Category Archives: wooden boat

The Stephen family and the stories of the Fraserborough zulus Violet and Vesper

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Violet Stephen, the girl after whom the zulu Violet was named; Alexander Grieve Stephen, and the zulu Violet

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Violet; William and George Stephen on board Violet, and William Stephen aboard Violet

David Stephen Rennie, great grandson of the first owners of the Violet has sent me some old photos and family history surrounding the old zulu, which is now maintained and sailed by Gary Maynard, and also of Vesper.

To read more about Violet as she is now, click here, and see the comments to this post.

The stories of old boats and of the families involved add a great deal to our apprection and understanding, so many thanks David!

Violet FR451 was built in 1911 at James Nobles for my great-grandfather Alexander Grieve Stephen (1873-1935) for about £90; the boat was named after his youngest daughter Violet (1910-94).

He had been skipper of the George Noble FR6, and during World War I he served in the Royal Navy.

When Violet was launched they went small line fishing with mussel-baited hooks and worked the herring during the season.

Originally Violet had a mast and sail, but was later converted to motor power first with a 15hp Kelvin engine and later a 30hp Kelvin, and in 1936 was fitted with a 48hp Gardner.

Alexander Grieve Stephen returned from the sea about 1931 owing to ill health and took a job as berthing master, and his brother in law James Duthie took over as skipper until about 1935. In 1934 Violet was rescued by Fraserburgh’s lifeboat.

On the 13th November 1935 Alexander Grieve Stephen died aged 61, and in that year his son John took over as skipper and was joined by his brothers George and William.

In March 1975 Violet was put up for sale owing to the failing health of both John, who was now 73, and William, who had suffered a severe heart attack. Violet was sold to the Sprague brothers and left Fraserburgh for the last time on th 12th May 1975.

The generation of the Stephen family who had known and fished aboard Violet lived for some time more, but were all gone within a few years of each other. David again:

On the 21st June 1983 John Stephen died aged 81 after a series of strokes. On the 6th of September 1983 my grandfather George Stephen died aged 74 from lung cancer, and on the 7th November 1986 William Stephen died aged 73 years and was buried on the 11th November, his 74th birthday.

Vesper FR453 was built in 1911 at Fraserburgh and was owned by George Noble and John Buchan. She was sold on the 8th April 1935 to my grandfather’s oldest brother, Alexander Duthie Stephen (Sandy) (1898-1982); by that time he had been Vesper’s skipper since October 1918.

Owing to ill health, Vesper was sold to Edwin Wiseman in 1957. It was then sold to Alexander Ross in 1958 and then in November 1970 to David and Isaac Newlands of Pittenween. In 1972 it was registered as Vesper II KY36, and then from January 1982 as Vesper II AA36 until February 1988, when it ceased fishing. (KY stands for Kirkcaldy and AA stands for Alloa – see a list of fiishing port codes here.) By the autumn of 1989 it was a ruin at Buckie, and only a few years ago it was broken up.

Alexander Duthie Stephen died on the 3rd December 1982 aged 84.

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Alexander Duthie Stephen; Alexander Duthie Stephen aboard Vesper; Vesper

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Reports and photos from the first Melbourne Wooden Boat Show

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Check Rule 15 – was it sponsored by the department of marine regulation at the University of the Bloody Obvious, or do the organisers have an off-the-wall sense of humour?

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Sticker on a beautiful Riva, hand-cut pedal crank made from plywood


The good folks of Melbourne, Australia, have just held their first Wooden Boat Festival, and local Wooden Boat Association member Richard Monfries has put a nice report on his weblog Wooden it be Nice, and this excellent Flickr set of photos.

Another local and regular intheboatshed.net correspondent Dale Appleton also took some photos of the show. From his relatively smaller collection, I particularly liked best is the one at the top of this post about piratical behaviour at the top of this post, closely followed by the sticker on a beautiful Riva speedboat that quietly announces that it has been serviced by a company in Monaco in Europe, which even in our times must seem very exotic and distant to many of the folks of South Australia, and the beautifully made hand-cut plywood crank mechanism. After all that painstaking effort, I wonder how well it works?

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Keep Turning Left film-maker Dylan Winter in the Walton Backwaters

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Round Britain slow sailer and film-maker Dylan Winter has put up an 18-minute piece of film about sailing around the Walton Backwaters, and about the explosives dock at Oakley Quay.

The video is part of his ongoing Keep Turning Left video project and is his first paid-for film download – for the princely sum of $0.99. There’s a taster on his homepage.

Dylan calls the new video 18 minutes of pleasure and the next best thing to sailing. It seems a trifle hyperbolic as claims go – but as we emerge from yet another nasty winter of bad weather and grimmer news and disasters, I’d say that he definitely has a point.

Just looking at the taster, clock the lovely yawl pictured in evening light early on – do I recognise a well known and recently built Alfred Strange yawl? I think perhaps I do…

The Backwaters are a small area of estuary packed with islands and channels, and make an interesting sheltered sailing areafor visiting boaters with a series of quays and settlements around its perimeter. I haven’t been there myself, but it’s definitely on my agenda, and it happens that I’ve been reading about the area while travelling to work in London this week, along with the sad, tired army of London’s commuters.

My companion on the train has been FB Cooke’s unconventional pilot Coastwise Cruising, which turns out to be as refreshing as Dylan’s film. For more on Cooke, click here.

He starts for the Backwaters from the Stour, and as he setsoff I can just smell the sea and the hot summer day to come.

‘After studying the chart we come to the conclusion that we must start at about 8am to make sure of carrying the ebb out of the Stour and down Harwich Harbour to the Cliff Foot buoy… It is a jolly morning, with just a suggestion of haze which means heat later on. We are sorry to say goodbye to Wrabness, but at the same time we are anxious to visit Walton Creek and Hamford Waters which on the chart look intriguing.

‘Getting our anchor, we start away down the Stour close-hauled on the starboard tack.’

Ahhhhh! I think Dylan and old FB Cooke have a lot in common…

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