Tag Archives: Traditional boats

1 error 2 many

or ‘More notes for a second edition of ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’

The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS

Guy Willson, a reader from Papua New Guinea, has written to say: ‘I have read your book and I really liked it.  I could see behind the scenes and often read between your lines as well.’

‘When you were making the movie (in 1973) I was on my way to Norfolk Island as a starting point of my adventures in the South Seas; so I never knew of the release of your film until much later when I had children of my own that had reached the age to go ‘avasting’ and ‘timber shivering’, when we were living in Rye in the 1990’s.’

‘Some years ago I restored a 13ft clinker dinghy and after adding a false keel, added a standing lugsail and trailed her up to Coniston for my children to sail… I had in mind an article from Classic Boat on the Swallow, how the Altounyan children preferred Swallow as a boat because they could stow more things in her and she could still sail well.  I had noticed on a drawing in the article that Ransome had given her an extra 2 or 3 inches of false keel and this helped tremendously in reducing her leeway.  I added a piece of oak to do the same thing but gave her an extra 9” aft and planed it down to a feather edge forward so the she would go about a bit easier. Well, it worked and Eaglet would have done the original Swallow proud.’

Swallow on Coniston

Swallow – the 12′ dinghy used in the film

‘If you would permit me a little correction: you described the rig as being gaff rig, but this is not so.  Both the boats, originals and the ones you sailed were in fact luggers.  The nearest thing to a gaffer among the luggers is the Gunter Rig which has jaws at the front of the yard but is hauled up by a single halyard. You can see this in the Mirror dinghy (in truth it is about halfway between the two). However the lug rig of Swallow is known as a ‘standing lug’ and it can be used to go about freely.  After hauling up the sail on its traveller; the peak of the yard is raised by the downhaul line (usually attached to the bottom of the boom).  This tightens the luff of the sail and lifts the outer end of the boom as well giving the best efficiency to the sail.’

image005

A gaff rigged cutter

‘Lugsails were the working sails of England for most boats less than 60ft but they were usually rigged with a ‘dipping’ lug as the mail sail and a standing lug aft.  This dipping lug had to be dropped and the yard hauled round behind the mast every time they went about.  It was a powerful sail and they found their best expressions in the three masted Bisquines which used to raid British shipping in Napoleonic days.  You can still see them at the classic boat events at Douarnenez and Brests, where I took the gaff schooner Soteria in 2006.’

image002

Soteria at Douarnenez

‘If you had had a gaff rig you would most probably have needed a jib to balance it (unlike the American catboats which have their masts right up in the bow, not even a space for the Boy Roger on those! Thanks for writing a lovely book which I will pass on to my daughter.’

Blu-ray X marks the spot

“X marks the spot where they ate six missionaries”

‘You did such a grand job as Titty and I am not really surprised to find that you are a bit of a wordsmith. I am a missionary (uneaten) in Papua New Guinea and we are planning to sail back there in our steel schooner see www.livingwatermission.org  On our return we will be calling in at Erromanga in Vanuaatu where ‘x’ was the spot where two missionaries were eaten.  Recently the descendant of one of them, John Williams, went to Erromanga for a service of reconciliation.’

If you have noticed any errors in ‘The Making of SWALLOWS & AMAZONS’ please use the Comments box to let us know so that we can make corrections! We are about to bring out a second edition. Readers who already have a Kindle edition will be able to update it free of charge.

13 Comments

Filed under Arthur Ransome, boating, British Film, Christian, Dinghy sailing, Film History, sailing film, Sophie Neville, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, Uncategorized

Arthur Ransome, his boats and the Altounyan family

‘Paddling with Peter Duck’, John McCarthy’s  documentary for BBC Radio 4, can currently be listened to on IPlayer Radio. It is about the boats owned by the author Arthur Ransome and includes extracts read from his classic book Swallows and Amazons by Kate Taylor.

While the broadcast is a portrayal of Arthur Ransome and his boats, it touches on his friendship with the Altounyan family who inspired him to embark on writing the series of twelve Swallows and Amazons books. It is easy to understand this when looking at their photographs.

Family Photo with donkeys

The Altounyan children with friends in Syria.

The girls seem to be Taqui, Brigit and Titty

Could it possibly be Arthur Ransome sitting on the right? He visited the family in Syria in 1932, when he must have been about forty-eight, but was never known to have worn shorts, although it would have been exceptionally hot in the Middle East. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Possibly Arthur Ransome in bow of Peter Duck the boat he took to Syria

Is this Arthur Ransome ? sitting on the bow of Peter Duck in Syria, the chap wearing the same hat and clothes as in the photo above? He took this  dinghy out to Syria as a gift for the Altounyan  children and wrote his novel Peter Duck while he and his wife Evgenia were  staying with the family in Aleppo.

