Living Cornwall Editor
It has been said that "the man who goes to sea for pleasure would go to hell for a pastime" – but what of the man who writes about the sea for pleasure?
Stewart Lenton likes nothing more than to idle on a quayside – and his pastime has now grown into a productive retirement project which is sure to generate a great deal of pleasure for those who also enjoy gawping at boats.
This week sees the republication of The Fishing Boats And Ports Of Cornwall, a near-comprehensive study of the peninsula's working vessels.
"More than 98 per cent of Cornwall's fishing boats are in the book," said Stewart, with barely-suppressed pride. "And one of the interesting things is that the total number of boats has remained fairly static since I began investigating them back in 2006, although the overall tonnage has reduced."
At just over 200 pages and produced in a convenient ring-binder design, the book, which Stewart has sub-titled An Alternative Way To Explore Cornwall, lists all the working vessels from Sennen to Scilly, Newquay to Newlyn, Mullion to Mevagissey Portscatho to Polkerris, and many, many more.
As well as colour photographs of vessels large and small, along with vital statistics and the year of build, it also provides a history of each of the 46 ports. "Labour of love" is an overused definition, but in this case it is perfectly apposite.
So what makes a man who has enjoyed a long and successful career as a pilot with the RAF and for various commercial airlines decide to spend his retirement traipsing around the ports of Cornwall with a notebook and camera?
"It all started by accident while I was volunteering as a watch-keeper at Rame Head," said Stewart, who lives at Down Thomas near Plymouth. "It began as an aid to recognition and just grew and grew. Then the maritime museum in Falmouth found out about what I'd been doing and insisted I complete the research and publish the findings."
Joined by his wife, Liz, who has supplied much of the background text, Stewart set about cataloguing and photographing toshers and trawlers, crabbers and long-liners. Some are captured at rest, tied up to a quayside, while others are caught at sea, going to and from harbour or pulled up on shore.
A volume for unashamed boat "anoraks", Stewart and Liz hope their endeavours will also provide a starting point for locals and visitors who want a purposeful method of exploring the Cornish coast. And for those so inclined, it provides the perfect I-Spy book for big boys.
"First and foremost it has been a fascinating project and tremendous fun," said Stewart. "We've visited places we didn't know existed and couldn't even have dreamt of – places like Pendeen Boat Cove and Port Quin. Our knowledge of Cornwall has increased no end."
Although an experienced sailor with an offshore skipper's ticket, he had no ambitions to write any type of book, let alone one about working boats. However, since embarking on the Cornish project, Stewart and Liz have completed three further titles, The Fishing Boats And Ports of Devon, The Fishing Boats And Ports Of Wales and What Is The Meaning Of The Letters And Numbers On Fishing Boats?
The latter is the result of another period of intense research, incorporating a full list of ports of registration in the British Isles. From A (Aberdeen) to Y (Youghall). Local interest will inevitably be drawn to PW (Padstow), SS (St Ives), SC (Scilly), PZ (Penzance), FH (Falmouth), TO (Truro) and FY (Fowey).
With Cornwall, Devon and Wales under their belts, Stewart and Liz are considering whether to turn their attention to the fishermen, boats and ports of Dorset.
The Fishing Boats And Ports Of Cornwall by Stewart Lenton is published by Channel View Publishing at £15. It is available in shops, through www.fishportboats.co.uk or direct from the author at Channel View, Andurn Estate, Down Thomas, Plymouth PL9 0AT.