Meeting Robert Manry – A Personal Memoir
by Miles Tredinnick
The first “hero” I ever met was an American guy named Robert Manry. These days few remember him, but on August 17th, 1965, Manry stepped off his tiny sailing boat Tinkerbelle onto the steps of Custom House Quay in Falmouth, Cornwall, having completed a solo 78-day transatlantic voyage from Falmouth, Massachusetts. At the time, Tinkerbelle was the smallest boat to have made the crossing (only thirteen and a half feet long) and I, amongst a crowd of thousands, was (for once) in the right place at the right time.
As a schoolboy living in Falmouth, the Manry crossing had been big news all summer. Throughout July and August the BBC news and the local Westward TV station issued regular bulletins of the latest developments of this extraordinary sailor tacking his way across the Atlantic to my hometown. Some days (long before satnav and tracking devices) he disappeared altogether and we wondered whether the voyage had been too ambitious and the sea had finally taken him. But then an RAF Shackleton would track him down and the flame of interest would be re-ignited.
Manry sailed out of Falmouth, Massachusetts on June 1st at 10.30 in the morning. 78 days later, Manry passed The Manacles near the Lizard (the most southerly point of England) on his way into the port of Falmouth, Cornwall and the history books.
The night he arrived was as exciting as if the Beatles had turned up in town and played the local ABC cinema. It was a beautiful, warm evening and my mum and dad had the black and white TV switched on. We watched as various aerial shots of Manry in Tinkerbelle surrounded by an armada of small boats who had all gone out into Falmouth Bay to meet him, flickered across our screen. What was even more amazing was the fact that I could look out of my living room window across Gyllyngvase Beach and see the boats for real. For a ten-year-old boy this was about as exciting as it got. The news right on your doorstep.
It wasn’t long before I realized that this sight wouldn’t stay there forever. I suggested to my mother that maybe we should drive to Pendennis Point, a headland just below Pendennis Castle, and get a better view. We jumped into the car.
It was a big mistake; Pendennis Point was absolutely packed with people who had all had the same idea as us, but two hours earlier. There was no way you could even get a place to park along the congested Castle Drive let alone secure a vantage point. The TV news earlier had said that Manry was going to step ashore at the Custom House Quay just off Arwenack Street. There was nothing else for it. We turned the car around and headed downtown.
When we arrived, there were even more people, if that was at all possible (later press reports said that 50,000 people turned up to welcome Manry). By some miracle we found somewhere to park and set off on foot to get as near as possible to the quay. It was so full of crowds that we were just about to give up and return home when my mother bumped into an old friend who was a “Special Constable” with the police. He was one of many trying to control the crowd and took us inside a building above a car showroom where there was a superb view looking directly down on to Custom House Quay and the thousands of people. Talk about a ringside seat. We couldn’t believe our luck.
We waited with about ten other people in that small room for Manry to arrive. It was a warm evening but there was little wind. In the end, I believe Manry accepted a tow from harbourmaster Frank Edwards, so that he wouldn’t disappoint the thousands of people who had turned up to see his arrival.
Then the armada slowly sailed into view from the Carrick Roads and around the edge of the docks. It looked like hundreds of small craft, yachts, and motorboats all criss-crossing and escorting the tiny Tinkerbelle into port. Flags were waved, people cheered and some of the large ships in the docks (including a large white cruise liner) sounded their Klaxons in joy and celebration at this remarkable man and his extraordinary voyage.
Manry then stepped ashore to be greeted by his wife Virginia, daughter Robin and son Douglas, who had flown over from Willowick, Ohio to be there. Falmouth’s Mayor Samuel Hooper, resplendent in his scarlet robes and golden chain of office, officially welcomed the lone sailor to the town as the St Stythians Silver band (one of Cornwall’s premier brass bands) performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. A shaky Robert Manry, wobbly from 78 days at sea, got down on all fours and kissed the ground in gratitude for his safe journey.
Next we went out into the narrow Arwenack Street and waited for Manry to drive by. We waited and waited and then a black police car drove through with an officer repeating over a loudspeaker that Robert Manry would be following two cars behind. This was helpful information as people got their cameras ready to roll. Unfortunately by the time Manry’s car arrived there was so much excitement and pushing amongst the crowd that few managed to get a clear shot of the man as flashbulbs fired off in every direction but the one intended.
And that was that; people started drifting back to their cars, homes and hotels. One of the most exciting nights in the town’s history was over.
But Falmouth had gone “Bob Manry mad” and there was more to come.