Cygnet

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Cygnet
Boat Type: 
Auxiliary Ketch
Boat Length: 
45 ft
Boat Beam: 
9 ft 10 ins
Boat Draft: 
5 ft
Boat Displacement: 
19 tons
Boat Engine: 
40 hp Morris.
Boat Construction: 
Carvel, mahogany
Boat Builder: 
Hillyard, Littlehampton
Boat Year: 
1930

Cygnet was another example of the great variety of Little Ships that made up the flotilla which answered the call for help by crossing the channel, in those last days of May 1940. She was owned by A.A. Rowse of Oxford. The wind and weather were kind to her when her Royal Navy crew made the crossing and on that occasion she returned safely.

With her 6ft draft she was hardly ideal for the task. A 42ft Hillyard ketch with a canoe stern, white hull and mahogany superstructure, she was a handsome looking yacht with 6ft 6in headroom and 6 berths but Major M.P. Morris, who owned her from 1960 to 1974, was well aware of her limitations. She leaked by the keel bolts. Water, once it got aboard, could run the full length of the yacht and her bilge pump was inadequate, working through a weird arrangement of lead pipes. She did not handle well in a strong breeze and was reluctant to go about in certain conditions. Her ballast was provided by 30lb chunks, kept loose in the bilges.

For 14 years she was moored at The Bight, near Starcross in Devon and she wintered at Odhams Wharf on the river Clyst at Topsham where Chris Rowe at one time took 8ft off the top of both her masts in an attempt to make her handle better. Then she was sold to John Hurrell, a design draughtsman who kept her in South Wales. From there he set out in October 1984 with a crew of three, with poor equipment and very limited experience, to sail to South Africa to attend his daughter's wedding. Many people, including Dennis Fairfield, the Swansea Coastguard, tried to dissuade him.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay in autumn can be a severe test for a well-found yacht and an experienced crew. The Cygnet was never seen or heard from again. Having survived her brave war-time exploit, she apparently succumbed to the merciless sea.

Source: 2 & 3

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