Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Boat Type: 
Trawler (Scot. Yawl)
Boat Length: 
55 ft
Boat Beam: 
16 ft 6 ins
Boat Draft: 
5 ft
Boat Displacement: 
70 tons
Boat Engine: 
80 h.p. Kelvin
Boat Construction: 
Boat Builder: 
Boat Year: 

When they were built in Scotland, soon after the turn of the Century, the Willdora and her sister ships, the Willmarie and the Willanne, were named after their owner's wife and his two daughters.

These Scottish yawls were fitted out as fishing trawlers, 55ft long, with a 16ft 6in beam and a displacement of over 70 tons. They were sturdy ships, fit to go out on their dangerous work in all weathers, yet their modest 5ft draught enabled them to come quite close inshore.

At the time of Dunkirk they were working on the South Coast of England when the call came for all three of them to cross to Dunkirk and help in the evacuation. They were among the first to arrive and the Willdora, who was badly damaged by shellfire, was credited with saving 200 troops. Here, off the beach of La Panne, she was spotted, packed with troops by a soldier who, years later, identified her rotting hulk in a Northern English dock and triggered the effort to save her.

After the war she went back to fishing, was later used as the camera boat for the filming of the TV Series ?The Onedin Line?. Later she was sold as a pleasure craft and eventually ended up in Sunderland, on the East Coast of England, where she was intended as a training vessel for the district's schoolchildren. But the local council ran out of funds and before they could fully rebuild her, the hulk became prey to vandals and she ultimately sank at her moorings.

For three years she lay in Sunderland's South dock at a steep angle; her bow on the rocks, her stern embedded in the mud beneath 30ft of water at high tide. The local authority offered her free to anyone willing to raise her and several attempts failed. Then, one day, George Fraser, a local garage owner, met the soldier who first saw Willdora at Dunkirk - a local man, who had followed the boat's sad decline over the years. Inspired by his story, George dreamed of fitting out Willdora as a pleasure cruiser. He persuaded Gordon James and Joe Williams of the Hartlepool Diving Club, with the aid of a crane and ten helpers, to undertake the dangerous task of raising her from the muddy bottom and they succeeded in bringing her to the surface. But the cost of restoration once more proved too much and she was given to the Ousebourne Water Association whose members intended to adapt the ship for use by handicapped children.

A charitable trust was formed in order to raise the funds to restore Willdora. Over the next few years the hull and deck was replanked and a new wheelhouse and saloon were built to accommodate disabled people when taken out on sea trips. In 1993 she led the Tall Ships fleet out of the River Tyne at the start of their race.

Almost immediately afterwards, following a further act of vandalism, Willdora sank at her moorings and, after being lifted out, sat on the quayside for three years. The Trust, unable to start all over again, donated Willdora to the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust with the recommendation that Chris Carolan was willing and able to take on the restoration.

Willdora was made watertight and towed from the river Tyne to the river Wear where Chris is presently busy with this huge restoration. Although there is a lot to do to complete the work, Willdora is now seaworthy and has made a number of local sea trips.

Source: 21

Updated: 08/12/99


Willdora - 1969/70

Whilst serving in the Army in 1969/70, I was crew on the yaught 'Gladeye' a 57ft 6in Bermuda Rigged Ketch sailing into Cherborg.
The Willdora was moored alongside and the owner, after a good night out attempted to get down from the quay and fell onto Gladeye. He was pretty well known and was taken back injured to England. I was asked to accompany his crewman in bringing the boat back to England - often wondered what had happened to her


This boat is currently being restored in Sunderland by Sunderland Maritime Heritage.