Monday 14 August

Today we did what we have long promised ourselves to do on the first opportunity, that is we hired a fishing boat & went for a sail in the bay. But the sea was so calm that great stretches of it had a dull surface, & our sail made no attempt to lift the boat. Our boatman, had to take his oars, & for amusement we lay back & watched the tawny sail flapping against the sky, & tried to make the man discourse of the sea. He was induced to tell us how, last winter, he had been capsized in his herring boat; how he had been rescued as by a miracle, as he clung to the keel; how he would be off on the same toil next month, & how he would make one of the crew of the seine boats which lie waiting for pilchards in the bay. At this moment the monotony of our slow progress was relieved by a sudden exclamation of porpoises; & not far distant we saw a shiny black fin performing what looked like a series of marine cartwheels.

We sailed into the midst of a whole school of these gymnasts who came so near that we could hear their gulp for breath before they dived again. Porpoises remarked the boatman, are a sign of pilchards in the bay.

This evening we observed two or three long black boats rowing out beyond the point; later we saw the dotted circle of a net lying on the water between them. This was surprising because the seine boats seldom take up their places before September, & there is rarely any likelihood of a haul before October.

However as circumstances were favourable to an after dinner walk — to tell the truth our water supply has failed, & we had to dine at the Hotel, we strolled up to the little white house on the crest of the hill, where the hewer sits with his eyes on the water below ready to discover the floating cloud of pilchards. The boats lay directly beneath this point, & a little group of people was clustered round the hewers seats talking the delightful vernacular of Cornish fisher folk. They talked of "tucking" & "shooting the seine" & interpreted the shouts of the men in the boats, who were trying it seemed, to drag their nets clear of the rocks. Then we looked towards the island, a vague shape, of neutral tint, & saw a light burn suddenly from the point. This was some signal to the boatmen apparently, which was answered by fresh cries, which had a wild sound in the falling dusk. The good people chatted of last years haul, & the mens wages, & who owned this boat, & who that; & meanwhile exquisite scents of warm escalonia hedges were blown from the wood behind. St Ives from this point & in the dark is divested of detail; you see only the promontory of the island running out in to sea, & the exquisite curve of the bay. The land has lost its opacity, & seems a vague mist like substance starred with lights, & circled by pale & luminous waters which still mirror the light of the west.