Category Archives: wooden boat

Gypsy, the Hornby weekend cruiser with an amazing story

These photos are all (or believed to be) of Gypsy, an impressive 1936 Hornby weekend motor cruiser with an event-filled history.

Michelle Bird has written in to appeal for more information about the boat which is owned by her partner,  David Pannell.

‘We’ve seen a picture of her in front of one of the historic HMS ships at the Portsmouth Heritage dockyard museum, shown to us by the curator there, and would really love to find out whether she was used in Dunkirk, as seems to be suggested.

We know she was originally commissioned by an Admiral and had a steel bulkhead instead of a wooden one, and had two Vosper Thorneycroft engines installed in the 50’s to replace the original Morris engines. We know too that she was owned by the Spragg family of Sparks Marina on Hayling Island but have been told that she was stolen in 1968 as part of the getaway for the Great Train Robbery.

She was rammed by a Customs vessel at some point when used for drug running.

Michael Stiff of Blemheim Road, Ipswich, found her abandoned on the River Ide and took posession after making a deal with the Spraggs and doubtless their insurers.

We have an article from the Daily Express from July 1971 that Mr Stiff sent us. At the time, he was about to embark on a trip to Scandinavia in her, and the article quotes him as saying that an Interpol investigation looking at the question of where she’d been for three years was still open…

Mr Stiff had lots more information and items he’d stored from her that he was going to give us, but he sadly passed away not long after we bought he boat.

Dave has painstakingly cleared inches of oil and gunk from inside her and she’s starting to look great, but she’s still a long way off completion. We’d like to find replacements for a couple of brass portholes that were stolen, and to restore the Vosper engines if possible.

If anyone has any further info about Gypsy, please message me at gmatkin@gmail.com,  and I will pass the message on.

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Good Little Ship – Peter Willis’s book about Ransome’s boat is out now


Just in time for Christmas, I’d say!

Here’s what publishers Lodestar have to say:

‘Generations of children and their parents have delighted in Arthur Ransome’s series of twelve ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books, but one of them stands out from the rest as being of a different order altogether. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea is both larger of theme and tighter of plot; it is a rite-of-passage tale quite unlike the others, and in describing the experiences of its protagonist John it illuminates much of Ransome’s own psychology.

‘Good Little Ship is a blend of literary criticism, maritime history and sheer celebration. Peter Willis combines an analysis of a classic of maritime literature (“a book of which Conrad would have been proud” – Hugh Brogan) with the story of the Nancy Blackett, Ransome’s own boat which appears as the Goblin in his story. He describes her life, near-death and restoration, and her renaissance as an ambassador for Ransome and his tales.’

On one point, I can’t agree with Lodestar. I think quite a few people who are neither children or parents have  enjoyed Ransom’s books…

For information, ordering etc, click here!

Marine Quarterly, autumn 2017

I’m currently ploughing through a 764-page text book on English folk song, but when I’m done there’s a treat in store: the autumn 2017 edition of the Maritime Quarterly.

We’ll all have our favourites, but items that catch my eye in this issue include:

  • Uffa Fox sailing the Atlantic, singing as he goes (I’ve got a CD of his sea songs, so I know how that goes)
    Max Liberson reflects that his first efforts at anchoring were made very easy by mud of the Thames Estuary (surely not that easy – there are anchor-robbing chains and who knows what down there)
    Tom Cunliffe takes a relaxed look at Lecky’s classic instruction book ‘Wrinkles’
    Illustrator, artist and boat dweller Claudia Myatt goes cruising
    John Rousmaniere takes part in the intense conversation of the New York Yacht Club Book Group