Providence

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Providence
Boat Type: 
Auxiliary Gaff Cutter
Boat Length: 
38ft +10ft
Boat Beam: 
11ft 6ins
Boat Draft: 
7ft 2ins
Boat Displacement: 
11.08 tons
Boat Engine: 
Lister-Petter Alpha Diesel
Boat Construction: 
Carvel, pitch pine on oak
Boat Builder: 
Gilbert & Pascoe, Porthleven
Boat Year: 
1934

Jonathan Minns has spent his life restoring things, from water mills to beam engines and rarely meets the original designers who only leave the evidence of their skills in their artefacts. With Providence, it was different. When he first sailed her to Cornwall, he met a friend who said that her designer, the late Nigel Warington-Smyth OBE was still alive and then living in a beautiful cottage at the mouth of Frenchman's Creek. They decided to sail there and arrived on the designer's 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of the launching of Providence. After some five hours of animated questions and answers, Jonathan said: "by the way, tell me about the Providence bell." To which Nigel replied: "What bell?" So Jonathan explained that he had found a bell hidden in the internal ballast tucked deep down by the dead-wood aft. He had carefully removed and cleaned it and was struck by its beauty and the composition of its metal: bronze with a high silver content. It turned out to be late 18th or early 19th century Persian, perhaps brought back by a trading skipper as a souvenir. But when Nigel heard of it, tears came to his eyes and he explained the reason. Providence was built by Gilbert & Pascoe who used their family's oak trees from along the Helford River and were known to have hidden things in boats which they particularly enjoyed building. But nothing was ever found hidden in the Providence and Nigel feared that the builders had not thought much of her. Now, suddenly after all those years, he had learned the secret and his joy was a pleasure to witness.

Providence is a ship anyone might lose his heart to and as a tribute to Nigel was recently voted as one of the Worlds' Top One Hundred Classic Yachts. Lovingly restored by Jonathan Minns, she would make the owner of any modern luxury yacht green with envy. Few old gaffers have survived so close to their original form for half a century and who would wish to change her, with her polished brass compass binnacle and her shining, varnished wooden blocks! Her spars, deck and hull were painted, not varnished, to save ex-pense and her interior is surprisingly roomy for four to cruise in. Her grown oak frames will easily survive a century.

Since 1969 she has had a 42hp Perkins diesel installed and in 1996 it was replaced by a Lister-Petter Alpha, but at Dunkirk she had no engines and must have been towed across. Had the weather turned nasty, it would not have worried Providence. Her long 31/2 ton iron keel and substantial ballast, together with her ample beam, make her a stiff boat and the Appledore reefing gear on her main enable the crew to reduce sail in minutes. Her pre-war owner reported how she once raced from Concarneau to Benodet. -"We were home and stowed before the Bermuda rigs came in".

After Dunkirk, she went to the East coast on barrage-balloon duty, moored in the River Crouch. When Nigel Warington--Smyth got her back she was in a sorry state and he could not afford to restore her. But she soon found enthusiasts who appreciated her qualities. In the hands of Jonathan Minns who keeps her on the Beaulieu river in Hampshire and often sails down to Falmouth in Cornwall, she has been restored to perfection and lends grace to all the rallies of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships that she takes part in.

Source: 2 & 5

Updated: 26/07/99