Little Bathtubs, made of ticky-tacky

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A forest of yacht masts

Plastic boats at Sunderland Marina, photographed by Rob Bishop, and taken from Wikipedia Commons No, I don’t have anything against Sunderland or Sunderland Marina in particular

I greatly appreciate  traditional boats but perhaps even more I admire the brave and determined souls who use and maintain them even more. Many of them maintain important relics of history, and there’s no doubt that they lend huge character to many of our sailing areas. Where would the Broads be without its elderly sailing and motor cruisers, and wherries? What would the East Coast be without its smacks, bawleys and barges? Falmouth without its oyster fishery?

Nevertheless I sail a small plastic boat. Why? Because I kind-of have to – with my family commitments and not especially generous earnings, if I owned a wooden boat I’d struggle to maintain it myself and would not be able to afford the bills that come the way of friends who own such craft. And I’d go sailing less often than I do, and that can’t be allowed to happen. And I suppose one can say that the deck of a plastic boat makes a good vantage point for looking at real boats…

So plastic boats have their uses, and thank heavens for them – heck, if you want a measure of how morally corrupt I am, perhaps I should mention that I’m currently in the market for Laser for my kids. It’s not quite what I would choose, but it’s what they want and no doubt I’ll end up using it too…

But I can’t help sympathising with the author of this entertaining and generally accurate little ditty, whoever they are. My thanks to Bob Telford for passing it on!

Why isn’t it quite accurate? First, it doesn’t mention the important fact that most modern sailing yachts seem to spend their time motoring, not sailing. Second, I do wonder whose kids read Ransome these days? Certainly not mine…

Little Bathtubs (to the tune of Pete Seeger’s hit Little Boxes, which was in fact written by Malvina Reynolds)

Little bathtubs in marinas, little bathtubs made of ticky-tacky,
Little bathtubs at the quayside and the owner in the bar,
There’s a white one and a white one and a white one and a white one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all have roller-reefing and self tailing winches,
Arid they all put a little reef in in anything above a two,
There’s a Jeanneau and a Beneteau and a Moody and a Westerly,
Aud they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all have weatherfaxes and global positioning,
And a radar and a little screen that helps you to plot,
There are are gadgets and gizmos which show where the wind blows,
And the skipper is just a passenger ’cause the Autohelm does the lot!

And the owners are all builders or accountants or solicitors,
And they all drive down from Loughton on a Friday afternoon,
And they slip into their blazers and their Henri Lloyd moccasins,
For an evening at the yachty-clubby and they all look just the same.

And the owners all have wifeys who hate to go sailing,
Except around the Greek Islands where they get a good suntan,
And they all sit in marinas and drink up their G&Ts,
And they all come out of Billericay and they all look just the same.

And they all have little children who love to go sailing,
But they’re all sent away to boarding school where they never get the chance,
So they read their Arthur Ransome and dream of great voyaging,
In a pretty little wooden cutter, off to Holland or to France.

Little Bathtubs in marinas, little bathtubs on a swinging mooring,
Little bathtubs at the quayside and the owner in the pub,
There’s a Jeanneau and a Beneteau and a Moody and a Westerly,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

20 thoughts on “Little Bathtubs, made of ticky-tacky”

  1. I don't know about the rest of you guys but I've done maintance on both. If you are going to race – you are going to work.



  2. The original song made some good points about the essential futuility of much of modern life although with the usual tedious left wing slant. This reworking makes some good points too but seems to contain too much snobbery. Why does it matter where the owners and their wives come from? Not all modern technology is the work of the devil. Should we return to the good old days of wounded dogs and damp seaweed? Incidently children at any decent boarding school would have sailing as an option.You should make yours read Ransome, Conrad, Childers, Griffiths and Slocum. Speak roughly to your little boy…

    1. I don't want to talk roughly to my 16-year old any more often than is strictly necessary, despite Carroll's tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

      He goes to a Northern comprehensive, by the way, and he's even more left inclined than I am.

