Category Archives: Boating, boats, ships and the sea

John Simpson: the art of enjoying a refit

Our good friend John Simpson argues that the secret of the refit is to find ways to enjoy it. Many thanks John!

‘In the depths of a cold, dark winter when in the middle of refitting our old wooden boat, sometimes I used to question why we did it. Sure,we loved the boat and the pleasure we all got as a family sailing her, but was all this work my wife and I did really justified?

‘One winter, I met an old hand who showed me a much better way of fitting out.

‘The boat was afloat at her mooring close to the Town Quay in Lymington that winter. I’d spent most of the day boiling up pitch on the stove. Then pouring it between the lands of my clinker planks, so no fresh water would be trapped in certain areas but would run off into the bilge. This was an area, which I’d identified where Blauwe Slenk’s frames had gone soft before, and I wouldn’t let it happen again, while I was looking after her, on the principle that you don’t own an old wooden boat, but keep her in trust, for next person!

‘The old watering can of pitch took an age to boil, so I’d also been painting the inside of the forepeak grey, before replacing all the newly varnished mahogany planks of her interior lining.

‘Not surprisingly for a February day in the UK, the colour of the sky matched the colour of my paint: it was damp and bleak.

‘Occasionally with the boat well enclosed, I had to go on deck from time to time, just to breathe some cold fresh air. The combined vapours I was breathing weren’t quite Columbian gold, but they had their effects.

‘During one of these breaks, David Gay who had obviously spotted me in my cockpit rowed across and invited me for a cup of tea, on his own old boat. I didn’t know him well, but we had met one another when he was about to examine some of my YM candidates, and at the odd RYA YMI meeting.

‘“Come over in about half an hour John”he said, “When you’ve finished, the light will be gone soon anyway”!

‘It gave me fresh incentive, to try and finish some of my painting, before I couldn’t see the runs any more.

‘Then I duly sculled over to visit him on his boat Mutine. I knocked as I came aboard, and David greeted me covered in paint (including his hair) with his overalls on, explaining that he had been painting his deck head. He didn’t’t think it a good idea, to light his stove, but a ‘pinkers’ might be just the ticket.

‘Joining me in the cockpit David produced a couple of large paint-splattered half-pint mugs of pink gin. By the time he poured the second, the evening mist looked really good and the cold had gone. We had moved into discussing his days of running Royalist and sailing square-riggers.

‘“Always finish your days refit feeling good,”he said, “then you’ll be back for more.“ Certainly, as our refit wore on through the winter, occasionally we’d meet again. He mentioned, that he quite understood why I thought Mount Gay rum and fresh lime makes a reasonable drink to end the day, and I became educated in the importance of Angostura bitters with gin ‘as the Navy’drinks it.

‘Both our old yachts ended up, gleaming like new pins, with David’s different way of viewing a refit!’


George Holmes’ legendary Eel is for sale

The famous Eel is for sale. She was designed by Albert Strange associate George Holmes in 1896 and built by JA Akasters of Horsea in 1897, and as you can see she’s a beautiful little canoe-stern gaff-rigged Humber yawl and is said to have represented an important turning point in the design of small cruising yachts.

She is planked in larch on English oak with iroko topsides and a Douglas fir main and mizzen.

She’s said to be in gorgeous condition, having been restored while in the hands of her present owner who has spent a total of £66,000 (all the invoices are included in the sale) over the period 2007-2013. the work was done by Alan Staley of Faversham, who has known the boat since 1963,

She comes with a mass of material, including a copy of the book Holmes on the Humber, and printouts about her trips from Classic Boat and Yachting Monthly going back as far as January 1915.

There’s a bit more information at the Albert Strange Association website.

Henry Charles Coppock, lighterman

Our musical friend Kathy Wallwork’s grandfather was a Thames lighterman and she takes great interest and pride in his medallion presented by the Amalgamated Society of Foremen Lightermen, and the photos.

Here’s what she says about them:

‘My Grandpa, Henry Charles Coppock, was a lighterman on the River Thames in the Pool of London. He became apprenticed to his father, William Joseph Coppock on 3th June 1893 at the age of 15, and gained his freedom on 10th July 1900 age 22. He then served in the Second Boer War from 1901 until 1902. Three of Grandpa’s brothers were also bound apprentice to their father as lightermen.

‘A late uncle of mine told me that Grandpa walked from his house at 326 Southwark Park Road in Bermondsey, up through Cherry Garden Street, then left along the roads that border the Thames to either Butler’s Wharf or Hay’s Wharf to board the lighter and begin work on transferring goods between the ships anchored in the Thames and the docks. He was well known in the area and as regular as clockwork, and my uncle said that you could set your watch by him. People would say: “There goes Harry, off to work.”

‘Lightermen had to be fit and healthy, for physical strength was required for the unpowered lighters, and the job demanded a higher level of intelligence than many of the available trades. There was the necessity of being able to read and interpret tide tables and negotiate the tides and currents in the river and the docks with the lighter. According to Charles Booth (who carried out his survey of life and labour in London between 1886 and 1903) his category F included: “Higher class labour and the best paid of the artisans. Earnings exceed 30s per week. Foremen are included, city warehousemen of the better class and first hand lightermen; they are usually paid for responsibility and are men of good character and much intelligence.” Grandpa worked for the Union Lighterage Company, and joined the lightermen’s union, the Amalgamated Society of Foremen Lightermen. Their motto was “At command of our superiors”. It merged with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1969.

‘Grandpa’s later career saw him promoted to a supervisory position in charge of all oil transport. He died in 1941 from pulmonary tuberculosis, age 63.

‘I would like to discover a bit more about the medallion in the [second] photograph. Does it represent the year (1916) in which my Grandpa held the position of President, or whatever the head role was, of the union?’

If you can answer Kathy’s question, please write to me at, and I’ll pass the message on.