Was it merely a month ago that I wrote about getting slowly back to work, relaunching a few boats and “Leap of Faith”? Well, “Leap of Faith” sold within the hour, thanks to an avid reader spotting her potential as an extension to his non habitable boathouse.
I could have sold her thrice over in fact, but a person’s word is their bond in my book, and we saved her for the first person who enquired. The new owner is wooden boat mad and one day I would love to show his fleet in all their varnished splendour.
I also wrote that I was searching for the pot of gold deposited by a splendid rainbow….. Thank you, loyal customers for purchasing so many boats in the last four weeks and for writing myriad warm words of thanks, whether you were buying or selling.
Customer satisfaction is the pot of gold and the motivation for our work.
I should have reported on the Return to Dunkirk at the end of May for which boats had been preened and polished during the early spring, when a trip across the Channel still seemed possible, but as you most likely know the 80th anniversary Return has been cancelled due to Coronavirus.
I have postponed my ferry and hotel bookings until May 2021, when we shall hopefully cross with renewed enthusiasm.
“Fleury II” has emerged from Cockwells in Falmouth and is now safely berthed on the Thames near Marlow.
Her story and that of other members of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) fleet can be accessed on the ADLS website.
I should also have been featuring boats due to be on our stand the third weekend in July at the Traditional Thames Boat Festival. Alas even this event has been cancelled. Clearly despite the best efforts of the committee it was deemed unadvisable to proceed with a large gathering.
However, judging by the towpath locally on recent weekends, large gatherings are spontaneously happening in honeypot towns like Henley and the ice cream merchants are smiling widely behind their perspex screens.
Our opening at PureBoating has been greeted with great enthusiasm as families take to the water for some much-needed relaxation and recreation. This is set to be a bumper season!
If you are thinking of booking for a particular date, please don’t wait for the weather forecast. If there is a tempest, we are happy to rebook for you.
We are very much hoping that by mid-July one of the destinations for day boaters out of Wallingford will be The Beetle & Wedge Boathousein Moulsford. There is much renovation going on there at the moment including new landing stages with electric charging points.
We shall be moored there with “Sapphire Rose” which, with a skipper aboard, can take 8 guests with aperitifs, picnics and other gastronautical delights. Tethered alongside will be the new Ceclo (dubbed the Rolls-Royce of pedal boats) which will be available for champagne outings ‘a deux’, ‘tête-a-tête’, and plenty of ‘ooh-la-la’.
The new proprietor of The Beetle & Wedge will have four bedrooms available in the cottage for a weekend getaway, as well as 80 covers inside and out.
At the moment The Swan at Streatley is the only place where you can get food in that area, which can be ordered for eating on the lawns.
It feels like such a treat and I think we are all looking forward to being able to socialise while eating in the fresh air again, given the amazing weather.
However, the weather was in short supply or should I say plentiful, depending on which kind of weather we are discussing. At the latter end of last week, I had a rather wet trip downstream with my colleague Rod, one of our venerable skippers who has also been lending a hand at the yard recently.
I worked the locks while he steered the good ship “Tarbes”.
In between locks I battled with a variety of interesting looking spiders as poor “Tarbes” has lain neglected for a while, and all boat owners know how quickly their cherished possession becomes a home for insects big and small.
The entire 5-hour trip was somewhat surreal. The only other boat we saw was the fuel barge (what a shame he doesn’t sell electricity for recharging as the steam barges did in Victorian times), passing upstream through Mapledurham lock while I was encased in protective steel to keep any passers-by well out of spitting distance. I now know how it feels to be a monkey in a cage!
So busy have we been with boat sales, boat hire and work generally that I have rather forgotten that many people are still working from home, and some friends are already feeling the impending threat of possible redundancy, so one moves between normality and ‘surreality’ from one moment to the next.
Indeed, Gail has been battling with homeschooling while trying to keep up with her administrative duties for HSC. I see emails crossing the ether at strange times and can only admire her stoicism, her patience and her devotion to duty.
No wonder so many families are buying boats in order to have some time away from their home but without actually staying in a hotel or going abroad (how utterly exotic!).
When I am feeling a little despondent or simply exhausted, I head out to Green and Gorgeous to buy flowers from Rachel and Ash’s amazing flower farm in Little Stoke, just a stone’s throw from the Thames.
They are doing local deliveries via their website to take up the slack with all spring and summer weddings cancelled. We would also normally be doing wedding charters, and there is a whole industry dependent on nuptial knot tying, which is suffering drastically.
If you are passing their door or gate, by boat or car on a Saturday, do go and buy some eggs, veg and especially flowers from Green and Gorgeous.
One of the pluses of lockdown has been the increase in free time, which has encouraged many of you to get in contact with us.
Some have bought boats, others have booked charters, some have listed their boats with us for brokerage (we love new stock), whilst others have written letters and made reading suggestions.