      We'll just have to disagree about the tediousness of the left viewpoint, for it seems to me that much of our best humour and entertainment is anti-establishment and liberal in intention.

      I think it's worth pointing out that one of the targets this song's author has in mind is the London commuter, among them the City bonus boys. I guess that might be a kind of snobbery, but it's one that doesn't bother me as much as some others!

      The original Little Boxes is and entertaining and catchy piece of work that has been re-worked many times for different purpose. To my mind that's one of the marks of a good song, and Malvina Reynolds deserves great credit for writing it.

      If it has a fault it is that it's misunderstood. Reynolds went hard at the controlled, drab, suburban lives of many people working for dull corporations and living in homes supplied by other dull corporations. While I can understand the irony that nice, educated people who live in these places enjoy the song and made it a hit by buying Seeger's records, in the end I'm just a little uncomfortable. Isn't it just a little unkind to poke fun at innocent people who probably don't realise that the joke is on them? It was (and is) in order to find an escape from all that bland corporate monotony that people go to the folk clubs, festivals and concerts including Pete Seeger's to seek a more human form of entertainment.


  3. It was the specific target of Essex builders that I didn't like. I think City bonus boys mostly buy wooden classics with gleaming brightwork to race in the Med. I like Pete Seeger but he wanted an axe to cut Bob Dylan's cables at Newport in '65 even though he tapped his 'moccasins' to 'Mr Tambourine Man' the year before. I certainly like this site. The clip of loading a Mack truck in Haiti was brilliant. To declare my interests I have a plastic Signet Super 20 (about 1980) and a 4 Ton Hillyard (1935).

  4. I have built a large number of grp boats and many people would never have been able to take to the water without this amazing material. I have owned several grp boats and now own a beautiful [to me at least] wooden boat and several grp dinghies. I could never have done so without grp.

    We all create boxes for ourselves, or use existing ones, mostly without realising it, just to be able to cope with life; sometimes it is good to break out but few can do that for long.

    So we should be careful not to take ourselves too seriously, because that is what would make those verses hurtful, as distinct from poking fun at ourselves.

    However, I do think that bureaucrats, legislators, designers, builders and others involved in the making of things that we use in modern life must take responsibility for the boring sameness that they inflict on us; whether it is 'Standards' or 'Trends' or 'Style, or 'Fashion' that is the excuse, suely they have it in their power to help us mortals break out of some of these damned boxes,

    1. You make two useful points Bob. The first chimes with mine about the usefulness of GRP boats.

      On the secone, well the powerful and influential could do these things, but it's often not good for business.

      I think generally both private and public corporations seem to work like packs of wolves, all travelling in roughly the same direction. It isn't always good business to innovate or do something different, whatever the political dogma that attaches itself to business claims. As a business, engineering and medical journalist I've many times come across the adage that being first into a market isn't necessarily the most profitable thing to do, not least because the cost of persuading the world to accept change is so high. And so corporations tend to incremental improvements – a little like boat designers 😉

  5. That is not Apple's or Dyson's experience; although I have heard the same opinion; yes the innovators do take a hit, and sometimes fail where others overtake. However, that is mostly an accountants view and not the entrpreneurial view. Just look at Cornish Crabbers…

    There, I have started something now, which is probably for another forum.

    1. There are always exceptions in life, and Dyson and Apple might be said to be two of them. But the slick sameyness I object to is still everywhere, and is generally sold to us by often big businesses. Houses, cars, films, reality TV….

  6. just don't buy it…. 30 years ago standards in this country were appalling; then people learnt how to complain…. and quality improved dramatically.

    Designers like Conran introduced good design in the 60s, at reasonable prices through Habitat. Inevitably they have been sucked into the mediocratising machine, but we should demand and support innovation and good design. People love to hate Ikea, but still go there for neat design at reasonable prices, providing you can find your way out of the place…..Pity about Sinclair….

    As long as we go out and buy bad design and quality at rip-off pricesit, it will dominate. Unfortunately we will always find excuses.

