‘I had a beautiful yacht… ‘

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Photos of Aerial by Phil Smith

Phil Smith has written to show us these photos, and to tell us about his airborne lifeboat Aerial, which he had in the 1980s in New Zealand.

‘In the early eighties I had a beautiful yacht called Aerial. She was 23 feet long, around six foot of beam, floated in ankle deep water, and went like the wind.

‘Her name derived from the fact that she was an airborne lifeboat designed for use in rescuing downed aircrew from the North Sea during World War II.

‘Built of double-diagonal mahogany on dozens of thin oak ribs with epoxy dynel sheathing, she was a strong but slippery boat and surprisingly seaworthy. Stability was provided by a heavy steel quadrant shaped centreplate and on either side of the centrecase were the tangs from which the parachute harness was attached.

‘The airborne lifeboats were designed by British naval architect and maritime legend Uffa Fox to fit under the hull of a medium bomber.Within the hull were numerous watertight lockers which, as well as providing buoyancy, contained food, water, first aid things and sailing equipment.

‘The boat was dropped by parachute to survivors in the sea who would rig the mast and rudder and sail to safety.

‘On my first day out I was apprehensive about going alone. It was 10 knots, gusting to15, and Aerial looked like she could be a bit of a handful.

‘A very experienced yachting friend, just returned from a solo voyage from Tahiti, came and officiated. To my horror and delight he sheeted her hard in and, with four bums on the gunwale and my friend grinning wickedly at the tiller, we took off up the harbour in a cloud of spray.

‘She tacked perfectly, sat nice and straight downwind, didn’t slam into chop and never looked like putting a spreader in the water though we tried hard!

‘Because of the strong tides and sometimes fluky winds in the area I fitted a 4hp Evinrude to a light transom bracket and she became unstoppable under power.

‘A relative of Uffa Fox’s Flying 15, Aerial was rigged like a small trailer-sailer, and while simple to launch she was a swine to retrieve due to her length and lack of any keel.’

Thanks Phil – that’s a super story. I wonder whether any of these conversions are sailing now?

Follow the link for more on airborne lifeboats at intheboatshed.net.

PS I’ve been sent these photos of an airborne lifeboat looking very like Phil’s being carried by a US Coastguard plane. My informant, a kind chap called Eric, has no idea where he found them, so if anyone feels I have infringed their copyright in putting these small images us, please contact me and I will take them down immediately. However I would be grateful to be able to leave them in place – the airborne lifeboat story is an important one and should be remembered. Thanks Eric!

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3 thoughts on “‘I had a beautiful yacht… ‘”

  1. The picture of the boat under the US bomber reminded me of a story I heard that a 6 Metre was taken from the German Navy in Kiel as a prize at the end of WWII.

    There were a number of boats that found their way back to the UK, plenty of 30 Square Metres etc., but the Six had her counter sawn off and – I presume – her keel – and was then hoisted in the bomb-bay of a Lancaster bomber and flown home.

    If I remember correctly the boat was subsequently bought and restored about ten years ago by a well known Six afficionado from Fowey.

    Dick J

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