Abandoned lifeboat on the Fleet, Dorset

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Portland boat builder and repairer, freelance writer and environmentalist Ian Baird (contact him here or here) has been finding out about this long wrecked lifeboat on the Fleet near Pirate’s Cove.

Which ship was it from? Did it save lives in doing so? How did it end here? Did it ever have a name of its own?

If anyone would like to chip in with information, please use the Comments link below!

Brightlingsea photos: sailing barge Centaur, the Aldous smack dock and the wreck warehouse

Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur Brightlingsea sailing barge Centaur

At Brightlingsea this weekend we were lucky enough to look over the sailing barge Centaur and even more lucky to spend a while listening to traditional sailmaker and sailing barge skipper Jimmy Lawrence tell wonderful stories about his time on the barges, and sing a few songs.

The Centaur is one of two well known barges in the care of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, an organisation that keeps the boats in good shape and offers them for charter.

The trust dates back to 1948, a time when it was already clear that the barges were doomed to be replaced by trucks riding motorways and dual carriageways, and to some extent by steel-built Dutch barges famously built with government subsidies.

The Trust’s other barge is Pudge – and she’s in desperate need of work to get her back into sailing and chartering trim. If you can help with a donation or by running a fundraiser or simply by providing your labour, please contact the organisation’s officials.

On Jimmy Lawrence – the old boy is well worth hearing if you can. He has an amazing, fluid talent for entertaining and a teriffic collection of tales. One concerns his first day as a boy on the barges: apparently while he was finding his berth his new skipper barked a few orders at him and threw a new house flag to mount at the top of the mast.

Jimmy tells the story of how, as a lad of maybe 15, he then climbed the mast for the first time with no supervision. To do this job you raise the topsail, climb the ratlines, then ascend the topmast using the hoops holding the topsail to the mast, then you shin up the rest, clambering over the gold-painted plate-like object near the top and remove the old flag. Then you climb down, take the old flag off the frame, sew the new one on, and climb back up to mount it on the button. The whole thing must have been bloody terrifying, and either young Jimmy was fearless, or desperate to succeed or more frightened of his skipper than he was of falling, or a mixture of all three.

I took care to photograph Centaur’s mast above, so that readers could consider the situation in which the young Jimmy found himself.

Skipper Jimmy had a big roomful of non-sailing folkies in stitches as he told the tale. At the time I roared along with the rest,but the story was told so vividly that it has since been giving me nightmares – there’s no denying it has a dark side of callous  risk-taking where young employees are concerned. It’s a good thing we have employment laws and health and safety legislation these days.

Jimmy’s been retired for some years, but the sailmaking business that bears his name is still in existence.

PSPaul Mullings points out (in the comments below) that our pal Dylan Winter has a bit of film of sailing and conversation with Jimmy in his Keep Turning Left series. See it here. Great work – thanks Paul!

Brightlingsea Wreck warehouse

The Brightlingsea Wreck Warehouse

Brightlingsea struck us as a nice little town by the sea. It’s greatest curiosity that we saw was the Wreck Warehouse, which  dates from the late 18th century and was built to house goods recovered from wrecks. It’s worth noting that the local Lord Warden was due 20 per cent of the value of anything acquired that way. It’s a good job, being in charge of stuff like that…

Also, check that look out tower. Don’t get into trouble, or those Brightlingsea boys will be coming to get your stuff!

Finally, after asking members of the Colne local yacht for permission we took a stroll along the Aldous Smack Dock, which is on the site of the legendary Aldous boatbuilding yard, famous for building smacks and is now used for mooring preserved smacks.

Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock Brightlingsea Aldous smack dock




The wreck of the George Murray – was she a Thames barge?

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lynher, thames barge, scoter, jan carpenter, cornwall, wreck

lynher, thames barge, scoter, jan carpenter, cornwall, wreck

Jan Carpenter has written in to ask for information about this local wreck. Does anyone have any answers for him please?

‘Hi all, looking for any info about what’s said to be a Thames barge named the George Murray, which is now a wreck lying in Forder Lake just off the River Lynher in Cornwall. However, I’m thinking that it may not be a Thames barge.

‘There have been several hypothesis for this wreck and several different names have suggested, but the locals seem to remember her as the George Murray. However I suspect she wasn’t a Thames barge because I cannot find any trace of a barge called George Murray anywhere! I was hoping your website may jog a few memories or direct me to somewhere I can find lists of vessels I have not yet come across…’

‘Kind regards, Jan

‘PS I have had three 40ft larch logs delivered for the planking of Scoter and a fine selection of oak knees!’

I should explain that Jan is the new owner of the important Maurice Griffiths-designed Scoter, and that his postscript is great news for anyone interested in seeing her afloat once again.

As for the George Murray – from the look of her she certainly could be a Thames barge, and given the thousands that used to work in the Thames, I’d guess there could easily have been some about which there’s little documentary evidence left today. Would the PLA’s archives include some information, I wonder?

For more on Scoter, click here and scroll down!