Percy Mitchell boat Tudor Owen launch photo – and the crazy story of how they used to launch boats at Portmellon

Reader Roly Deighton sent us this photo from Melbourne, Australia, thinking that it showed the Tudor Owen built by well known boat builder Percy Mitchell being launched through a gap in the sea wall at Portmellon.

Naturally I contacted current local boat builder Marcus Lewis to ask if he could add anything – and he could. Yes, he confirmed, the boat is indeed Mitchell’s Tudor Owen, and added that the boat was bound for a customer at Brixham, the date would be in the early 1950s and the boat was on a temporary slipway down to the sea.

But if you think that was elaborate, consider what Marcus had to say next.

‘Prior to this, the boats had to be taken over the sea wall. This was a pretty precarious operation, during which the coast road would be completely blocked. The attached photo [see below] is a picture of the Torbay Belle balanced on top of the wall, waiting to descend the temporary slipway onto the beach.

‘Because of a problem with the lower ramp, the Belle sat like this for a day and a half while the lower ramp was levelled-up – and the road was blocked for three days. Then, at high tide her chocks were knocked out and she slid into the water without a problem.’

Could you could get insurance for something like that these days, he asks?

My thanks to both Roly and Marcus for this information.

Marcus is well known for building the local Troy class of racing keelboats, and the Fowey River class sailing dinghies. For more posts relating to Marcus and his work, click here.

PS – Roly later sent me this photo showing storm damage at Portmellon, in which the sea wall is almost all gone. There’s a quote on the village’s Wikipedia entry that leaves no doubt: ‘The true nature of this delightful little east facing cove is betrayed by the fact that all the houses along the sea front have stout wooden shutters which can be closed over their windows for those times when storms drive the waves over the sea wall.’

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