1940 White Heather. 1940 -1946 HMS Manatee.
Type: Motor Yacht
Length: 57ft 6ins
Beam: 10ft 6ins
Draft: 4ft 9ins
Displacement: 27 tons
Engine: 2 x Thornycroft 85hp Diesels
Construction: Pitch pine on oak
Builder: McGruer & Co., Dunbartonshire
White Heather was designed by W.G. McBride and built in 1920 at the yard of McGruer & Co. Ltd. of Clynder, Scotland. In her early years she was used primarily as a pleasure boat cruising the Scottish Western Isles during the summer season. It was at this stage White Heather was given to Anna Johnson, daughter of a Scottish shipping company owner, as a 21st birthday present. She was also used at that period as a tender to the family’s racing yacht. With a crew of three fulltime hands, White Heather towed the yacht from regatta to regatta. An idyllic way to spend a summer but with no knowledge of what was to follow.
During the early part of 1940 White Heather was listed as a vessel suitable for war duties. When hostilities broke out plans were being made to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force with ‘Operation Dynamo’. White Heather joined the many hundreds of small craft to assist in the evacuation off the beaches of Dunkirk, with the main task of ferrying soldiers from the beaches to the larger warships and steamers who were sent to help. White Heather suffered a mechanical problem and was effectively abandoned but was made operational again by the soldiers themselves and returned home. Shortly afterwards along with other small craft White Heather took part in the evacuation of the 51st Highland Division and other regiments from St Valery sur Somme who had been driven back to the coast after fierce fighting. This was code named ‘Operation Aerial’ and took place from 15th. June to the 25th. June 1940.
Returning to Dover, White Heather was formally requisitioned by The Royal Navy and renamed HMS Manatee. She served throughout the war completing numerous tasks including covert patrolling and communication activities before being released back to private ownership in 1946. She was then sold and renamed Riis 1 soon after. It is unusual for a boat’s name to be followed by 1, it is more usual for the vessel just to have a name, then to be followed by 2 if a second vessel wished to bear the same name. We understand that Riis means journey in one of the Scandinavian languages, and the 1 signified the 1st journey (maiden voyage) for the new owner, who had dreams of travelling far and wide in her.
Riis 1 had various owners until in 1960 she was found in Conyer Creek by Dr. J W E Fellows who carried out her restoration and maintenance until his death in 1999. The present owners, Alan & Ann Jackson, continue looking after Riis 1 in the same home port of West Mersea Essex. Riis 1 is an active member of The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and with Alan & Ann she has cruised extensively throughout the English Channel from the Channel Islands and harbours of France, Belgium, Holland and harbours in the Baltic, including parts of Denmark and Sweden.
Riis 1 will be celebrating her 100th anniversary on August 1st. & 2nd 2020 at West Mersea Yacht Club in Essex. By kind invitation of the Commodore & Flag Officers of WMYC other Dunkirk Little Ships are planning to join her celebration.
Updated: March 2020
My father, Henry Trewick bought her in about 1957 from a broker on the Thames, she was moored just below Kew Bridge and as a young boy I spent many happy hours on her, including quite few trips including cross channel voyages. I believe my father said that the previous owner was a Lieut. Brewster. My father is 90 and has a few problems recalling details but he believes that he sold it to Dr Fellows. I have a few old photos of her and more information, if you would like to get in touch.