As Passover and Easter tick by with less emphasis on renewal and more on loss and sadness, it is hard to hang onto one’s usual sunny optimism.
It seems somewhat unfair that the river authorities should have deemed the river a “no go” area given the amount of fresh air it offers. I can understand that they may not want people to go through locks since clearly if there were any accidents some official would be required to risk their health.
However pottering about in a back water or just heading out for half an hour in a skiff or even on a motorboat, without going through a lock, seems legit to me. I know that my friends on Windermere are enjoying some recreational canoeing and even speak of yachts and motorboats venturing forth.
Hey ho. The joys of the armchair or even the deckchair are a rare delight at this time of the year for those of us usually frantically preparing for relaunch so let’s sit back and enjoy the extra reading time.
My bookcase holds hours of contemplative reading born of centuries of appreciation of the River Thames and other waterways. Given that the earth is 2/3rd covered in water (as I explained to my grandchildren in an online Zoom science session) literature abounds.
Then there is the lure of the books I have collected on houseboats and boat-houses such as ‘The Houseboat Book’ by Barbara Flanagan, or ‘Rock the Boat’ published by Gestalten.
Just opening any page at random in ‘Water Light Time’ by David Doubilet sets the heart racing as evocative images draw one in.
And then there are the wonderful tales of derring do or downright dangerous ocean crossings including the opportunity to revisit the old classics such as ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe, which I covet in its orange and white Penguin edition, purchased as were so many of my books, from Diana Cook at Way's Rare and Secondhand Bookshop in Friday Street, Henley on Thames.
I love poetry too, and want to share with you a poem by Jane Draycott from her Tideway collection published in 2002 by Two Rivers Press, when I seem to remember Jane was poet in residence for a while at the Henley River & Rowing Museum:
No 3 from Uses for the Thames
The test was to dip the needles into the dark of the swallowing mirror
and by pulling to row the weight of your own small self through the silvery jam of its surface
trailing behind in your passing your very own tale, knitted extempore from light
and then to lift them, feathered, ready for flight.
By Jane Draycott
You are probably wondering whether HSC and her sister companies will weather the storm financially. We too have been asking that question.
However almost thirty years in the business have taught me that there are lean times, and while one is never as prepared as one would like to be, we do have a buffer and will be bouncing back at some point as you clamour to get your boats back on their moorings.
Our advertising is still bringing in enquiries and although going to marinas, private boathouses or docks is clearly out of bounds for now, I am happy to do FaceTime or WhatsApp viewings at the Beale Park yard and its annexe at Barracks Farm.
The coots building their nest, oblivious to the outside world, remind us of the option to make the river home.
If you are contemplating living on a boat to escape the confines of life in a flat or in a crowded city, depending on how much personal space you think you need, we do have a couple of options for escaping afloat; "Jamarc" being one of them.
If Chris Evans can broadcast his morning breakfast show from a Bates Starcraft, which he and his wife purchased for family cruising on the Thames, then clearly one can run a business, explore our waterways, cross the Channel or even just relax and let the world go by as I used to do with "New Venture" several moons ago.
We were mere boat dwelling weekenders unlike Eva, who at that time used to work at Boatique and also as crew on some of our charters; she now lives with her boyfriend James on a narrowboat in oh-so-trendy Hackney Wick.
Under normal circumstances Eva works within Portcullis House, but during quarantine she works for the Lib Dems as Communications Manager for the office of Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, from the comfort of her home afloat.
Speaking of adventures, every classic boat we sell has a history, sometimes quite well documented, often less well as owners didn’t see their boat necessarily as special, nor would they have imagined its future.
Earlier this month a regular reader sent us a photo of “Nerissa” in Gibraltar port, where back in the day she is said to have been running contraband between Morocco and Gibraltar.
You may remember that this boat was sold to a French owner a few years ago. He renamed her “Karaboudjan” in honour of his boyhood hero Tintin. The “Karaboudjan” is the English drug smuggling ship in the Tintin story “The Crab with the Golden Claws”.
Her original name was “Margo III” and her owners would hardly have envisaged that their family motor yacht would still be cruising nearly a century after they commissioned her from Bates in Chertsey.
While reading Quarto magazine, sent to me by another avid newsletter reader and customer from Windermere, I enjoyed the story of the restoration of a Borwicks motor launch owned by the Windermere Jetty and currently in restoration there. “Penelope II” is described as “a Brazilian mahogany carvel planked vessel” built in 1930 by Borwicks Ltd of Bowness.
It was originally built for the Bentley family who owned the boat for many years before donating it to the Windermere Nautical Trust in 1986. They used the boat mainly to follow the Royal Windermere Yacht Club races.
The launch was built between the two World Wars in the style of a traditional launch but with the convenience of a modern motor engine, which was more easily maintained that the steam powered boiler which was still an option for a new owner at that time. Indeed in the same year, 1930, Borwicks built a similar boat called "Winander" powered by a steam plant.
Last year here in Henley, we replaced an original Gray engine in "Viola" (1932), a slightly younger sister to "Penelope", with a Ford Watermota from the late eighties. This boat is actively for sale through HSC with offers invited.
She sits on a Henley town centre mooring under her full-length cover, where she is available for all to see in an unaccompanied viewing. "Penelope" will be available for trips on Lake Windermere once the restoration team at the museum have finished their work.
So many events have been cancelled for the coming summer, including the late May Return to Dunkirk, which is the highlight of their ownership for many members of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.
As I write we still have the rescheduled Thames Valley & London Boat Show in the diary for late June at Penton Hook Marina, as well as the Thames Traditional Boat Festival here in Henley in the month of July.
We are getting a couple of calls a day from vendors keen to get their boats onto the market. I try to keep the website updated with these new listings. "Neptune" and "Daisy" are the latest and while quite different I think they illustrate well how varied our business is. Both are charming in their own way. "Daisy" is at Beale Park already and we await the arrival of "Neptune" as soon as the lockdown eases.
I had an exciting call yesterday from someone I haven’t set eyes on since our meeting at Goodwood Revival in 2011, when we sold not one, but two Andrews launches to this gentleman.
He is contemplating parting with the 30ft slipper stern launch named "Golden Glory", which he confesses to have admired rather than used. Once it arrives with us we will slip it into the lake at Beale Park to check that it is still in tip top condition, before inserting it into our slipper collection alongside "Blighty" and other slippers we have for sale.
If you think you could be interested in owning "Golden Glory", please flag up your interest and we will let you know as soon as she arrives.
Although Ellie is currently furloughed, she is hoping to resume work in late May.
As her recent tenancy has come to an end, she is looking for a new place to call home from the end of May throughout the summer.
If you live within easy cycling distance of our yard at Lower Basildon (e.g. Goring, Streatley, Cholsey or Wallingford) and have (or know somebody who has) a spare room or an annexe available during that time period, please do let us know, so we can put you in touch with Ellie.
Thank you so much in advance.