Length: 27.5 ft
Beam: 7.5 ft
Draft: 4.5 ft
Displacement: 1.5 Tons
Construction: Carvel splined
Builder: A. Burgoine, Kingston on Thames
Boat Year: 1911
Google ‘Moonraker’ and you will find plenty of interest to aficionados of James Bond and at first glance little of interest to wooden boat enthusiasts. But persevere and a link (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/773950.stm) will take you to a BBC page of May 2000 reporting on the 60th anniversary of Operation Dynamo and the Commemorative Cruise of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS). That year the ADLS left Dover a day behind schedule - due to bad weather – at a stately 6 knots accompanied by the Royal Navy Type 23 Frigate HMS Somerset and various support vessels. On board Papillon we were experiencing our first Return. And there was much to take in. Such as keeping station as the lead boat in our finger of four; listening to every little variation in tone of the engines (would the starboard engine let me down again as it did on the way into Dover) and listening to instructions from the Commodore. With so much going on it was hard to see the ‘big picture’. But the ‘big picture’ had to be savoured; HMS Somerset rushing from one position to another intercepting potential conflicting traffic, white hulls and red sails, Ray Hanna in his Spitfire Mk IX buzzing the fleet and, out to starboard, the wonderful sight of a small sloop with pure white sails easily keeping pace. There were plenty of sails on that Return but I can’t recall another Little Ship looking so sleek and purposeful. At that time, I know nothing of that small craft other than she painted a memorable picture and looked like an exciting (and wet) sail.
Fast forward some years to July 2007 and onboard Papillon, Karina and I were heading upstream against a fast increasing flow to the Henley Traditional Boat Rally. For some reason in a quiet moment after the downpour I took the opportunity to call a number that had been sitting in my mobile for a few days. I’d called it previously but never managed to connect to the person in question. This time, bingo; I was taking to a solicitor based near Manchester who was acting as the executor to an estate where probate had recently been granted. Amongst the assets of that estate was one small wooden sloop named Moonraker. That same boat, no-less, that I seen and admired back in 2000 on the trip to Dunkirk. In the intervening years Moonraker’s fate had followed that of many once loved wooden boats. The owner, after lavishing much TLC (and money) on the beloved craft had unexpectedly fallen ill and passed away. With the estate awaiting probate and the surviving family living far away, the old wooden boat soon started to suffer the ravages of weather and neglect. All wooden boat owners know only too well the implications of rain water, UV and lack of maintenance. No need to elaborate on that here.
Moonraker’s fate had been a concern to the members of the Committee of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships for some time – several years in fact. The situation surrounding Moonraker’s decline is in fact all too common.
An unexpected change in ownership circumstances leads to a period of - often unintentional – neglect. The boat is left uncovered perhaps sinking on her moorings, then dragged out and left throughout the winter. And so, it goes on. We all know of boats that have suffered similar fates. Whilst all wooden boat enthusiasts hate to see this going on, with Dunkirk Little Ships in particular, we have a finite resource. When they are gone, they are gone forever and a tangible link to that critical period in Britain’s history will be lost. The Committee of the ADLS maintains an unofficial register of lost and ‘at risk’ Little Ships. The ‘jungle telegraph’ is very effective in tracking down missing boats but ultimately they are all privately owned, and it is up to that owner to provide the care they need. In the case of Moonraker, that ‘jungle telegraph’ came with a little help from Lurline’s owner, Michael Simcock. Michael knew the yard where Moonraker was last seen and a few phone calls later confirmed she was out on the hard at Heybridge Basin.
That discovery led to the conversation I had as we headed upstream with the confirmation that probate was now granted and that the new owner of Moonraker was unable to take on the commitment of owning a wooden boat but wanted to ensure Moonraker was renovated and survived for many more years to come. Another series of calls ended with a copy of MCGA Bill of Sale coming my way! Moonraker was mine. If you think about these things logically of course, it does not take long to conclude that one wooden boat is more than enough. But that’s the point. Where’s the logic in owning a wooden boat in the first place? May as well be hung for a sheep as lamb.
Now it started to get serious. Where to keep her and how to move her were the immediate questions. Now I know that there are many persons out there who don’t trust eBay and would not use it if their life depended on it, but I’m not one of them. Two weeks after taking ownership of Moonraker I located a 3-axel 2.5 ton boat trailer and bought it on eBay. Dennis Cox towed the monster back from Shoreham behind his Discovery – as if it wasn’t there. After some welding, cutting and a new set of wheel bearings I was satisfied that Moonraker should fit.
RELIEF – SHE FITS
A few days later, again courtesy of the indomitable Dennis Cox I apprehensively watched as the trailer was reversed beneath Moonraker’s short keel whilst hanging from the yard crane. The weight came on the trailer and she sat there as if the trailer had been made for her! Luck or judgment? Probably a bit of both, which came good when we needed it. A few short hours later Moonraker was in her new home near Chertsey being more fully assessed.
So, what is known about Moonraker. Well not too much. She is a 28ft sloop with a drop keel built and designed in 1911 by A Burgoine of Kingston on Thames. She was previously named Dusty Miller and Speedwell before being taking on Moonraker. She was identified as taking part in Operation Dynamo way back in the 60s and took part in the first ADLS return in 1965. It is hard to imagine that Moonraker was built for anything other than racing. Her hull is mahogany with glued splines between planks rather than caulking giving her a very rigid, light weight construction. But not necessarily making her straight forward to repair.
MOONRAKER (end of the trot) AT RAMSGATE FOR THE 1965 RETURN.
Realistically we are going to allow 2 years to restore Moonraker. Although she could be worse structurally, she needs an awful lot doing to get her back into a seaworthy condition. The top plank has to be replaced on both sides and many of the frames repaired. The deck is in very poor condition and cosmetically she is a disaster. She needs a new boom and engine. But she is complete and even has a little-used set of sails. So, she is certainly redeemable and well worth saving.
WORK PROGRESSING ON THE DAMAGED TOP PLANK
There has been no shortage of egger volunteers to helm her back for the 2010 Return. What a grand way that will be to celebrate her 99th birthday. All we have to do now is get her ready.