In modern Britain, it is perhaps more of an emotional impulse . But whatever the motive, burial at sea carries on, just as it has done for hundreds of years and is very much a going concern.
In Nelson’s day they sewed you up in your hammock, with the last stitch through your nose. This is just in case you are merely unconscious or blind drunk. A couple of cannon balls are placed at your feet to take you to the bottom as  floating body was considered bad form.

Modern Funerals

Today, you go to meet your maker in a sturdy wooden coffin. This also is heavily weighted down to make sure your last resting place on the seabed remains stable and secure. Everything is carefully regulated by the Marine Management Organisation.
Today, there are three designated sea burial sites, marine graveyards, as it were. one off Tynemouth in Northumberland, one off Newhaven in East Sussex, and one three miles south of the Needles, the extreme westerly point of the Isle of Wight.  It is at this last site that the vast majority of sea burials take place. The exact location is secret but it’s an area free of strong tides, fishing and dredging. A comforting thought as you sail past on route for a vacation in France! Not sure if a floating coffin shows up on AIS.
Virtually all sea burials are carried out by a specialist Devon-based company, which makes the funeral voyage from Lymington or Keyhaven on chartered cruisers, with the coffin on deck under a flag.  A white or red ensign for the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy and the Union Jack for everyone else.
Brings a whole new meaning to the favourite funeral song..
“I did it my Way”