Heart of the South Hams, Devon




Billy "Scratch" Hitchen

In February, Billy “Scratch” Hitchen came along to tell us about his fascinating life and his recent autobiography.

Hating school (when he bothered to attend!), Scratch ran away to sea aged 14, signing on as cabin boy on SY Norian, which had called into Salcombe Harbour for repairs on a passage from Scotland to London.  Little did he know then that he had started a journey which, in the next 45 years, would take him through tempest, typhoon, hurricane, calms, fogs, snows and close to shipwreck and see him rise from cabin boy to skipper.  By the time he was 19, he had sailed round the world five times.

Finally returning home in 1973, he spent the next three decades fishing in every sea area from Dover to Rockall.

His book, “Scratch – A Salcombe Boy”, took him five years to write, without reference to any written document or diary, and he told us that the first draft, in impeccable hand-written capital letters, was one enormous sentence, with no full stops or other punctuation!  Luckily, his sister Sylvia offered to type and edit it for him and it was further tidied up by Jenny Brown before publication.  He took an Instamatic camera with him on his travels and brought back some lovely photographs, some of which he showed us using an ancient slide projector.

Scratch has obviously put his heart and soul into this book and, as he told his story, you couldn’t help but be drawn to his charismatic personality and inspired by the sheer determination of the man.  Do read it, if you haven’t already – it’s available in local shops and Malborough Post Office.

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