Julia Jones, Yachting Monthly's literary reviewer discusses The Life of a Boat by Graeme Ewens
The Life of a Boat: Book review
It remains an extraordinary fact that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is not only funded entirely from public donations but that these are sufficiently generous to enable innovation in design and the use of top-quality materials.
The Winifred and Sydney (Official Number 736) – subject of this ‘nautobiography, – is a Watson 45’6” cabin-class vessel.
Which means she was designed by the same man, George Lennox Watson, who designed HMY Britannia (1893) the most successful racing yacht of her day.
She was built at the JS White yard in Cowes and funded by bequests from two ladies, Winifred Coode and Ellen Young, who gave the name of her brother-in-law, Sir Sydney Webb, Deputy Master of Trinity House.
It’s a nice touch of realism that donors’ names were usually reduced to initials at that period because of the high cost of inscribing in gold leaf.
The W&S was launched in 1931 and served almost 30 years at the relatively busy Penlee Station at Mount’s Bay in Cornwall.
She saved over 100 lives, took doctors to sick seaman, brought home a number of corpses, stood by vessels in distress and spent hours searching for downed airmen or missing seafarers, very often without success.
For the last 10 years of her working life she was part of the Reserve Fleet in Scotland.
Graeme Ewens has documented many of these ‘shouts’ as well as the details of many of the vessels requiring assistance.
The most famous was the ‘Grand Old Lady’ HMS Warspite who broke away from her tow in 1947 and ran aground in the bay.
W&S took off her eight-man salvage crew in storm conditions, terrifyingly close to the rocks.
Once sold out of the service W&S experienced mixed fortunes, converted to a motor cruiser, alternately cherished and neglected.
The author describes the ‘inspirational’ moment that her hull had been stripped for recaulking and he ran his hands over her craftsmen-built, double-diagonal mahogany planking.
Now aged 90 and living in Harwich, the retirement project of Captain Rod Shaw one might hope things were set fair for the next phase of W&S life.
In September 2020, however, she was attacked by teenage vandals, doing thousands of pounds worth of damage.
This book is being published in a 1,000-copy limited edition.
Any proceeds will be shared between the restoration of the W&S and the Penlee life boat station.
It’s a conscientiously-researched work, with passages of compelling oral testimony and is sold to support two thoroughly worthwhile causes.
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