Small boats in wartime – Survival at Sea and Dunkirk at the IWM

A few careless words may end in this


Anglo Saxon jolly boat

The jolly boat of the Anglo Saxon – sadly now badly dried out; the poster above was shot without flash

A trip to the Imperial War Museum is always moving, but those who appreciate and fear the sea will be very struck by the exhibition Survival at Sea my son and daughter and I saw this week.

The statistics in relation to merchant navy losses during World War II are impressive. I didn’t know that more than half of shipping losses world wide during the period of the war were British, or that more than twice as many merchant navy seamen were lost in WWII compared with WWI. The years 1939-45 were a very, very dangerous time to be a seaman.

Naturally many of the sailors caught in enemy attacks escaped from burning and sinking ships in lifeboats and ship’s boats, and two exhibits are particularly striking in their humanity. In one, young men in a lifeboat used a pencil and torn bits of canvas to record how their crewmates died one by one; the other the jolly boat from the ship Anglo Saxon is an 18ft open boat with 24 notches cut in the inwale near the stern – each one records a night at sea before rescue. Some crewmen survived in each case, but they were pitifully few.

Bligh House

By an extraordinary coincidence, our way back to London Bridge Station passed the home of another extraordinary survivor – Captain Bligh of the Bounty. Following the famous mutiny, Bligh and his loyal officers and seamen cast off in an open boat then sailed first to the relatively island of Tofua (30 miles away) and then survived a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies.

He seems to have been an extraordinary seaman and leader, even if he was flawed in the way apparently described by the oddly named J C Beaglehole:

‘[Bligh made] dogmatic judgements which he felt himself entitled to make; he saw fools about him too easily… thin-skinned vanity was his curse through life… [Bligh] never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them.’

I’d say that was a common enough flaw and difficult to forgive – but naturally not quite enough to justify sending someone off to near-certain death.

Another exhibit we noticed was the Tamzine – easily the smallest Dunkirk Little Ship I’ve ever seen, though there must have been many like her.

Dunkirk Little Ship Tamzine Dunkirk Little Ship Tamzine Dunkirk Little Ship Tamzine

There’s more on the Gadfly II story – but can anyone fill in the ‘missing years’?

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The Kent-built Gadfly II

Simon Papendick has written to give us an update to the earlier posts about the small cruising boat he’s currently restoring, Gadfly II, and to ask for help in finding more information. (For more on Gadfly II, click here.)

Here’s what he has to say:

Hi Gavin:

Thanks to Classic Boat, I now have some new information about my yacht Gadfly II.

It would appear that the boat was build in the 1930s in Whitstable, Kent for a local builder, and that she was the second of three boats he commissioned. I have information about her first years in Kent from the 1930s through to 1949, and then I have more details about her whereabouts in the early 1960s – but then the trail goes cold from 1964 until the early 2000’s when the last owner purchased bought her.

If anyone has any information about Gadfly II’s whereabouts in the missing years, could they please let me know?

During the World War II I gather she had a small mishap when she was almost destroyed by German bombs that where dropped near where she was being stored.

The original owner of the boat only passed away a few years ago, as did the foreman of the yard that build her.

If any of your readers can come up with more information about the boat it would be most helpful.



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Fairey Marine boat owners have a new website

Owners of boats made by Fairey Marine have created a new website and forum at

The Atalanta light displacement drop-keel sailingl cruiser was conceived in 1955 by Alan Vines, a senior executive at Fairey. It was developed with the expertise of Uffa Fox, and made from hot moulded agba veneers

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Atalanta owned by Dominic Dobson. As usual, click on the photo for a larger image

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A white-hulled Atalanta and a teal blue-hulled Titania photographed at
the Beale Park Thames Boat show a couple of years ago

Owners of boats made by Fairey Marine have created a new website and forum at

The Atalanta light displacement drop-keel sailingl cruiser was conceived in 1955 by Alan Vines, a senior executive at Fairey. It was developed with the expertise of Uffa Fox, and made from hot moulded agba veneers using a technology originally developed for wooden aircraft during World War II.

Although the prototype was 24ft long – named Atalanta she is is still sailing the East Coast with the sail number A1 – but by the time the finalised boat went into production, the length had been increased to 26ft in order to improve her accommodation.

The company went on to produce other drop-keel sailing cruisers using the same methods, the Titania, the larger Atalanta 31 and the smaller Fulmar.

Although the hot-moulded agba veneer proved to be strong, light, durable and repairable, the designs eventually became uncompetitive compared with GRP boats, and production ceased in the early 1970s, after some 278 boats of all four types had been built. Today, over 130 continue to be owned by members of the Association.

For a post about some hot- moulded Fairey Marine-built dinghies, click here.

I gather that Atalanta Owners’ patron is ex Fairey director Charles Currey, whose airborne lifeboat converted for racing can be seen here.


Dominic’s Atalanta on Coniston Water shows the benefit of sailing a trailer-sailer


Emma Duck, which I gather belongs to Association member Tom Lawton. Now, is she an Atalanta or a Titania? The teal-blue hull may be a clue – or not!