Type: Auxiliary Ketch
Length: 39ft 9ins
Beam: 11ft 5ins
Draft: 4ft 6ins
Displacement: 25 Grt
Engine: Perkins M130C, six litre six cylinder diesel
Builder: Peake - Newlyn
Caronia was built on the beach in 1927 at Tolcarne, Newlyn, Cornwall by Henry, Theodore & Sidney Peake. She was built for Mike Peters a skipper from St. Ives. Her hull was laid in the traditional form of a St. Ives Gig and she proudly wore SS70 being the registration mark of a St Ives fishing vessel.
Launched at Tolcarne over greased spars, she was then towed round into the harbour by a punt. Here her engines, a 26hp Kelvin in the center and a 13hp to port were fitted. The engines were installed by Tresidders of St. Ives. The boat was paid for by Mike Peters and the engines by his brother James. She cost a princely £180 to build. She was one of the very first to have engines as her primary power source. These seemingly low power engines were not intended to drive her directly but in fact keep large heavy flywheels spinning and their energy drove the shaft and propellers. The engines also explain her flat transom rather than her earlier sisters who had a counter stern to give space to work the mizzen sail. The shorter overall length also kept her into lower and cheaper fishing licence.
She was completed with tiller steering and a mizzen lug sail. She didn't come home to St. Ives but remained at Newlyn for the summer's pilchard drifting. 'Going to the Wolf', as it was called, was such a success that she was paid for in her first season. Soon after this she was raised and fitted with a gaff mizzen and wheelhouse. It is during this time in Cornish waters stems a tale that she undertook her first act of mercy by coming to the assistance of a foundering passenger liner.
By 1934 the fishing at St. Ives was in a poor state and she was sold to Mr. B. Bennet Burley, a solicitor in London, who had a residence in River Road, Littlehampton. Mike Peters sailed the boat to Littlehampton. Mr Bennet Burley employed his own carpenter to convert her into a motor yacht under Mike Peter's supervision. Mike stayed at Littlehampton for two years to supervise the conversion and skippered the boat as a motor yacht.
The 13hp Kelvin was taken out and the 26hp moved to the side. A National Diesel was installed on the center line. The net and fish rooms were converted into a saloon and a toilet, bunks were fitted in the forepeak and the fisherman’s wheel house converted into a more cruiser style. The Peters family remained at Littlehampton for two years with Mike running Caronia. They retired to St. Ives in 1937.
Then history changed who she was and what she would be known as. At the outbreak of war Caronia was in Le Havre requiring a hurried return to these home shores. She returned to Newhaven where she was commandeered by the navy and, in the company of many hundreds of other little ships, she steamed to the beaches of Dunkirk. The complete record of her participation is still part of our research and will no doubt one day fill the pages of a book. It is believed she stayed with the navy for the rest of the war before being released back into private use.
She returned to use as a pleasure yacht on the South Coast of England. By the mid-1960's she had reverted to her original use as a fishing vessel engaged in trawling from Brightlingsea. It was during this time that she again saw action, but this time on the wrong side of the law. She and her master got into trouble with the authorities for running supplies out to Mi Amigo, radio Caroline. In the eyes of the law she was smuggling, although on the east coast her Cornish heritage may have played a part in this mischief.
She then underwent her second conversion to a pleasure yacht in the 1970's at Pin Mill and for the next twenty or so years she ranged between pleasure use and fishing. She spent time in Grimsby and steamed from the harbour of Torquay to fish for sharks.
By the mid 1990's she was starting to feel her age and was in Shoreham in generally poor condition. Rescued by the previous owner to us who did sufficient to keep her afloat and converted her to a full time live aboard. We purchased her in 2002 and have spent the last decade plus restoring her to complete seaworthy condition.
Those of us with knowledge of twentieth century history will salute those brave men who nearly seventy five years ago took part in the rescue of the core of the British army from the beaches of Dunkirk. It has been with this spirit and a respect for those who took part that myself, Peter and my son Lewis Draper, have worked to restore one of the famous “Little Ships” which sailed to those troubled beaches over seven decades ago.
