Weblogger, author and TV producer Sophie Neville unpicks the real story behind the legend of Captain Flint’s houseboat.
‘When people see the SY Gondola on Coniston today, in all her re-built glory, she seems rather plush to have been cast by Arthur Ransome as Captain Flint’s houseboat. The main reason for assuming that she was used as the model for the illustrations is because Arthur Ransome grabbed a post card of the Gondola and drew on it to give the first illustrators of Swallows and Amazons some idea of his vision. However Ransome’s biographer Roger Wardale tells me it was a former steamer on Windermere that he had in mind: the SL Esperance.’
Read more here.
Amazon was one of two boats purchased in 1928 by Dr EHR Altounyan, so that his children could learn to sail with the help of family friend Arthur Ransome, by then an established author and journalist, and cruising and small boat sailing enthusiast.
She later was the model for the boat Amazon featured in some of the Ransome’s popular children’s novels, beginning with Swallows and Amazons, which he wrote in 1929.
The Altounyan family children featured in the fictional stories under their own names, and one, Roger Altounyan, later invented the cromoglycate inhaler used to treat asthma – an achievement for which us asthmatics will be forever grateful.
In real life the sailing dinghy was named Mavis, and was renamed Amazon in 1990 by Aruthur Ransome Society president Mrs Brigit Sanders, who appeared in the books as the character ‘the Ship’s Baby’.
Amazon still belongs to the Altounyan family, but is on long-term loan to the Ruskin Museum at Coniston and is on show.
Amazon is not varnished as described in Ransome’s famous books, but was probably painted from the beginning – it’s said that she probably looks today very much as she did when Ransome knew her.
Ransome himself remains a complex and intriguing character – as his Wikipedia entry shows.
The fourth Coniston Regatta 2013 runs from Thursday 30th May to the Saturday the 1st June, and everyone is invited – including traditional boat owners and their boats.
Organiser Greg Simpson has been in touch to say that among the boats booked in so far include a 1930s Peterborough canoe, a 1910s Thames sailing skiff, and numerous steam launches and model boats.
The events are based at the English Lake District home of Swallows & Amazons, Bank Ground Farm – which in the book is called Holly Howe and is the holiday home where the Swallows stayed each summer.
Attractions for boating enthusiasts and kids include exhibition stands presented by Windermere Steamboat Museum, Good Wood Boatbuilders, Patterson Boatworks and various other local craftsmen, and steam engines.
SY Gondola and Coniston Launch will be available for trips, there will be boats for hire and some boat owners attending the regatta will be offering sailing trips.
Children will enjoy a kids’ fishing competition and a miniature railway. The tea rooms open from 11am each day.
There are also a range of evening entertainments, including an outdoor screening of a film version of Swallows and Amazons.
The Nancy Blackett is a 28ft Hillyard cruising yacht that famous children’s author Arthur Ransome bought second-hand in 1934.
In fact, she was quite new, having been built in 1931, but in her young life had already borne two names when Ransome renamed her after a character in his children’s novels.
The story of how she came to be rescued by Mike Rines, who restored her and finally sold her to the Nancy Blackett Trust, is astonishing – perhaps the most remarkable aspect of it is that he lived only doors away from Ransome’s home at the time he owned the Nancy B, yet knew little about the author and nothing about his connection with the boat.
Nancy Blackett story and pictures
Nancy Blackett Trust website:
Swallows & Amazons enthusiasts pages for more material about Ransome’s boats, both in real life and in his novels
If you can add to this story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .