Come Home, Sailor
by Eric Kemp
Following his book Yes Dad, I Want to Go to Sea!, Eric Kemp continues his story with his career change from lengthy deep-sea
voyages, to a more family friendly lifestyle working from Penzance for the
Trinity House Steam Vessel Service. It was while relieving crews and servicing
lighthouses and lightships on board THV Stella, that Eric witnessed the notorious Torrey Canyon oil-tanker disaster near Land’s End.
By now well established in his hometown of St. Ives, Eric was elected onto the
Borough Council, where he helped win public access to previously secret
committee meetings, but soon realised he was considered a bit of a maverick
within the system. He also now became Captain of the Queen of the Isles, one of the two ships running between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, a post
he held until the ship was sold.
At this point Eric became a self-employed Trinity House Pilot for the port of
Penzance; purchasing his own boats and employing crew members to help. His
expertise in handling shipping within and around Mount’s Bay is reflected through his own experiences and those of the characters on
board the ships and boats arriving at the port.
Also appointed the Managing Secretary of the St. Ives Lifeboat Station, he
recounts in well-remembered detail a number of the amazing rescues and sad
tragedies that took place with both the inshore and offshore lifeboats during
the period of the 1970s and 80s, including occasions that were commended with
Now retired, Captain Eric Kemp can look back at a long and fulfilling sea-going
career where, whether working with captains, coastguards and harbour masters,
or rubbing shoulders with royalty, he has always responded to those around him
with good grace and humour.
Eric Kemp was educated in St. Ives schools and Truro School in Cornwall. From here he followed his father into the Merchant Navy, joining HMS Worcester for cadet training in 1953.
He became an apprentice with the Ellerman and Bucknall Steamship Company, later
becoming a second officer with the Palm Line. During his years with these two
companies he travelled around the world.
As described in this book, Eric achieved chief officer status with the Trinity
House Steamship Vessel Service, and finally became a master on the Isles of
Scilly Steamship Company’s ferry RMS Queen of the Isles. He also later served with the Carisbrook Shipping Company based on the Isle of
With his wife Jill and their two children, he has remained based in St. Ives,
becoming a Trinity House pilot for Mount’s Bay and a Cornish fisheries officer in MAFF. He has also been the St. Ives
Lifeboat Secretary and a Liberal councillor. In the year 2000 he was Chairman
of the Newlyn Fish Festival and is a member of the well-known Mousehole Male
Voice Choir. In his role as a local Methodist preacher he is the Senior Steward
of the Carbis Bay Wesley Methodist Church.
With his odd spare time Eric helps at the St. Ives Museum where he can put his Merchant Navy knowledge to good
use, and gives talks to various local societies about his experiences at sea
and working on the Cornish coast. He also wrote his father's life story: Captain John Kemp MBE - A Master Mariner of the 20th Century.