Possibly Arthur Ransome in the Altounyan's dinghy Beetle II on Amouk in Syria

Possibly Arthur Ransome sailing Beetle II the Altounyans’ gunter-rigged dinghy at Amouk in Syria

Dr Ernest Altounyan 1935

Ransome’s friend Dr Ernest Altounyan in 1935

Dora Altounyan 1935

Dora Altounyan (nee Collingwood) in 1935

Was she the model for Mary Walker, the Swallows’ mother who grew up in Australia?

Roger at Dovedale

Roger Altounyan as a boy


Roger sailing off Peel Island 1978 by Asadour Guzelian

Dr Roger Altounyan sailing ‘Mavis’ on Coniston Water.

Sadly there is no sign of the original Swallow bought at the same time as Mavis by Arthur Ransome and Ernest Altounyan in Barrow-in-Furness, and later sailed by the Ransomes on Windermere.  Mavis was later re-named Amazon by Brigit Altounyan, the youngest of the five Altounyan children, known as The Ship’s Baby.

Brigit seated

Brigit Altounyan as a girl

Brigit married, becoming known as Brigit Sanders and later became President of The Arthur Ransome Society. The original lugsail dinghy Mavis or Amazon can be visited in the Coniston Museum in Cumbria. To read more please click here to see this previous post.

Ernest Altounyan sailing Mavis on Coniston

Dr Ernest Altounyan on Coniston Water with ‘Mavis’, one of the dinghies that inspired ‘Swallows and Amazons’

These unique photographs were recently found in Cheshire by the antiques dealer John Jukes who asked me if I could return them to the Altounyan family. This I have done and show them here by kind permission of Roger’s daughter, Barbara Altounyan. Please do not copy these photos.

To listen to John McCarthy’s  Radio 4 broadcast, please click here

19 Comments

Filed under Arthur Ransome, Biography, boating, Dinghy sailing, Family Life, Lake District, Landscape Photographs, Memoir, Photography, Swallows & Amazons, Swallows and Amazons, titty, truelife story

What we did on our holiday ~ Part Two

royal thamesis in the French newspapers

A newspaper report has just arrived from Nantes in France, where we arrived on 30th August in our shallop, the Royal Thamesis and Serena, a sandolo belonging to our rowing club, City Barge. As I explained in my previous post, we’d been asked to lead a procession of historic boats into the city as feature of their jazz festival – an activity holiday with a difference.

1604699_10152240263032821_2523161008550202018_n

I’ve also been sent these photographs of the sandolo, showing our standing up oarsmen being applauded by the crowds.

10620557_10152240262897821_5850021894383206567_n The traditional French rowing boats taking part such as Fille de la Loire, were also admired by thousands.

10666053_10152240262112821_6229376005323780902_n

Although a couple of gondolas took part, accompanying us some way down the River Erdre, I don’t remember seeing them in Nantes.

DSCF2798-001

There was certainly a huge variety of boats involved in the Rendez Vous de l’Erdre 2014.

Click here for another photo on the website of Club d’Aviron de Suce sur Erdre. 

DSCF2807

The 240 vessels taking part ranged from sleek period motorboats to a barge once used to transport cattle, which was now taking jazz musicians downriver.

DSCF2795

I loved seeing the steam boats or bateaux vapeur, including Ursula who was flying the flag of the SBA or British Steam Boat Association we once belonged to as a family.

148758_10152240263547821_3441727609955238381_n

After mooring up in the basin at Nantes,

DSCF2852

the Mayor of the city treated us all to the most fabulous reception at the Hotel de Ville.

DSCF2841-001

We found that a feast awaited us.

DSCF2834

Hungry sailors and oarsmen were rewarded for their efforts

DSCF2849

with a variety of delicious things to eat

DSCF2850

and local wines.

DSCF2840-001

2 Comments

Filed under Travel

‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We have just returned from Rendez-vous de l’Erdre in Brittany, when we rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes.

RDV poster

The journey started in Portsmouth,

DSCF2779

where the crew from our boat club, City Barge, gathered to load two boats onto the cross-channel ferry to Le Havre.

DSCF2865

We took Serena, a Venetian sandalo and The Royal Thamesis, a thirty-six foot shallop belonging to the Draper’s Company. Towing them from Oxford to Brittany was no mean feat, but other vessels from Great Britain had also made the crossing, including a thirty-three foot steamboat.

RDV flag

We launched the shallop at a pretty town called Nort sur Erdre where a jazz band was already playing to herald the festival de la Belle plaisance française.

RDV map

Stephanie Pasgrimaud from France Televisions Pays de la Loire came aboard to interview me – in French and English for the regional News on France 3.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on France 3 TV

That afternoon we rowed some way down to Monsieur et Madame Courant’s B&B on the river where we met up with other members of the party and stayed for the next four nights.

The gite

I had the most lovely room overlooking the water; chambre d’Empire.

