Archive for February, 2012

Friday, February 17th, 2012

 A few years ago, when I was writing for the wonderful but sadly now defunct Traditional Boats & Tall Ships (before the publisher lost interest and sold it to an outfit which didn’t have the knack) the then editor, Stephen Swann, originally an Essex boy from Brightlingsea, told me that his first sortie into boats was a teenage lark with a couple of others in which they pulled a long abandoned hull from the mud of an Essex creek and, after countless man-hours – or man-months – eventually got it sailing.

 There are a lot of muddy creeks and abandoned hulls in Essex and such stories are probably not unusual. Another arises, on a slightly bigger scale, in the case of the oyster dredger, Pioneer, which was, and is again, a skillinger, one of those deep sea boats so named because they worked off the Dutch island of Terschelling in “the hardest and cruellest trade that Essex man ever worked”.

 It also was a pretty hard job getting her 69 ft long hull out of the cloying mud near West Mersea. But boys will be boys and three middle-aged boys – with, it has to be said, a fair amount of professional boat building nous between them – did eventually extract her and rebuild her to be sailed, worked and maintained for posterity.

 If you’re quick, you can read all about it in the January/February issue of Anglia Afloat.

 But then in March/April, you can read about two north Norfolk brothers – together with associate trustees on the trust now formed for the purpose – who are rescuing wooden boats for posterity even before they get as far as settling in the mud. The point is that wooden construction with all its (expensive) craftsmanship and its (expensive) ongoing maintenance is pretty much a thing of the past for working boats. So the wooden crab boats and whelkers and most other types have bowed to the wave of soulless but cheaply efficient plastic hulls which now do the work. If it isn’t for the efforts of the likes of this Rescue Wooden Boats trust to restore a few survivors to seaworthy condition – and to taken them and some children and anyone else interested – to sea, all that the future will have is photographs. Check out the photographs here on the landscape page of the sort of thing getting the treatment. Among them are the Liverpool class lifeboat, Lucy Lavers which saw service in north Norfolk at one point although her first job after completion was to join the “Little Ships” in the Dunkirk evacuation. Another is the whelker,  Bessie, which for many years worked from Wells-next-the-Sea until the whelks more or less disappeared in the ’70s. They don’t make them like that any more and they won’t, either.