Andrew has asked me to write down a bit about my life for the yawl magazine as part of “Know Your Committee” – maybe as I am from the “dark-side” and haven’t been over to the “bright-side” much!
I would in turn be interested in reading about other club members in future publications. Scratch’s book is by my bedside at the moment and I enjoy reading a few chapters every night and coming across stories of East Portlemouth in the old days with names such as Chris Winslow (who I remember below) cropping up.
Like many who have come to live down here my family has had a long connection with Salcombe, in our case on the East Portlemouth side.
Our connection started with my grandparents Arthur and Alice Freeman who used to holiday down here when there was a golf course at Rickham.
To give some idea of how long ago, it was before WW1 – Arthur told us once of receiving his call up papers by telegram whilst down here and then meeting a man on Kingsbridge station on what was then called the Primrose line, both off to fight for their country. Extraordinarily he bumped into the same man on the same platform, both on their way to fight again in WW2. “Here we go again, good luck” they wished each other.
With almost all our family holidays down here Salcombe is a thread of wonderful memories stitched through my life although I can’t always remember the exact order.
I was 6 when we returned from South Africa to live in Bath where my father Tony had always wanted to live – he was Sales Manager at Robinson’s Waxed Paper so we always had free samples of Fry’s chocolate. Sadly he died when I was 15. But through our connection with the firm the following summer I was given a holiday job in the RWP laboratory with my own project. The aim was to reduce the 24 hours it took to measure the water porosity of their wrapping paper samples. I enjoyed working there partly because of the environment, I think I was hooked on sweet smelling solvents and esters, and eventually built a system that gave a measurement in 15 minutes which they patented.
We had holidays in Salcombe camping in a field on the dangerous blind corner near High Farm on the way to East Prawle. Once we stayed in the house at the end of Batson where we’d go crabbing from the steps down to the muddy foreshore.
My mother Rosalie and my Aunt Diana Lewis bought Cowrie Cottage up in East Portlemouth village in 1963 and the beaches became our regular holiday destination several times a year. Back then the shop was run by the Woodcocks and Joan Wood, who held the secret recipe for their cider and apple cake a special treat with clotted cream. It was then taken over by Sandy and Rufus who made a great success of it with frozen ready meals and went on to open up the Venus Cafe – they were always incredibly entrepreneurial.
Cowrie Cottage, East Portlemouth (White Cottage next door where Mrs Purdy used to live)
My father bought a Mirror kit for £70 and built it in our playroom whilst we were away at school one winter.
Unfortunately it was slightly too big to fit through the sash window but fortunately the house was a Georgian house and the sashes were easily removable.
She was named “Lusikisiki”, Zulu for the rustling sound of reeds in the wind, and her sail No. 12080 (we used to remember the number as 1-potato).
Our maiden voyage was on a very windy day from Mill Bay – no one else was sailing.
My father and I launched with only the jib up thinking it was going to be safer to haul up the gaff sail once we were afloat.
As we hauled up the gaff the halyard twisted over the mast. So my Dad had to get up on the deck to release it which caused us to capsize and turn turtle and we steadily floated down towards black rock with no idea how to right her.
I attempted to hold onto No 2 racing buoy which had dart type fins, but the force of the tide on the main sail became too much and I had to let go of the buoy to stay with the boat.
As we floated off to Black Rock there was an attempted rescue by a passing launch that hat rowed me out to Blackbird Y14 in his pram “Mouse” and I went for my first proper sail.
I met Mandy when she was 14 and I was 17 in Bath at a Christmas party and the two of us came down to Salcombe a few years later to work the summer. I wangled the Waterboat job from Winters boatyard as the usual guy was away (I can’t recall his name, Simon?, but I am sure someone will be able to remind me as he was a real Salcombe character) – come to think of it I haven’t seen the water-boat for some time – anyway it was a great job taking on water at Whitestrand, going out to the visiting Yachts and taking on spirits whilst filling their tanks. Chris Winslow owned the business then, I knew him and his wife Jos Winslow from sailing back from Puerto Pollensa in Majorca in the 72 foot 1930’s Nicholson yawl – the Arlette. Mandy wasn’t so lucky with her summer job and got the one nobody else wanted – the cleaner and dish washer at Dusters – pretty much all their food was cooked and served in cast iron dishes – making it a nightmare to clean off the baked on food. We camped at Alston Farm and had my Aunt’s (Diana Lewis) mini pickup and Mandy’s Raleigh moped which we could chuck in the back on our way into work but come back independently. Once I was very late back after a stormy day with a big swell in the harbour. Even though I had enjoying two full glasses of neat whisky with my last customer aboard a visiting “gin” palace, everything was fine on the water – picking up the mooring with the boathook and getting back to Whitestrand in the pram dinghy with seagull engine. It was when I got ashore everything started moving. I managed to get back to the campsite without incident but then tripped on a guy rope and fell into the tent with Mandy in it.
My Uncle, Michael Lewis, owned Kingfisher Y15 and I remember sailing with him from Dell Quay in Chichester Harbour.