I particularly enjoyed this suggestion from John Shirley, whose sign off gives a clear indication of where his enthusiasms lie:
* Thames Vintage Boat Club *
* Transport Trust *
* Starcraft Owners Club *
* Spokes *
* Sustrans *
He suggests we read ‘Voyage in a Bowler Hat’. I've posted John's review of the book below. It is taken from an old copy of The Boatermagazine (Thames Vintage Boat Club essential reading!) (Do join this boat club, even if you don’t have a wooden boat.)
VOYAGE IN A BOWLER HAT BY HUGH MALET 1960, REPRINTED 1985
There are perhaps, old salts and transatlantic yachtsmen who regard messing about in river boats with a certain amount of derision….
“Voyage in a bowler hat” will confound all their prejudices.
In the winter of 1957/58 Malet quits his city job, buys a 15’ bow-sterned boat called the Mary Ann with a 4’ high cabin and a worn-out motor near Harwich. After a certain amount of chilly restoration work he finds himself finally aboard at the end of a long steel cable being towed through the night to the West India Docks.
His subsequent voyage up the Grand Union through tunnels and dozens of locks means meeting “fly-boat” owners who work their narrow boats through the night in their hurry to deliver, as well as all sorts of characters in the locks, shops and pubs along the canal.
At Ellesmere Port a freight forwarder arranges for Mary Ann to be carried to Dublin on a ship. The Shannon being such a big river, fed by all the Irish rain proves to be quite a challenge as he passes through the vast Bog of Allen to be buffeted around on the inland sea that is Lough Derg. There he visits ancient towers and the odd friendly yacht club only to find the boat belittled in the huge lock by the dam at the entrance to the Barrow Navigation. Finally, out in the estuary and round the point with the help of an ancient mariner he finishes the journey in Waterford (fjord of father Odin).
An acknowledged classic in the genre of pioneering canal and river boating, in particular the book opens your eyes not only to other navigations than the Thames but also to what delights might await across the Irish Sea. His bowler hat by the way, had a hole in it but nevertheless, offered good protection from the elements and stones from the hands of urchins on bridge parapets.
ISBN 0 947712 02 X
However more are being listed weekly so if you don’t have the boat you would like yet, then there is still time … What about “Marienna Jacoba”, “Belle Epoque II” or “Jamarc” if you fancy a holiday afloat?
I am excited about my trip to the coast in early July to welcome the latest PTS 26 and I will be talking about this in the next newsletter.
I will also be talking to the youngest member of the Thames Vintage Boat Club committee, who owns the historic motor yacht “Saint Joan”. She, like me, is passionate about keeping alive our maritime heritage and all the wonderful skills associated with boatbuilding.
I note that an increasing number of women are buying boats in their own right, and no one has asked for a while if they could please speak to my boss! It seems times are changing. 😉
We end with a nostalgic note from David Morris, owner of “Kalbarri” who, stirred by last month’s piece on the building of seaplanes on Windermere, sent us a few paragraphs about his personal connection to that story, accompanied by some photos from the book: Wings on Windermere …
"I read with great interest Geoffrey New’s article on Borwicks and the early days of flying boats on Lake Windermere. I was a boy born and bred overlooking the north eastern shores of Lake Windermere and a mass of concrete, which in the 1950s had been turned into a caravan site that my father, returning home after the war from being a farmer in Spain and the Sudan, was asked to manage.
The story starts in 1940 when the government, deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the existing Sunderland flying boat factory in Rochester, looked for an alternative factory site and settled on the quiet and inaccessible for German bombers, shores of Lake Windermere. Against much local opposition from the Friends of the Lake District, the factory was started in 1941 and many tons of concrete poured over what had been farmland for the hanger foundations including a massive slipway into the lake.
A condition agreed upon by the government was that the factory buildings would be removed when no longer required for the war effort. At the same time, a small new town was built at Calgarth for the workers which remained in place for many years after the war and was where 300 orphaned Jewish children, who had been brought over to the UK after the end of the Second World War, were given a chance to rebuild their lives - the subject of the BBC film "The Windermere Children".
Short Brothers’ White Cross Bay factory built some 37 Sunderland Flying boats and repaired another 25 during its lifetime.
When it came to honour the government's commitment to the local population to dismantle the factory, the buildings were “recycled”. One went to the K shoes factory in Kendal, another to Newcastle as a bus depot, yet another to become a chemical works at Kirby.
With buildings gone, that left the mass expanse of concrete. This is what confronted my father when he was invited to turn the whole area into a caravan site which he continued to manage and develop until retiring in the 1970s.
For me it was the perfect place to keep my Firefly sailing dinghy in the summer and to drive my go-cart around in the winter when the caravans had all gone for the season. I had a summer job there cleaning the lavatory blocks in the morning and emptying the dustbins before I joined the Royal Navy - happy days - I got to know the site very well!"
Please do continue to write, email and call me with your stories and your photos. They are a well-loved part of our monthly newsletter.