    My Kitchen fitter says that he hates me as I am his only customer that manages his jobs; interesting though that he's excited about the finish and some of the items we installed. I think that we all learnt something, through not accepting the standard or easy options….

    1. Yersss… But most people are completely happy with it! Often it's the only option that's readily available.

      And, then again, there is the danger of expensive failure that seems to be higher if you buy anything that's 'different'. I can't tell you how often I've come a-cropper because I bought or did something 'different', and only later found out why I was one of so few. There can be good reasons for going by the bland route.

      And yes, Rogers deserves considerable credit for his Contessas. A 32 has even made it into


  7. I forget to mention the RCD; is it a force for innovation and quality or is it setting standards in stone, that will stultify innovation and change; under their rules and procedures, it might have been very difficult to introduce grp, and it is certainly going to be more difficult in the future to introduce other new materials that we must use to save scarce raw materials [teak and oil for example] and reduce CO2 emissions. At all costs, we must resist the commissars of Brussels who will continue to ram us back into boxes as fast as we escape…

  8. Jeremy Rogers must be applauded for taking the acknowledged grp classic yacht, the Contessa 32, still in production, and filling it with innovative ideas to show a way forward. This is one 'ticky tacky bathtub' that got away, and is still getting away…..

  9. My last comment [sigh of relief from the man] is simply that we can't be that happy with things the way they are, if we are moved by the different verses of Little Boxes, regardless of it's original intentions.

    Incidentally, I must apologize for failing to acknowledge that I found these verses on John Owles' website. He is the boatbuilder who identified Scoter as a bawley [type] and rescued her from a life as a children's adventure playground by volunteering to rebuild her, along with her owner Jan Carpenter.

  10. I have been directed to this website by my good, public school educated friend (and best man, I might add) John Owles of Roving Commissions.

    "Little Bathtubs" was a bit of fun written by myself for the first Southwold Classic Boat Festival in 1997. The idea was to poke some gentle fun at the owners who keep their high sheered, French floating caravans in places like Shotley and Levinton. At the time, I owned a sweet little 1961 sloop, Amberjack, designed by Raymond Wall and built at Colne marine in Wivenhoe. Together, we flew the flag for post-war bermudans in East Coast OGA events.

    Since then I have graduated to Tinkatoo, a 1960 C. R. Holman "Rummer" yawl, famously pre-owned by Paul Heiney and Libby Purves (she doesn't leak quite so much now!)

    I am certainly not a wealthy owner. I am merely a schoolteacher, so Mr Sherratt, doubtless with your yachting cap set at a jaunty angle, you can assume that I'm "left wing" if you like, but the truth is that when I finally had the wherewithall to get into cruiser sailing, post-war bermudans were at the bottom of their value (still are) and therefore represented the most amount of boat for the least amount of money. So there you are, I'm just a jumped-up little oik that doubtless gets right up your public school olfactory organ. I earned my education by passing exams and getting into grammar school, the same one as Pinter and Berkov, and for a little while, Sir Michael Caine. As Lord Sugar says, I have a chip on both shoulders!

    I have no idea who Malvina Reynolds is but maybe she would like a couple more of verses:

    And they all race on a sunday in Sigmas and Contessas,

    And French yachts made of ticky-tacky with a tendency to bend,

    And they all shout, "Get the jib in!" and "Starboard!!" and "WATER!!!"

    And they all behave like little Hitlers, pre-menstrual to the end.

    There are bathtubs that are gaff-rigged, for woolly-hatted anoraks,

    But they're still made out of ticky-tacky and they still look much the same,

    And when they go to windward, they make lots of lee way,

    For their sea-keeping ability is reflected in their name!

  11. So do you own a wooden yacht, bang your head, get wet from leaks, spend hours varnishing and wish you had more room and less mould. The only reward you get is to look at the boat next door, made of plastic, probably ugly as sin, no maintenance to speak of with hot running water! Or are you in that plastic boat, enjoying the view of the wooden classic next door saying it must be lovely to have such a boat? I have done both. The idealolagy of wood is not the same as the need time or money, ideally both.

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