Colin Shepheard remembers Torbay J class yacht Dolphin (previously Sonnet)

Colin Shepheard has been in touch to tell us about his experiences with Torbay J class racing yachts Dolphin (previously named Sonnet).

There have been a couple of Intheboatshed.net posts about the J class: see them here and here.

Here’s what Colin says:

‘I noticed today that both remain Torbay J class boats still in existance are now in German hands!

‘I know about both with maybe some additional history not known to the new owner.

I used to build/repair and maintain wooden boats at Kingsbridge in South Devon, England during the period from 1970 to 1984.

I later moved my workshop to a small village on the edge of Dartmoor, but during During my time at Kingsbridge I was approached by a retired gentleman named Alan Taverner who lived in Kingsbridge, after retiring from London as a photographer.

He asked me to travel to Torquay inner harbour as he had noticed Sonnet in the inner harbour on a summer drying mooring.

The aim was to trace the owner to see if they would sell the boat. It was not until the winter of 1977 that we found her upside down underneath a concrete car park adjacent to the inner harbour. The local Harbour master gave us the owner’s contact details (in obtaining this confidential info it helped that I was well known in the area) and Alan managed to buy.

I transported her to my nearby workshop and Alan set about bringing her back to new under my guidance. I remember that we worked together to replace the inner cockpit coaming, floor boards, external iron keel bolts around the centreplate box and refastened the planking around the stem post and transom.

The complete wood structure frames and planks including decking were saturated but through the winter in my warmed workshop we dried her out and repainted her. Two years later the centreplate box was replaced together with the surrounding wood to the iron keel.

The entire boat was stripped to bare wood and repainted together with the mast and spars. Alan wanted me to sail with him and we had great fun taking her from Bowcombe Creek on the Salcombe Estuary, where she was on a tidal mooring for eight months of the year, to Plymouth and various small inlets inbetween and also to Dartmouth.

She was a great boat to sail and Louis Gale of Paignton had built a lovely fleet of these boats in earlier years.

Alan must have owned Sonnet (after two years he renamed her Dolphin) for a total of some 30 years.

After I sold up and moved to Dartmoor, I let Alan keep Dolphin over winter in my workshop at home.

During the 1980s, Alan moved Dolphin from Bowcombe Creek to a mooring on the river Plym, which runs into Plymouth Sound. The photo above was taken by Alan and shows me sailing her single-handed off the Western Breakwater Lighthouse at Plymouth Sound at the time. The close up is the same picture, but reveals that Dolphin is sailing herself, which shows what a superb balanced rig she had for her hull.

Alan also entered a single-handed race around the Eddystone Lighthouse and I believe could have won his class in boat length, but unfortunately the boat suffered a lot of damage on the sail back when the wind increased and the seas developed a short sharp chop.

It was a great sail for Alan, but the boat required caulking.

Alan’s health deteriorated soon afterwards and he eventually sold her after some final years of neglect.

I’ve heard that heard she was purchased by a new owner who took great care of her and had work done in Cornwall somewhere… And I remember later seeing her for sale again.

I was busy at the time and moved again to do my work for the Plymouth Harbour Authority in maintaining their pilot boat and tugboat and oversaw the rebuilding of two new vessels.

Alan had died shortly after I moved to Sweden in 2009.

On 1998 I remember we both sailed the other J class boat at Brixham, when she was up for sale. After a trip around Torbay, we decided we were not so keen on the yawl rig. I gathered that most of the J class were gaff or gunter rigged. 

I was interested to find they are both now in the same ownership, where I hope they are enjoying a revival for the next 100 years! 

Percy Mitchell ferry and pleasure boat in need of care and restoration

Southern Queen some years ago. Photo by Ian Boyle – read about Dover harbour and see more of his photos

Ben Wales has written to say that he has made the trip to Sandwich to see the 1930s ferry and pleasure boat Southern Queen and reports that she’s in dire need of new owners prepared to look after.

Here’s what he has to say:

‘On Saturday I drove a round trip of 330 miles to visit the undiscovered classic wooden passenger boat Southern Queen, with the view to purchase her and restore back to her former glory.

Launched in 1935 as Heart’s Content for  Charles Cload as one of four 45ft open carvel constructed launches to operate at Plymouth, she was built by the legendary Cornish boat builder Percy Mitchell of Porthmellon.

In the 1970s Heart’s Content was sold and operated on the River Dart in Devon and sold in 1991 again to operators in Tenby and renamed Caldey Queen, and then to Dover Harbour Tours in 2001 and renamed Southern Queen.

In 2016 the Southern Queenthen went to to Sandwich River Bus.

She sadly sank on her moorings in September and was raised and brought ashore, with her future now in doubt.

She has fallen on hard times and need of urgent TLC as will in need a new stem head, apron, transom repairs and several new planks replaced as well as re-caulking.

The restoration work is still possible with the right owner or team, but sadly I have limited resources as to funding and time to undertake this work on my own.

I appeal for anyone, group or organization that could step in and undertake her restoration. She deserves to be on the National Ship’s Register and no doubt her complete history is yet to be discovered.

Interested parties are invited to contact Sandwich Marina for further details as well reasonable offers for the owner by 29th March. I believe after that date her future may well be bleak and she may be broken up.

Ben

Thanks Ben! Hopefully someone will step up!

Who would like to rescue lovely Percy Mitchell ferry Hauley 3?

Boatbuilder Kyle Abingdon is trying to save Hauley 3, which was built by Percy Mitchell at Mevagissey in 1939, and has a typically lovely Mitchell hull-form.  She’s the old ferry from Dartmouth. 

Essentially a wooden tug boat, she is 40ft long and in imminent danger of being cut up. Kyle says she’s free to a good home. 

She needs a lot of work, including re-fastening and about 45% re-planking, a new deck and engine, and of course a new deck, superstructure and engine.

It’s a lot, but as Kyle points out, she’s a particularly beautiful historic vessel. Contact Kyle at kyleabingdon@yahoo.co.uk .