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Yard news from HJ Mears: a new Beer lugger completed and a 16ft launch started


Alex Mears writes to say that November saw the completion of a new Beer lugger by Seaton company HJ Mears Boatbuilders.

She’s built in larch on oak, and has over 7ft beam on her 16ft length – so she’s very broad.

Alex says: ‘All of our boats are beamy because they are beach boats. To make the task of beach launching easier you want fairly flat bottomed, beamy boats with substantial bilge keels. Hence all of our boats fit this spec for the beaches around here – namely Beer, Seaton, Sidmouth, Branscombe and further afield.’

He reckons The red top strake on the new boat will help distinguish her during the close racing at Beer.


I asked whether she will win in the racing… ‘Well there are carvel boats, with larger sail sizes that in addition have a longer waterline length – so she could win, but only in handicap races. The Beer luggers are actually quite a wide ranging collection of boats and people, and Hannah will fit in happily somewhere amongt the fleet.’

‘It’s great to be adding to the fleet of Beer luggers and continuing the traditional boatbuilding in a traditional craft. We are lucky to have appreciative customers who ultimately keep the tradition going by paying our wages!

‘She will be moored at Lyme Regis and compete with the Beer Luggers on Monday nights during the summer.

‘The owner is someone who has followed our work for many years and previously owned a Ron Lavis built clinker boat. Ronb was an Exmouth boatbuilder who trained with my grandfather.

‘The appeal of the Beer lugger for this particular owner is the flexibility- he can sail her, he can fish from her, he can go potting for lobsters with her, or go for picnics on the beach, etc. She is multi purpose and the history of these boats has proved that strongly.’

The third boat is of the latest mahogany on oak Mears 16ft launch after ribbing. As Alex remarks, she’ll need a lot of riveting, but the ribbing was fun, as it always is.

‘Ghost of Dunkirk’ appeal to restore the legendary lifeboat Cyril and Lilian Bishop

If like me you were intrigued by this poster included in my post of photos from Hastings beach the other day, the story is explained in this Vimeo video.

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop is a lifeboat that saved 34 lives while operating at in Hastings during the 1930s and then spent four days and four nights rescuing British and French soldiers from the beaches during the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II.

She disappeared from history for a while until a phone call from a Belgian resident alerted Hastings folks ‘Dee-Day’ and ‘Tush’ that she still existed and was in a French boatyard – so they made plans to bring her back to Hastings.

The lifeboat was named after the philanthropist who paid for her to be built, and her husband. Fitted with a 35hp petrol engine, the new boat was Hastings’ first lifeboat to have a motor and radio communications.

However, there was no tractor, and so a lot of helpers and sometimes horses were used to get her up and down the beach.

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop is said to be best known by the nickname ‘The Ghost of Dunkirk‘, which she earned during the Dunkirk evacuation in late May 1940, when she was one of the shallow draught vessels used to get troops off the beach and out to the waiting ships.

It was said that to the soldiers queueing to leave that she appeared like a ghost amongst the smoke and mist during the evacuations.

After doing her duty at Dunkirk the boat was hosed out to remove sand. A hole was found in her bow, and there were two bullet holes. Sand was found in her fore locker, and her mast head light was also full of sand.

Cyril and Lilian Bishop continued in her RNLI service at Hastings until 1950 when a new lifeboat arrived.

Dee-Day and Tush plan to restore her and put her on display in Hastings Old Town.

Follow her progress on the Facebook page Cyril Lilian Bishop and Twitter @cyril_lilian1.


A challenging new weblog: The Life of a Boatbuilder


This intriguing new weblog Life of a Boatbuilder is probably not for the faint-hearted. It celebrates struggle and mess, and shows a mighty zest for life that you have to admire. Even if you don’t – or don’t want to – agree immediately with every word, this woman boatbuilder who calls herself a ‘planker’ because that’s what she enjoys is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

I wonder where she will go and what she will plank in years to come? It’s probably best to start following her progress from the beginning

My thanks to the folks who have pointed this one out – including Chuck Leinweber of Duckworks. Look out for Duckworks’ whizzy new website btw…

Old boats, traditional boats, boat building, restoration, the sea and the North Kent Coast – Gavin Atkin's weblog