Type: Motor Yacht
Length: 29ft 6ins
Beam: 8ft 6ins
Displacement: 5.73 tons
Engine: Beta 37hp Diesel
Construction: Carvel, mahogany on oak
Builder: Boats & Cars, Kingston Ltd
Raymond Baxter, fighter pilot, author and famous broadcaster, had a dream in 1963. He wanted to own a gentleman's motor yacht for cruising the River Thames between Lechlade and the estuary - with, perhaps an occasional venture up the Medway. After a frustrated love affair with a boat called Nomad, which was too far gone for him to undertake her restoration, he found a boat which changed his life. But let him tell his own story:
‘I was driving back, early one evening, from a broadcasting job in the West Country. My route took me through Staines. Whenever I drove along Packhorse Road towards the centre of town, I always looked left across the river, in the direction of Stanley Timms' boat yard and moorings which, in those days, one could glimpse briefly from the road, between the buildings and the railway bridge. And there, framed as in a snap-shot, I saw something which quite literally took my breath away. It was 'my' Nomad, riding elegantly to her mooring, pristine and immaculate, the evening sun glinting on her white hull and green deck and picking out the glow of burnished brass. To have restored to such splendour the drab hull to which I had so recently bid a sad farewell would have been nothing short of a miracle. I immediately abandoned my homeward journey, turned left over Staines Bridge and sought the approach road to the yard, which I had previously always visited by water.'
'As luck would have it, Mr. Timms himself was still at work or, to be more precise, I found him quietly contemplating his domain, meerschaum pipe as ever clenched firmly between his teeth. Feeling by now slightly foolish, I babbled out my tale to which he listened politely.'
"Oh, you mean L'Orage", he said, "yes, lovely, isn't she? Belongs to a bank manager over at Strawberry Hill. His pride and joy. She went to Dunkirk, you know. Would you like to have a look at her? I'm sure he wouldn't mind".
'Sure enough, there in the cockpit was the highly polished brass plate bearing the legend 'Dunkirk 1940'. I had found my dream boat. To learn that she was also one of the heroic Little Ships was almost beyond belief. But she belonged to another! I left Stanley Timms my telephone number. "If ever she comes on to the market you will let me know?" I said forlornly. And within a month she was mine! The agreed price was £1,150 including her sturdy copper-cleated clinker-built dinghy.'
'At the time, how could I have guessed that L'Orage would become such an important factor in the lives of my family and myself for more than a quarter of a century and that, because of her, we would become closely involved with people and events beyond my wildest flights of fantasy?'
What happened then can be read in the History of The Association. Raymond Baxter, Commander Charles Lamb and John Knight, founded the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Thus, was born the encouragement that keeps so many of these wonderful craft alive.
Surrey had been re-named L'Orage by her first post-war owner and in common with other owners of Dunkirk ships, Raymond has made every effort to keep L'Orage in perfect order. Like many an old lady who, despite honourable wrinkles, takes pride in her appearance, she looks more attractive than she did when young - as befits the Admiral's flagship - since Charles Lamb died, Raymond has become the Hon. Admiral of the ADLS.
Wooden boats, unlike modern fibre-glass ones, are made of a material which is subject to the elements. Out of the water, the wood soon shrinks and parts at the seams, which then let in the water and eventually the wood tends to rot. Kept afloat, wood deteriorates more gradually and, from time to time, needs to be renewed. So, the work on an old-timer never ends and, in a way, the owners of old and historic boats would not wish it to. Mucking about in their boats is half the fun and they often prefer it to the idea of actually going somewhere. In this way, a very personal relationship develops between the owner and the boat - which then truly becomes his - or hers, because the owner constantly cares for it. Raymond Baxter calls it "the running battle we all wage to keep the old ladies afloat". In the last 10 years L'Orage has, like her owner, required running repairs. In 1989, he found the starboard beam shelf had 'gone' on L'Orage, together with the beam ends from the wheelhouse bulkhead to the foc'sle. Then in 1991, when her owner had to resort to crutches after a boisterous dance with some Tiller girls, L'Orage was examined by a surveyor who advised "give her a new bottom or burn her - and she's too good for that." So new Iroko planks on new oak ribs were installed and, in the Spring of 1999,, after much heart-searching L'Orage had new machinery installed. Her sequence of petrol engines was ended by the choice of a "Beta 1505" Diesel and the installation has proved a total success in terms of running cost and convenience.
As of July 1999 was in good shape for the 60th Anniversary Return wearing the flag of the Honorary Admiral of the Association.
L'Orage took on new ownership (John and Sally) in 2009 following the sad passing of Raymond Baxter.
She was fully restored in 2009 and was in fine fettle for both the 2010 and 2015 returns.