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From a very early age I was utterly obsessed with ships and the sea. Bearing in mind that I come from a particularly landlocked part of Cumbria, no one in my family could really account for it. They looked on with bemused interest as I spent my days up in trees pretending it was the rigging of a ship or floating pieces of wood down the river that ran by our house in order to recreate some race or naval battle. At first my nautical obsession was very general, although I always favoured sail over power, but at the age of 12 my interest was put sharply into focus when I received a book entitled Clipper Ships by David R MacGregor. I read the book with my usual interest until I reached the following passage. A recollection by Frederick Paton. who had served as midshipman aboard the tea clipper Flying Spur; after grumbling a good deal about how his captain did not drive her hard enough, he proceeded thus: 'One morning Flying Spur was snoring through the NE, trades under all sail to royal staysails, with her lower yards just touching the backstays. At 11.20 am a sail was sighted on the horizon ahead. This proved to be the Glasgow clipper. Lochleven Castle. 80 days out from Rangoon to Liverpool. At 1 pm the Flying Spur was up with her, and as we went foaming by, the Lochleven Castle's main topgallant sail went to ribbons with a clap of thunder, and her mainsail split from top to bottom; at the same moment our cook with all his pots and pans was washed from the galley to the break of the poop. An hour and a half later the Lochleven Castle was out of sight astern.'