First Packet post for 160 years sets sail from Falmouth and Penryn

Falmouth Packet: Wayne Booth sets sail from Falmouth aboard the Shira. Wayne Booth sets sail from Falmouth aboard the Shira.

A 118-year-old boat, carrying the first Packet mail to leave Falmouth for 160 years, bid farewell to the area last week as it set sail on an historic crossing to France.

The “Shira”, captained by Wayne Booth, is a gaff-rigged cutter set on a Falmouth Quay Punt – believed to be the selfsame vessel captured by local artist Henry Scott Tuke in his 1894 painting “The Missionary Boat”.

On Wednesday, June 20, she left the port of Penryn weighed down with letters and “smuggling” booty, collected from a gaggle of well-wishers gathered on Exchequer Quay.

Penryn mayor, Gill Grant, was amongst those who braved the atrocious weather to wave goodbye to Shira and the team who will travel with her to Audierne.

As well as Wayne, this close-knit group includes Shira first mate Jim Bertrand, skipper of the support boat Julian Gray-Read and his first mate Jack Fergus.

Unfortunately, Wayne’s dog Joanah will only be able to go as far as Mousehole on the epic voyage, because the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will not allow her to travel to France and back on a private vessel.

On Thursday, Wayne and the team met with Falmouth School art teacher Lisa Pearn beside the Packet Service memorial on The Moor.

Miss Pearn hand delivered her year eight class’s letters, bound for the twin town of Douarnenez, where they will be distributed in the hope of garnering pen pals for the Falmouth students.

Wayne, who set up non-profit organisation The Mayflower Trust in 2006 with the express intention of promoting Britain’s maritime heritage, said: “The whole idea is to teach people about our maritime history and there can’t be anything more important than our Packet mail.

“We have been given an AIS [Automatic Identification System] transponder by the company that makes them – SevenStar Electronics – so people will be able to go on a website called marinetraffic.com and that will show you exactly where we are.

“Every commercial vessel in the world has one to avoid collision if the radar is not working very well,” he added.

With Packet pen pal letters safely stowed away in a traditional muslin mail bag, Wayne – dressed in full period costume – made his way to Custom House Quay, where Falmouth mayor Geoffrey Evans was awaiting his arrival.

Mr Evans had a special piece of “mayoral mail,” addressed to the Lord Mayor of Douarnenez, to hand over to Wayne before he bid the team a safe journey onwards.

He said: “They will look at these pictures in 100 years time and say that is what they were doing in 2012. It’s fantastic.”

Next stop for the “Penryn to Audierne Smuggling Tour,” as the journey has been named, will be the Golowan Festival in Penzance and the Sea Salts and Sails Festival in Mousehole before the team take to the channel for their 500 mile round journey to Northern France.

Packet readers can track Wayne’s progress by logging on to www.marinetraffic.com after the team have set sail on July 7 and searching for “Shira”.

Alternatively, visit The Mayflower Trust’s Penryn-Audierne Smuggling Tour Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TMTPAST.

The Post Office Packet Service dates to Tudor times and ran until 1823. Originally, the Post Office used "packet ships" to carry mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies and outposts.

Falmouth was a major port or "station" from which packet ships would depart. The Packet service and the packet ships gave their name to this newspaper.

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