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Old 22nd August 2009, 10:02
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threefunnels threefunnels is offline  
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Being fairly new to the site, I am only just finding my sea legs ... just spotted this thread metioning Rufus Cotton. Rufus was a childhood chum of my Grandfather Albert Edward Sweetingham and Brother Frederick William Sweetingham. My Great Grandfather Thomas George Sweetingham was Chief Coastguard at Atherfield 1880 -c1890 (see my thread "Hello").

Frederick wrote a diary of his early childhood and I post an extract here relating to Rufus Cotton and some mischief the the boys got up to ....

“Living amongst sea-faring people in such a locality inculcated the spirit of adventure. So it is not surprising that at the early age of ten years, I became involved in an enterprise charged with considerable danger. At this age my younger brother Albert and I, became the joint owners of a dinghy. It was a gift from our parents and going with it we both knew there existed a tacit understanding that we were permitted to use the boat only in fine weather with calm seas. When the boat was not in use it was hauled up, covered and secured well above high water mark at the bottom of the cliff. Whenever we wished to use the boat, some kindly Coast guardsman or fisherman would usually be found to launch it into the sea; or perhaps, there would be a couple of playmates available to do the job. Among these was one Rufus Cotton the hardy son of a fisherman whose father had been an inveterate smuggler before our time at Atherfield, and after we had left when a lifeboat was stationed there, Rufus Cotton Senior was elected its first coxswain. Rufus junior was about two years older than my eight years when one evening at about five o'clock we met near the dinghy and very soon afterwards he induced me to try out a trip together in the boat.

It was not an easy job for two youngsters to transfer the boat from her securing position and launch it into the sea, but we contrived to get her afloat somehow. The weather was not too promising but we were not particularly concerned about this, so we pulled out to seaward for some considerable distance. There we lay on our oars for awhile, while I listened to Rufus who was just in his element and reeling off numerous proposals for our itinerary. The most attractive of his ideas to me was his suggestion to pull out a couple of miles further and haul up a few of his fathers lobster pots, so forgetting the time of the evening away we went. Rufus had often accompanied his father upon a similar operation and knew fairly accurately where the trots were located. It was low water and slack tide when we left the shore and after pulling to seaward for some considerable time we became tired and rested on our oars once again. Personally, I was relying upon my companion to take the initiative in our effort, for Rufus had a fine reputation among the lads of the village, of being an able fisherman and sailor too! Unfortunately, however we had not made any observations as to our true position relative to the shore for our minds and eyes were mainly attracted to seawards in order to locate the fishing pots.

We were by now getting very tired after a somewhat strenuous hour and spells on our oars became more frequent. Then suddenly we both became interested to shoreward and on gazing towards the land we discovered that, instead of being off the coast of Atherfield we were now directly south of the high cliffs some two miles to the eastward while our dinghy was being carried further to the Eastward by the swift tide. With alarm I looked to Rufus for our next move, but his face was inscrutable. Apparently he had not realised, as I had that we were in a serious position and from that moment I assumed the initiative and insisted that we should no longer search for his father’s fishing trots but pull with all our might for the landing place at Atherfield. This we tried to do but it was too late. Terribly fatigued we struggled on while the strong current steadily forced us astern. Mercifully ignorant of the serious danger which now beset us for our little dinghy was only two miles west of the dreaded race off St Catherine’s Point. It was getting dark and to make matters worse a choppy sea and - fresh westerly breeze had cropped up; furthermore we had no lantern or means of showing a lights.

Had we pulled towards the shore instead of trying to reach Atherfield direct it is probable that we might have beached safely somewhere in Chale Bay to the Westward of St Catherine’s Point; but in our anxiety to get home we had not thought of this and anyway, we might have met disaster there. Meanwhile, thanks be to God, my father had already been informed of our predicament by the Coast Guardsman on watch, who evidently possessed a true appreciation of our position. Whereupon the Lariet was promptly put to sea and heading in our direction. Fortunately, the tide which prevented our headway accelerated that of the C.G. Whaler and it was not long after they had set out that Rufus and I could see a light approaching and hear a voice calling my name from the distance. This was the welcome call from my father who had arrived in the nick of time to save two venturesome youngsters from almost certain destruction, for our small dinghy could not possibly have stood up to the turbulent race off St Catherine’s Point.”
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