As an island nation, Great Britain’s Maritime Heritage is a crucial and fascinating part of our history. As well as our Naval history, our close-knit fishing communities, their working boats and the lifeboats they crewed, have shaped our coastal regions. The generations of men, women and families that lived hardy lives working their wooden boats at sea are now nearly all gone.
The charity Rescue Wooden Boats was set up in 2011 to conserve as much as possible of the North Norfolk stories of the 20th Century with films, photographs and some examples of the wooden working boats restored back to life afloat. The series of 200 short films were urgent and came first, capturing the stories of the individuals and communities, their lives, adventures and their boats. We were ‘just in time’ as many of the people have now died but through these films leave a legacy for their families and communities so they cannot be forgotten. The fishing families also lent us their photograph albums which have been scanned and provide rich glimpses into their lives and communities.
Our first restoration project was Liverpool Lifeboat and Dunkirk Little Ship Lucy Lavers. She was built for and served at Aldeburgh from where her very first ‘shout’ as a new lifeboat was to Dunkirk in 1940. She later served as a Relief Lifeboat in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk where she is remembered with affection. Her restoration was supported with a Heritage Lottery Grant as well as local fundraising and took over two years to complete. She went back afloat in 2015 just in time to make the voyage from Wells-next-the-Sea to Ramsgate to join over fifty other Dunkirk Little Ships for the 75th anniversary commemorative flotilla return to Dunkirk. Lucy Lavers' voyage took 9 legs there and back, crewing was shared between 52 people (8 at a time) and involved many schools. Since her return she gives trips afloat from Wells-next-the-Sea.
Rescue Wooden Boats also has local whelkers Bessie, another Dunkirk Little Ship with a fascinating history, awaiting funds for major restoration and Harvester afloat in Blakeney. We have two crab boats in the queue for restoration, Black Beauty and Pegasus.
There is a Maritime Heritage Centre in Stiffkey next to the working boatyard, with displays, films, stories and artefacts.
My personal fascination with Maritime Heritage and passion for wooden boats started with learning to sail wooden boats in my childhood, sailing a lovely 15ft clinker boat Honey in Norfolk and a trip on a wonderful 40ft Hilliard centre cockpit schooner Garland when I was 16. I now sail a 1963 20ft crab boat, rigged with a gaff rig, in which I am at my most absorbed contentment out at sea!