The joy with any vintage boat is of course partly in the historic research. Sometimes this proves to be an impossible task. However on this occasion the current owners, and indeed saviours, of Lavinia B have discovered a great deal about the past of this lovely, elegant bijou of a motor sailing vessel. Built of pitch pine on oak on the Wirral as hull number 408 in 1937 there was initially some hope that she might qualify for membership of the prestigious ADLS for Dunkirk Little Ships. However Lavinia B spent most of her early life in Suffolk and Essex whence she was moved to the Shotley Point area to avoid the blitz and where she was used for aircraft spotting some 5 to 10 miles off shore, reporting to Clacton Observer Corps. Many years later in the mid nineteen sixties, still at Shotley, a plywood box was added to raise the headroom in the forward cabin. A sympathetic restoration has seen this removed and the foredeck reinstated together with the original tabernacle, mast, spars and rigging. A suit of sails included in the sale means that she can now be used again for sailing.
It would seem that Hornby built the boat for Olive Blanch Lavinia Gilbey, wife of Vincent Gilbey who was at that time a member of the Royal Harwich Yacht Club, hence the east coast location. How lovely that the name has stayed with her throughout her whole history.
The original Certificate of British Registry (Blue Book), now in the possession of the present owners, shows that Olive retained the boat for 21 years and sold it in1959 to Ivan Gammage, Branch Manager, who subsequently sold it in 1966 to David Polley, Company Director. David only retained the boat for one month and then transferred ownership to Peter Benham, solicitor, who kept her for 3 years passing on ownership in 1969. This is where the Blue Book comes to an end, and registration lapsed. The boat appears to have been retained in the Shotley area until 1990 having been owned by several people including John Halls in 1970; Pat Spalding, noted to be related to Bob Spalding the offshore power boat champion; Sean Rae, the well-known opera singer, to 1985; John Bolton from1985 to 1988; Maria Stripe from 1988 to 1990 and Vernon North (Swanage Pier Master) from 1990 to 1992. It was from Swanage that the restorers and current owners rescued the boat initially hoping of course that she was in fact a Dunkirk Little Ship.
From the outset, David’s plan was to enlist the help of another, but when his first recruit, daunted by the task ahead, jumped ship, progress was slow. The boat languished for a while in a corner of Dennett’s yard in Chertsey, but with encouragement from the yard owners David enlisted Trevor, often to be seen around the yard at a loose end, with the tempting offer of becoming a co-owner. Driven by Trevor’s enthusiasm the project then took on a new lease of life. Between them David and Trevor made significant progress in the restoration, mostly returning the boat to its original configuration and using as much of the original pine timbers as practical.
The first job was to strengthen and stiffen the hull, many of the original ribs having cracked over time but fortunately the original hull planking was sound throughout and constructed of one continuous length of planking from stem to stern. New oak ribs were streamed and bent into shape over a temporary former and then screwed into place alongside the original ribs.
The cockpit was extended by moving the midships bulkhead forward to give more room for seating in the cockpit while retaining enough length in the berths to allow two people to sleep on 6ft berths. The Victory Blake toilet has been restored and is located in the under the forepeak as is the chain locker. The forward beam with the tonnage inscribed was retained while other beams were replaced and reinforced where necessary with marine ply for strength.
The original engine (Brooke Marine) was missing, so the search was on for a small economical marine engine. Luckily, a new Kubota diesel (the type often used for refrigeration units on lorries) was found. This bare 662cc 3-cylinder unit required marinising, which was completed early in the project; many parts, and helpful advice, came from Lancing Marine. With no direct mechanical drive available, the raw water pump is connected to the cooling water circulation pump drive pulley, and a small heat exchanger provides an efficient engine cooling system. A flywheel housing cover, drive plate and a second-hand gearbox completed the engine conversion.
The entire rebuild was carefully documented and this photographic and descriptive text is available for any interested party.
All this was good enough to earn runner-up rosettes at this year’s Thames Traditional Boat Festival in two restoration classes; The Freebody Trophy awarded for best amateur restoration and the Bill Gardham Trophy awarded for restoration of all motor cruisers in both cases losing only to the overall winner of ‘best in show’.
If you would like to be present on Lavinia B at the next TTBF please make an appointment to view Lavinia B on the Thames near Chertsey under her canvas winter cover and gleaming in the winter sunshine.