Caronia was purchased from her previous owner in Brighton Marina. Sailed back to Birdham Pool in the beautiful setting of Chichester Harbour and a “new” engine installed. The old BMC 3.4 which was more of an ornament than form of propulsion was swapped for a six litre Leyland engine which had already had a long life working on the Thames. We took part in the 2005 Dunkirk return and some other maritime events including the fleet review off Spithead.
From 2008 to 2010 Caronia occupied a place in the boatyard at Chichester marina. The work centred on her hull and structure. Some new planking, a lot of refastening, new bulwarks, capping rail, wheelhouse and a new deck covering. Her keel was sistered to remove a hog and strengthen her back. We relaunched and only nine days later set sail for the 2010 Dunkirk return. After such a long time out of the water she took many days to take up and we dare not push her too hard. Bad weather prevented us getting to Dunkirk although we did make it in time to meet the fleet upon their return to Ramsgate.
In the spring and summer of 2013, she returned to the boat yard at Chichester Marina for her well-earned new engine, the Leyland having been fitted as a temporary measure. With the company of three other wooden vessels the wheelhouse roof was removed, and the engine swap completed. The old Leyland with her bad habits and leaks is just a memory, although she did us all proud by motoring all the way to London to take part in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant in the spring of 2012. The well over forty year old engine is destined to spend her retirement in a vintage “Iron Fairy” crane. We also during this refit installed a “new” BMC 1500 as her wing engine, although the original use for this far smaller engine than the main would have been as a “fishing” engine the second power source is a useful auxiliary if required. Last but not least new custom made fuel tanks and a new generator were installed.
The new Perkins M130C, six litre six cylinder, it had to be a British engine, PRM gearbox, new shaft and propeller will now drive “Caronia” into a new phase of her life. As she was built in 1927 to do, she’s going back to work. MCA coding will be completed 2014/2015 and the future will see us at the helm of “Caronia” running day trips around the beautiful and historic Chichester harbour and undertaking longer “live aboard” charters to wherever the tides favour us. To revisit foreign shores and to take part in historic maritime events. Over a decade of rebuilding will soon be rewarded with the coding certificate, proof that a vessel built over eighty eight years ago is still fit to sail the seven seas. Proof of her new capabilities were seen in May 2014 when we undertook the long voyage from Chichester to Oostende to take part in the Oostende at Anchor maritime festival, followed in the September by a much shorter but no less enjoyable participation in the Southampton Maritime Festival.
We are currently (winter 2015) refitting her inside to a high and comfortable standard, a private cabin forward in her once net hold, a saloon to sleep guest crew and a dining area and galley ready to present hearty seafaring meals, a fitting tribute to its original use as a fish hold. Aft of the new engine room and new machinery will be the crew quarters with private cabins for skipper and first mate. A heating system to blown air and hot water to the shower with a wood burner will all go to make her warm cosy and comfortable. The last task will be to restep her masts in the Cornish style, a working rig forward and a steadying mizzen aft.
Every inch of her forty feet of pine planking holds true history, every ounce of her forty tons adds weight to her heritage, you really can feel the years both traumatic and gentle by walking her decks, just being aboard her is an experience. Setting to sea on her writes her ongoing history.
We will be with the fleet for the 75th Anniversary Return to Dunkirk, followed a week later by the 2015 Oostende at Anchor Festival. With fully refitted modern machinery and comforts we intend making 2015 the start of a whole new chapter in the life of this historic vessel.
The restoration of “Caronia” has been 99% undertaken by the present owner (2015) and his son from re-planking to engine fitting to painting and all carpentry, if you would like any advice or guidance for a similar project please don’t hesitate to make contact at (Chichester).
Subject of Peter's 2017 book - 'Restoring a Dunkirk Little Ship' ISBN 978 4456 7558 9.