Julie read Peter Willis’s book Good Little Ship: Arthur Ransome, Nancy Blackett and the Goblin (published by Lodestar) with great pleasure recently. She was clearly charmed by it, and I thought her comments were interesting – not least because they show how Peter’s book is as relevant to non-boating Ransome fans as it is for us boat nuts.
Here’s what she says:
‘I read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea when I was a child with no understanding or experience of sailing whatsoever and no knowledge of that part of our coast – but when I first read it I enjoyed it as an adventure in an unfamiliar and exciting world, but with the familiar characters I knew from the earlier books.
‘So it was really nostalgia that led me to read Good Little Ship. As a result of reading Peter Willis’s book I immediately re-read We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea with a lot more understanding of the locations and what inspired Ransom’s story.
‘I’m not a great sailor or a regular reader of sailing books, but Good Little Ship kept me reading from the beginning. The story of the 28ft 6in Hillyard-built Nancy Blackett, is tightly written and nicely illustrated, and it’s like reading a family history, with all the different owners and their good and bad fortunes.
‘It’s also very clear that for Peter Willis finding, restoring and then sailing Ransome’s yacht in the same waters that Ransome had sailed had a lot in common with a love affair.’
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.