‘I had a beautiful yacht… ‘

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Photos of Aerial by Phil Smith

Phil Smith has written to show us these photos, and to tell us about his airborne lifeboat Aerial, which he had in the 1980s in New Zealand.

‘In the early eighties I had a beautiful yacht called Aerial. She was 23 feet long, around six foot of beam, floated in ankle deep water, and went like the wind.

‘Her name derived from the fact that she was an airborne lifeboat designed for use in rescuing downed aircrew from the North Sea during World War II.

‘Built of double-diagonal mahogany on dozens of thin oak ribs with epoxy dynel sheathing, she was a strong but slippery boat and surprisingly seaworthy. Stability was provided by a heavy steel quadrant shaped centreplate and on either side of the centrecase were the tangs from which the parachute harness was attached.

‘The airborne lifeboats were designed by British naval architect and maritime legend Uffa Fox to fit under the hull of a medium bomber.Within the hull were numerous watertight lockers which, as well as providing buoyancy, contained food, water, first aid things and sailing equipment.

‘The boat was dropped by parachute to survivors in the sea who would rig the mast and rudder and sail to safety.

‘On my first day out I was apprehensive about going alone. It was 10 knots, gusting to15, and Aerial looked like she could be a bit of a handful.

‘A very experienced yachting friend, just returned from a solo voyage from Tahiti, came and officiated. To my horror and delight he sheeted her hard in and, with four bums on the gunwale and my friend grinning wickedly at the tiller, we took off up the harbour in a cloud of spray.

‘She tacked perfectly, sat nice and straight downwind, didn’t slam into chop and never looked like putting a spreader in the water though we tried hard!

‘Because of the strong tides and sometimes fluky winds in the area I fitted a 4hp Evinrude to a light transom bracket and she became unstoppable under power.

‘A relative of Uffa Fox’s Flying 15, Aerial was rigged like a small trailer-sailer, and while simple to launch she was a swine to retrieve due to her length and lack of any keel.’

Thanks Phil – that’s a super story. I wonder whether any of these conversions are sailing now?

Follow the link for more on airborne lifeboats at intheboatshed.net.

PS I’ve been sent these photos of an airborne lifeboat looking very like Phil’s being carried by a US Coastguard plane. My informant, a kind chap called Eric, has no idea where he found them, so if anyone feels I have infringed their copyright in putting these small images us, please contact me and I will take them down immediately. However I would be grateful to be able to leave them in place – the airborne lifeboat story is an important one and should be remembered. Thanks Eric!

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Kingston Rowing Club, 1902

The filmk shows a number of coxed fours and a single or two, one of which capsizes, and what I take to be a working boat. But what’s the source of power here?

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kingston-rowing-club-19021

Here’s another YouTube presentation of some footage made public by the British Film Institute. The film shows a number of coxed fours and a single or two, one of which capsizes, and what I take to be a working boat. But what’s the source of power here – is it a steamer, or is she just drifting with the tide? There’s steam or smoke or both coming out of a small chimney, but I’m unable to decide what’s happening here. Answers via the comment link below please!

Follow the link for more boats from the Humber Estuary.

More on the book Cockleshell Canoes by Quentin Rees

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Mark 7 military canoes. Photos supplied by Quentin Rees
and published with permission

Quentin Rees’s recent book Cockleshell Canoes is a thoroughly researched and well illustrated celebration of a group of people who have become part of canoe history.

Some, such as Blondie Hasler and the team of commandos who took part in the daring Operation Frankton are already well known. Commemorated in a major film titled Cockleshell Heroes, it was an attack by ten commandos in canoes on Bordeaux Harbour in occupied France during December 1942. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill believed the mission shortened World War II by six months, and Admiral the Earl Mountbatten deemed it as the ‘most courageous and imaginative of all the raids ever carried out by the men of Combined Operations Commands‘.

Sadly, most of the brave individuals involved were eventually captured and shot by the Germans, who at that time regarded commandos as equivalent to spies.

However, the roles of many others have previously remained unsung. In this book Rees has weaved together real-life testimonies from the stories of the courageous soldiers who used the canoes, their military commanders, and the canoes’ inventors and designers, and tells of an epic journey of progress that took canoe development took from Cornwall, all along the Southern English Coast and beyond – even to the tropical island of Ceylon.

The canoes proved to be valuable in many of the theatres of WWII, and thousands of the various models were sent worldwide, often being used by the various Special Forces, including by the the espionage specialists of Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Click here to buy a copy from Amazon – The Cockleshell Canoes: British Military Canoes of World War Two Cockleshell Hero canoes at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

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