The Smack Boys of Ramsgate

We are sitting in Peter’s Fish Factory on Harbour Parade in Ramsgate eating our fish and chips with our new friends Graham and Alison. The walls of the shop are covered in posters identifying almost every fish that exists, not only in English, but German and French as well, so that we are well informed on what we might be eating. Graham and Alison are our temporary neighbours on the pontoon in the marina, and have just returned from France in their tiny 18-foot boat that they have had for forty years. They live in Gillingham but keep the boat here in Ramsgate. We think they are terribly brave to cross the Channel in something so small, but they tell us that they do it every year. Nevertheless, Alison confides that she was a bit nervous this time because of the fog and the number of ferries that follow the same route to Calais and Boulogne. They are going to stay one more night on the boat and go home in the morning.

Clock House, housing the Ramsgate Maritime Museum.

We walk back to our boats past the impressive Clock House housing the Ramsgate Maritime Museum, along Harbour Parade, passing the many bars that are now starting to fill up with young folk dressed in their evening finery. It is Saturday night after all. One group sings raucously at the top of their voices to celebrate one of their friend’s birthday. Further along, someone drops a wineglass that shatters into pieces on the footpath. Briefly, people look disapprovingly, then resume their conversations. There is a brashness about this part of Ramsgate, and we are not sorry to eventually reach the quieter Military Road running alongside the marina, old fuddy-duddies that we are. On the other side of the road we notice a brick building with the intriguing name of “The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys, Founded 1881”. Is it some sort of corrective institution for heroin addicts?, we joke. Later Mr Google tells us that it was built to house the young apprentices of the fishing smacks that were based in Ramsgate. Many of the boys were from the workhouse and some were as young as ten. We tried to imagine what life must have been like for children forced to work in a tough industry at such a tender age through no fault of their own. The past is not always a golden age, as some current politicians would like to think.

The Ramsgate Home for Smack Boys.

The next morning, the marina is a hive of activity. The weather forecast is good and racing is planned. Many of the boats deserted the night before now have their crews on board, each wearing the coloured t-shirts specific to their team. We have a leisurely breakfast in the cockpit in the sun and watch the goings on. Then the wind drops right off and there is a hiatus while the teams consider what to do. We talk to one of the ones next to us, and they offer to help with our foresail problem. The genoa halyard is too tight, they tell us, meaning that the rotary mechanism at the top isn’t turning properly, instead dragging the halyard around with it, then jamming. We loosen it off, let the halyard unwind, then rewind the genoa, and retension the halyard. It seems to be fixed, and we thank them gratefully. Shortly, the wind comes again, and they are off, jostling with the other boats to leave the marina. We hope they win their race, but don’t see them again.

Relaxing in the sun in Ramsgate Harbour.

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