When he trailered it down to Salcombe he would have it craned it in at the embankment in Kingsbridge down from the Crabshell Inn. The Derrick crane still exists.
Kingfisher was built in 1947 by Jim and Terry Stone for a Mr R Triscott using “black market” furniture grade mahogany.
My Aunt Diana gave me Kingfisher after Michael died and I tracked her down to a rundown barn in Rickham where she had dried out completely over a five year gap.
We sailed her for 3 years – each time letting her take up for a few days on the mud at Yalton but finally she wouldn’t even float. At that time the yard was owned by Charlie Yeoward and the only option for repairing the leaks was adding more sikaflex.
I bought a trailer and took her home to Hampshire and spent the winter stripping her hull inside and out with a couple of ivory handled Sheffield dinner knives and a hot air gun.
When Tristan Stone built his barn I brought her back down for decoration and to get her on the water as soon as I could.
Unfortunately Tristan thought the wood had dried out too much for the split planks to be worth repairing. So I decided to just sort out the hull up to the top three planks.
John McShea started work on her in a barn this side of Dartmouth. It seemed to be taking a long time so I went down to see the progress.
Her keel and hog boards had been scraped back and the centre plate box replaced.
Her ribs had been replaced one by one and the planks were going on.
As I left the barn I absent-mindedly threw the door bolt locking him in and drove off to East Portlemouth. John phoned me ten minutes later and said he needed me to come back and let him out – I just told him “Let me know as soon as you’ve finished her and I’ll be straight back”. Unfortunately he is a very able climber and managed to find a gap in the eaves to get out – so I had to wait quite some time again before she was finished.
The wait was worth it John had done a beautiful job.
We cast a new bronze keel which took me several days to fair with an angle grinder and then painted in a tough white resin coating.
A new “whippy” laminated sitka spruce mast was made with a cross-section profile like a cat’s head and ears. This shape helped the airflow around the leeward side of the mast onto the sail.
Tristan hand brush painted in a dark Royal Blue with red anti-foul as before.
Once a new set of P&B sails was delivered I was ready for racing again.
My first sail was a race with James Stockdale as crew. All was going well and then disaster struck or rather the Salcombe ferry broadsided us.
The force broke two of the top three planks one side and weirdly one on the other side, I suppose with the force transmitted though the thwart but still we managed to finish the race.
This meant handing her back to Tristan and John to have her remaining planks replaced. While we were at it we fitted a new deck.
As her hull was then really stiff she could be repainted using Awlgrip “Teal”. This was the only “Kingfishery” colour on the colour chart not yet used by any of the yawls. Below the waterline she was painted in a white PTFE coating.
Kingfisher – first round of restoration
I had to forgo any sailing whilst we were doing up Ager Point but over the last few years I have sailed her “wet” off the mooring at Ager Point mainly at the opens and regattas with any friends who happen to be staying.
I intend to sail more frequently during the club series once I have sorted a system for launching and recovering her over the beach.
After a couple of years of average performance, I have now found a good combination of sail, mast and rig settings and feel I have at last un-locked her potential with some good results in 2018. Good crewing has contributed and I have Mark Waterhouse and Mandy Henderson to thank for some great race results and lessons learned from their involvement. Coincidently Mark’s grandfather used to own Y15 and sold her to my Uncle. My other crew was my brother in law Paul Billingham, who doesn’t sail otherwise but has a natural feel for it making a great team mate and we also have had some great results.
Racing is my motivation for sailing and keeping everything moving – so Solo it had to be for the club series. I bought No 5311, a Boon with Selden D+ Mast and North 3D sail. It had a good pedigree being sailed by Matt Howard to 3rd in the Nationals in 2012. After sailing lasers and RS 100’s I am not so fond of this design but I still enjoy the competition, however I have yet to understand how to go half as fast as the leading boats. Also if anyone has a good way of emptying the boat after a capsize and staying in the race I’d love to hear from them.
Before coming down to live in Salcombe I sailed X78 Fury an XOD from Itchenor with Andy Roberts and then an RS Elite with Nigel Cartwright and RS 100 from Hayling Island – interesting that there are now two Elites in the harbour and that members have sailed them out in Antigua, perhaps I sold mine too soon.
Career wise – after graduating with BMus Tonmeister at Surrey and sound engineering experience at Abbey Road Studios I spent 6 years in audio visual and conference production with Martak Ltd in Alton.
Coincidentally this is where I first met Andrew Stirling who had started a really successful sound recording equipment business “Turnkey” – I used to produce his training programmes for his shop in Tottenham Court Road.
When PowerPoint came in, it killed the creative side of conference production (and most audiences!) coining the phrase “Death by PowerPoint”.
To counter this I made a couple of simple voting systems to keep the audience more involved, turning the bullet points in PowerPoint into voting options.
The interaction between audience and presenter was a revelation and I decided to start a company to develop a keypad with voting buttons and a microphone.
I founded IML ltd which pioneered the field and went on to lead in conference and AGM shareholder voting with our own patented software and radio technology.
I concentrated on the technical side – Design, Development and Intellectual Property whilst Mandy headed everything else – Finance, Manufacturing, Personnel and Sales. My two brothers Peter and Mark worked with us and at the end we had 60 staff and about 10 franchises around the world.
I remember our Chairman Andy Roberts drilling us saying “Profit is Sanity, Turnover is vanity and Cash is King” hence the reason why we ran the company without borrowings for 25 years and managed the cash status and projections from day one on an Excel spreadsheet with its opening filename “Day by Day”.
After about 20 years we were steaming along with great profits and in 2006 we sold outright to Computershare, a public company registrar, as they wanted our AGM capability. Mandy and I stayed on for a few years but our involvement finally tapered off until we felt it was time to go.
Computershare insisted we upgrade our premises which was in the old hardware store in Liphook and to my surprise they agreed to buy the 1920’s built Bohunt Manor in Liphook but gave us only 10 weeks to get architects designs and planning permission for change of use and to make it viable for our rental business, a new 500 square meter Sussex type barn to manage our equipment. The house came with 18 acres of parkland and an orchard with a hundred different types of newly planted fruit trees from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent. The lawns were sculptured around the lake forming an amphitheatre. It was an amazing environment to work in and the grounds were enjoyed by staff and families for golf and summer parties.
Bohunt Manor – the new offices of IML Ltd.
As a child the only people I knew down here were the Murch’s, Alec and Brenda who was a cousin of my mothers and we also knew Penny and Bru. In fact, after we bought Ager Point, I was on Small’s watching the start of the Yawls when Penny tapped me on the shoulder and said she recognised my voice – pretty amazing after 40 or so years.
When we sold the company in December 2006 I asked around to see if there were any houses for sale on the estuary and Tristan Stone put me in touch with Tony and Liz Brown at Ager Point. The position was everything I had dreamed of, Tony and Liz were amazing and we completed in May and they moved to Frogmore.
Ager Point – as it was
In 2012 Mandy and I decided to remodel Ager Point, we spent one year designing and planning and three more working with a core of four individual subcontractors plus specialist trades. Of course Mandy kept a spreadsheet and 1,700 bills later we were finished. We are very grateful to have been able to build the boathouse which serves such a critical function to the way we live here. The Sealegs is the most amazing amphibious boat and means were aren’t stranded over this side and frees us to go over to the Salcombe side or other points around the estuary at any time.
Having Ager Point was the start of getting to know a few more people down here in East Portlemouth village, up at East Prawle and the Pigs Nose, the Milbrook, the South Pool Cruising Club and the Salcombe Yacht Club.
Although we think of Salcombe as our home now we still return to Bramshott Hampshire where we have old friends and are still involved with the Village including the Open Gardens event in June.
We have a family base up in London near Waterloo Station where our daughters live. Eidy works from home and is a computer graphics artist producing animated music videos. Charlotte, with her partner Alex, has a woman’s fashion brand CHARLOTTE KNOWLES and they are currently completing their 3rd collection for London Fashion Week.
After “retiring” from business life my involvement in the world of vintage Bentleys has opened up new horizons and I have made new friends.
After acquiring my first vintage Bentley 4.5L Mandy and I took her on a 6 week trip around South and North New Zealand with a number of other Bentley owners including Paul Markland who now lives in Salcombe. We also met up and spent a day out on the water with John and Rose Burnell who live in East Portlemouth and had a house out there, we swam with dolphins.
Working on the Bentleys has been a large part of my life since and I have owned a series of cars working up to the Bentley Blower. Each car has involved extensive work and I have always enjoyed researching the cars. Apart from day to day driving and numerous weddings (3 in Salcombe) we have driven to Zakinthos in Greece, I entered the Flying Scotsman Rally with my neighbour Stephen Jagger, Mandy and I went camping at Maison Blanc during a Le Mans Classic event and drove up to Orkney and Shetland Islands as guests of Bill and Sue Spence the Lord-Lieutenant of Orkney who we met on the New Zealand Trip.
Bentley Blower – cleaning
Since 2012 I have also been involved in a very ambitious heritage project to build a replica of the Cutter Yacht Britannia built for King Edward the VII in 1893 and raced by King George V up to 1935. She will be built to race with the modern J Classes and have an aluminium hull, carbon mast, sails and rigging and hybrid propulsion. We are aiming to take her to the Americas Cup in March 2021 in Aukland. This is with the K1Britannia Trust who will use her as a flagship for charity around the world. I have always found Salcombe full of interesting and capable people, for this project I have had help from Malcolm Darch for historical information, Michael Hicks for copyright issues and Alan Van Rooyen for an amazing 1:40 scale model.
In large part it has been the people which have made Mandy and I very happy to have made our home here.
I am also very proud of Kingfisher and to be able to race in the Yawl fleet – I hope I can be useful whilst serving on the committee.