Lyme Regis boat builder Gail McGarva receives Royal award

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a boat builder recognised by Royalty!

Lyme Regis boat builder Gail McGarva went to Buckingham Palace this week to collect an award from Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, on Tuesday this week.

Gail received a ‘highly commended’ certificate for the Prince Philip Medal, an international award honouring those who have ‘travelled the City & Guilds path’ and achieved outstanding accomplishments in their chosen field.

Following a successful career as a sign language interpreter, Gail enrolled on the Boat Building Academy’s 38-week course in 2004 wanting to change career. Funded by a City & Guilds bursary, she achieved City & Guilds levels 2 and 3 in boat building, maintenance and support, and began a long relationship with the Academy and Lyme Regis.

After working as an instructor at the BBA she moved on to become an independent boat builder, but has not moved too far – as she now works in a workshop on the academy’s site at Lyme Regis.

Gail is currently building a third racing gig for Lyme Regis Gig Club.

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Lottery funds lerret oral history project

Gail McGarva Lerret Littlesea

Locals celebrate the launching of the newly built lerret Littlsea

Lyme-based traditional boatbuilder Gail Mc Garva and Lyme Regis Museum have won Heritage Lottery funding for a new project designed to enable people to learn and participate in the maritime heritage of the Dorset coast by exploring and sharing the story of the ancient local clinker-built lerret.

Titled Maritime Lyme and the Lerret, the project includes an oral history project that will collect, preserve and share stories connected with the traditional boats, and the material will be made accessible to the public online via a new website and in the form of a physical archive.

Also, 2011 will see a touring exhibition of the living history of the lerret with related community events. At the heart of this exhibition will be two lerrets, Vera, built in 1923 and the new boat Littlesea built by Gail in 2010 with funding from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

PS – I gather that Gail will be starting a project to build an impressive third rowing gig for Lyme in the autumn of next year.

An extraordinary launch at Lyme for Gail McGarva’s lerret Littlesea

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Launch day for Gail McGarva’s lerret Littlesea. Those Boat Building Academy folks certainly know how to organise a party!

Gail McGarva’s lerret named Littlesea was launched at Lyme with all due ceremony on the 31st July, during the town’s Lifeboat Fortnight. Vera, the last seaworthy original lerret built in 1923 and the model for the new boat, was in attendance, along with two local racing gigs and what from the photos looks like half the town.

The lerret is a boat wholly native to Lyme Bay going back to 1682, and is a beautiful beamy double-ended clinker vessel of 17ft, built in elm on oak. Designed to be launched and landed from the area’s steeply-shelving stony beaches, lerrets have remained virtually unchanged from their beginning.

Although primarily used for mackerel fishing, lerrets also earned such respect for their seaworthiness that in the early 19th century the newly formed RNLI adopted two for service as lifeboats. Archive material recounting their stories of saving lives at sea is said to be extensive and quite remarkable, and Littlesea was launched during Lifeboat Fortnight in order to celebrate the connection.

As an earlier post about the project explained, Gail was awarded a scholarship to build a lerret from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, funded by the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

Gail built this boat by eye – that is, without designer drawings – under the mentorship of Roy Gollop,one of the last remaining boatbuilders in Dorset with this particular skill.

Littlesea is to be actively used as a training boat to enable young people to gain confidence at sea,develop their rowing skills and work together as team.

The new lerret and procession, complete with an oar salute from Lyme Regis Gig Club, journeyed from the Boat Building Academy,which  housed the building of the boat, to the harbour slipway. The boat bearers and rowers were dressed in Sunday best of white shirts and waistcoats in a deliberate echo of boatyard launches of the past, and were accompanied by a brass band.

Gail gave a speech and presented Roy with a traditional yard foreman’s bowler hat in appreciation of his guidance and support, and the new lerret was named by Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust president William Gunn. The boat was blessed, a local songwriter performed a song for the occasion, and the boat was then carried through an archway of Cornish pilot gig oars, scattered with sea salt for safe passage at sea and launched behind the protective arm of the harbour’s sea wall, known as the Cobb.

Littlesea was then guided out to sea by the RNLI lifeboat The Pearl of Dorset, accompanied by Vera and escorted by Lyme’s two Cornish pilot gigs,which were also build by Gail in 2008 and 2009.

Littlesea is the local name for the Fleet behind Chesil Beach, as Gail learned from 90-year old Majorie Ireland. Marjorie’s family worked the lerrets along Dorset’s shores.

There are many references to lerrets in Basil Greenhill’s Working boats of Britain: their shape and purpose and also a nice description, a drawing and photos in his Chatham directory of inshore craft.