Chambre d'Empire

As the mist rose the next morning we put up our canopy to transport our passengers downstream.

Passengers in the shallop-001

We have a crew of six oarsmen,  with a cox and a wiffler. I alternated with others, taking on all three tasks.

Rowing the shallop

We row in medieval fashion, one oar each, seated on a fixed thwarts.  Please click on the image for a history of the vessel. You may have seen our boat if you watched the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, rowing in third place, while old Father Thames glared down from our badge on the stern, elvers peaking from his beard.

Father Thames

That first morning in Brittany we practised various manoeuvres before rowing a short distance to a boat club, where we moored for a picnic lunch.

DSCF2791-001

Here we met oarsmen from all over Europe.

Pauline with the Venitians

Including those who row standing up.

Gondaliers

We rowed on to moor up for the night at the small town of Suce-sur-Erdre

Reflections

where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

France Television

Here the crews of the 240 boats taking part in the event were treated to a special dinner held outside with a jazz band playing sea shanties.

Diner with sea shanties

The organisers had brought together traditional boats, passé nautique, of many kinds.

DSCF2812-001

Although there were four steamboats and a number of canoes

Steamboats

most were in the class  de voile-aviron ~ row and sail ~ principalement des bateaux de petites tailles, souvent anciens, et correspondent pour la plupart à des critères de rareté ou d’élégance.

French boats

At every stop for coffee or lunch, laid on by the festival au point de vue, we were accompanied by le jazz.

trombones

It was phenomenal. Much was traditional but new experimental jazz was also being played to appreciative audiences.

Saxophone

With the music came with the most amazing food.

fruit

We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

passengers

we were honoured with the task of leading the procession of historic boats into Nantes.

Nantes

On the Sunday morning we were invited to the Hotel de Ville, the town hall

Sophie in Nantes

for a reception with speeches

DSCF2846

and prize giving when our club, City Barge, was awarded a very large bottle of red wine.

DSCF2838-001

9 Comments

Filed under Memoir, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story

Aboard the ‘Nancy Blackett’

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett at Buckler's HardA few days ago I was able to grab a chance and sail a yacht once owned by Arthur Ransome called the Nancy Blackett, ‘The best little ship I ever owned.’

DSCF1048

Nancy had been brought up from her birth at Woolverstone on the River Orwell in Suffolk to Buckler’s Hard on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire for The Arthur Ransome Society International Annual General Meeting held at Brockenhurst College near by.

DSCF1054

Apart from being Arthur Ranomse’s model for the Goblin in two of his books in the Swallows and Amazons series ~ We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea and Secret Water ~ the Nancy Blackett has recently appeared in Sally Potter’s feature film Ginger and Rosa.

DSCF1050

I went to visit her when she was open to visitors at the Boat yard at Bucklers Hard on Sunday 26th May.

DSCF1051

We emerged having wondered how Arthur Ransome managed to fit himself into the heads, which are right in the bows. Apparently he used to sit there smoking his pipe. How his wife squeezed herself in I do not know – she was 6’3″ tall.

DSCF1035

On the morning of 27th May we had a quick look around the historic village of Bucklers Hard,

Sophie Neville at the Mast Builder's Hotel at Buckler's Hard

including the Master Builder’s Hotel,

DSCF1063

before finding Nancy at the marina.

Sophie Neville aboard the Nancy Blackett

After climbing into our life-jackets, we left the mooring and motored down the Beaulieu River.

DSCF1070

Once we reached the Solent, our sails were hoisted and we were sailing towards the Isle of Wight.

DSCF8258

Peter Willis, Chairman of the Nancy Blackett Trust was with us.

DSCF1074

It was exciting to take the helm as we made our way up to Lymington on a broad reach at about 4 knots, at first against, then with the tide.

DSCF1076

Having left at about 10.00am we reached the Royal Lymington Yacht Club soon after 3.00pm and moored up for the night.

DSCF1083

We had enjoyed perfect conditions and the most wonderful experience.

DSCF1081

Nancy’s crew then welcomed aboard sailors from the Royal Lymington Yacht Club who were keen to see around her.

DSCF1086

If you would like to sail the Nancy Blackett do visit her website and join the trust. The next meeting will be on Saturday 6th July when Sophie Neville has been asked to give a talk on ‘Filming ‘Coot Club’ and ‘The Big Six’ in Norfolk’.

The Nancy Blackett by Claudia Myatt

The Nancy Blackett was recently profiled on BBC 1 by Coutryfile when Matt Baker went out on her first sail of the season.

