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.’

A chance to own a 1932 Mevagissey tosher built by Cornish boat builder Percy Mitchell

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Fowey wooden boatbuilding specialist Marcus Lewis has written to say that he has acquired a genuine 18ft Percy Mitchell-built Mevagissey tosher built around 1932 that he is offering as a restoration project with himself doing the work.

Despite a few soft areas, he says she’s basically sound and would make a lovely day boat for any South West harbour or further afield. He’s planning to start stripping out the grotty bits shortly followed by a programme of work put together to ensure the survival of a classic craft. Contact him directly on 07973 420568 if you would like more information or would like to view her.

For those from outside the area, I should explain that Percy Mitchell of Portmellon was a very highly regarded boatbuilder in Cornwall. Claude Worth, for example, described him as ‘an artist in wood’.

Mitchell took over his employer’s yard in Mevagissey in his twenties and later moved the yard to Portmellon for easier launching. During World War II he built motor cutters and boats for the Admiralty. After the war his boats were in great demand; one of his most famous builds being the 28 ton Windstar, which the late King George V often sailed on, as did the young Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II.

Marcus tells me that Mitchell went on to write a well-known book, A Boatbuilder’s Story that covers his entire working life and the struggles and successes of a wooden boatbuilder. Copies are rarely available, says Marcus, but feels strongly that it should be reprinted.

See Marcus’s website: