Type: Motor yacht
Length: 36ft 2ins
Beam: 10ft 10ins
Displacement: 13.84 tons
Engine: 2 x Nanni N4.50 engines
Construction: Carvel, pitch pine on oak
Builder: E G King & Son, Westcliffe-on-Sea
When Lord Alfred Dunhill, the chairman of the tobacco company, wanted a motor cruiser in 1934, he gave the commission to Zabell Bros. of Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex. They subcontracted the job to E.G. King & Son and two local craftsmen, George Davis and his son Eric, designed and built it. In his eighties, Eric clearly recalled building Lady Gay.
"We didn't have a shed big enough to take her, so we set up a canvas shelter outside, which also saved us extra rates. We only had one 100-watt electric light bulb and no machinery. Every part of her was made by hand. I remember going to Maldon in Essex with templates of the woodwork to get the timber cut to size. Then we shaped it by hand. Three of us worked on her for nearly five months and my pay was under £3 a week. Every Saturday Lord Dunhill came to the yard in his chauffeur-driven car and handed out cigarettes and, on one occasion, pipes."
When she was finished, she had cost His Lordship £1,500. Having no slipway, George and Eric, with some helpers, dragged her through the local car park and manhandled her over the sea wall into the water. They went on board with the fuel, the twin Morris Commodores started first time and Lord Dunhill's boat was on its way! It seems her stronger lead keel was added shortly after she was launched to give her more stiffness and stability - at her current displacement of nearly 14 tons lifting her over a sea wall would have been a real challenge!
She looks to have been sold prior to the war to Major W.E. Cook of Frinton-on-Sea, Essex as the Lloyd's register of 1939 shows a change in ownership that year. Lady Gay was initially requisitioned by the Royal Navy under at net charter party arrangement for £6/month before she was finally acquired by the Navy in 1942 as a Thames and coastal patrol boat. At that time, she would have been given a Navy number - her name does not appear in any of the lists of Dunkirk ships, but there is no doubt that she was there.
She was laid up by the Navy in 1944 and was purchased by Vernon Bodley in 1946. She was subsequently sold to a Mr. J W Gozzett of Wickham Bishops, Essex who appears on the Lloyd's register in 1948.
Sometime after this she was acquired by Cmdr. Clarke who was in charge of the Carshalton Sea Cadets and appears to have been given to the Sea Scouts as a training vessel. Her name was changed to Lord Nelson during this period.
The boat was bought from the Sea Scouts and used as a live aboard boat on the Lower Thames by the Coltman family who made the purchase from Tough's Boatyard. One of the family recently came to see her at a Veterans Cruise no doubt bringing back memories of their time with the boat from 1961-1969. They tried to reregister her as Lady Gay, but the name was taken and had to use the name Mehatis which stuck with her until the late 1990s.
In 1972 her petrol/ paraffin engines were replaced with Perkins diesels which she kept until 2010 – a good 38 year run!
During the ensuing years she cruised extensively on the waterways of France, Holland and Luxembourg. She has regained her original name of Lady Gay and is kept on the Middle Thames. She has had considerable work done to her since the current owners acquired her by Michael Dennett, the renowned Thames boat builder, to keep her in tip top condition. But her original hull and keel are in very good condition as a result of having been somewhat over engineered for her size when she was built, and this means that she is well placed to last another 70 years – although it is perhaps best that she is not pushed over any more sea walls!
I was a member of the 1st Carshalton Sea Scouts in the 1950s and can confirm that the boat was the property of the Sea Scouts, Mr. F.W. Clerke was the Scoutmaster and did not own it. The Sea Cadets as I remember, never had any connection, although Mr. Clerke was also involved with them as their C.O. and was Lt. Cdr. RNVR. We used the boat for weekend trips down the Thames between Teddington and Erith where we used to moor on the Saturday night. I remember vividly the nauseating smell on board of the petrol and oil vapour from the Morris Commodore Engines, the petrol /paraffin conversion was not fitted at that time, but I remember it being discussed. As the Lord Nelson it replaced an earlier boat the MONARCH, an originally steam powered pinnace from Dartmouth.
Tue, 01/06/2010 - 12:13
My parents, Bob and Bobby Duke, owed her in the early 80's under the name of "Mehatis". They are from NZ (although my mother was Canadian). In addition to the waterways of France, Holland and Luxembourg, they also sailed down the Rhine, and crossed the Channel a number of times. Interestingly, the boat that they had previously owned in NZ was called "Gay Lady"