Here is a compilation of the programme made up by the Nancy Blackett Trust:

7 Comments

Filed under adventure, Arthur Ransome, Film, Sophie Neville, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story

Where are they now? More about the traditional boats used when filming of ‘Coot Club’ for BBC TV

Coot Club - Teasel and Titmouse - photo Jill Searle

Mary Soan with Jill and Jim Searle on the Teasel, towing the Titmouse on South Walsham

It was Jim and Jill Searle of the Norfolk Country Sailing Base in Ludham who helped us find the boats that starred in the BBC adaptation of Coot Club and The Big Six set on the Norfolk Broads. Jill has kindly sent me a copy of this photo taken of Lullaby just after she was chosen to play the Teasel. Her costume consisted of a false transom, which is still at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham today.

'TEASEL'

The Teasel’s transom ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger Wardale recently took this photograph that I believe is to be included in his new book,  Arthur Ransome on the Broads , which Amberley Publishing will bring out soon in full colour.  He tells of Arthur Ransome’s half-dozen or so holidays on hired yachts and of the young people who sailed in the fleet,  including Titty and Tacky (Taqui) Altounyan. Roger found out that the Ransomes hired a 23′ Fairway’  yacht from Jack Powles of Wroxham. This had a Primus stove with a special cooking locker in the well. It sounds very well kitted out with a wash-basin and self-emptying WC in a separate compartment. The three Somnus spring-berths had drawers underneath and there was even a wardrobe. Like the Teasel she was built of mahogany with a ‘bright varnish finish’ and given a fair wind she would have zipped along at quite a speed.

Roger  said that he spent six days last summer trying to find places Arthur Ransome visited that had not changed since the 1930’s for his photographs but said that was difficult. What he did find was the Titmouse at Hunter’s Yard

'TITMOUSE'

The Titmouse at Hunter’s Yard in Ludham ~ photo: Roger Wardale

It is still possible to hire the mahogany hulled, gunter-rigged yachts much as Arthur Ransome and his wife did in the 1930’s, together with a sailing dinghy or rowing boat. There are fourteen sailing cruisers in the Hunter’s fleet and none have an engine. They have lifting cabin tops so you have more headroom when you moor up. Lullaby, who was built in 1932 is 28ft long with four berths. The mast can be lowered with counter weights so that she can be taken under bridges with a clearance of 6 foot.

Jim and Jill Searle have a restored a traditional gaff-rigged 26′ 1930’s crusier, which is to be sold this year. I gather it is beautiful.

Roger Wardale says that in the 1930’s, many of the yachts had a ‘self-acting’ jib, ‘which according to Ransome was too large, so that there were times  when he lowered his and sailed better without it!’  I gather they still have self-acting jibs but the size may have been altered. (?)

AT HORNING STAITHE

At Horning Staithe today ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Roger also found a cruiser similar to the  Janca, the 1930’s cruiser who played the part of the Margoletta, skippered by Julian Fellowes in his glorious role as a Hullabaloo, the spiteful, arch-baddie of Coot Club. She made a perfect leading lady. I believe the Janca is currently being restored ~ but you’ll have to remind me who owns her.

MARGOLETTA

A large 1930’s Broads crusier similar to the one we used as the Margoletta in ‘Coot Club’ ~ photo: Roger Wardale

Back in 1983 we were hugely helped by a number of Norfolk boatmen who knew the broads well.

Coot Club - Mark and Brian

Mark Page, who played Bill getting help fixing something

You will have to let me know the name of these gentlemen who spent long hours helping us in the summer of 1983.

Coot Club - local boatmen

The skipper of the vessel used as a camera boat on ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!’

Filming from one boat to another is tricky and their patience was much appreciated. In many ways the easiest boat to film with was the Death and Glory. She can still be found moored somewhere on the Broads.

Henry Dimbleby, Nicholas WAlpole, Jake Coppard, Mark Page, Caroline Downer and Richard Walton as they appeared in 'The Big Six' (1984)

Henry Dimbleby, Nicholas Walpole, Jake Coppard, Mark Page, Caroline Downer and Richard Walton as they appeared in ‘The Big Six’ (1984)

I well remember setting up this shot for the cover of the abridged version of the two stories, which was brought out by Puffin to accompany the series. It shows the Death and Glory complete with her green chimney. The big secret was that the interior of the cabin was larger than the exterior. we puzzled over Ransome’s drawings only to decide that he had cheated the measurements too.

Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory

Nicholas Walpole and Jake Coppard looking out of the window of the set that was made to represent the interior of the Death and Glory

Bruce McCaddy and his team built the set inside a modern boatshed where it was kept for ‘rain cover’,  since the interior scenes could always be shot if it was wet. It included ‘camera traps’ or sections that could be removed so the scenes could be shot. I never went inside but the boys loved it. In fact the weather was glorious. We enjoyed such constant sunshine in the later part of the shoot that we filmed the interiors when it was dry and so hot that the boys got quite over-heated.

18 Comments

Filed under 1983, Acting, Arthur Ransome, Film, Film Cast, Film History, Filmaking, Memoir, Movie stories, Sophie Neville, truelife story