‘Charlotte’ has been in the Bristol Channel since 1977 at least. Firstly at Watermouth in Somerset then Cardiff. There were many such Morcambe Bay Prawners built by the well-known company of Crossfields who had yards in North Wales and Arnside in Cumbria. This gaff cutter was still afloat until brought into World of Boats early in 2015 for an inspection. At first it was thought that she may not be in too bad a shape. But examination revealed her planks and frames would need to be replaced owing to undue rot. She is being completely restored at World of Boats at Cardiff Bay by a group of volunteers (mostly OGA members).
World of Boats was part of Eyemouth International Sailing Craft Association, a charity based at Eyemouth on the east coast of Scotland. The Cardiff operation was at first overseen by shipwright Ben Punter who provided technical direction to the project. Charlotte was purchased by World of Boats from the Johnson family following the deaths of the two brothers who had owned her up until 2014. The purchase was arranged by a group of members of the OGA, the Association for Gaff Rig Sailing, who are also members of Cardiff Bay Yacht Club.
In the late 1970s or early 1980s Charlotte’s home berth was Watermouth near Ilfracombe. Brian Jones still keeps his boat at Watermouth but lives in Lymington. He remembers going for a sail in ‘Charlotte’ which was then owned by a ‘painter and decorator’ who preferred to motor around rather than sail. Brian recalls that two brothers bought her and took her up country somewhere to be re-planked as she was a bit leaky!
The two brothers were almost certainly Ray and Mike Johnson from Cardiff. The following information comes from Graham Cuthill, a long-term friend of the Johnson Brothers:
Ray and Mike Johnson bought ‘Charlotte’ sometime between 1980 and 1985 and kept her at Cardiff Yacht club on a trot mooring. She was not in good condition and a third brother, Jim, was appalled at the state of her when he first saw her. The brothers did some remedial work, replacing some of the planks and the stem (twice) and they replaced the Stuart engine with a marinized Ford Escort engine which took up most of the room in the main saloon. This engine was subsequently removed and sold.
Ray Johnson died in his 50s, his brother, Jim, stepped in to help Mike continue with the boat. Ray’s ashes were placed in a purpose made wooden box and, together with another box containing the ashes of a sailing friend, Fred Peterson (died c.2002), they were wedged into Charlotte’s deck beams until they were removed during the current restoration. Both boxes have the names carved on them and will be returned to the boat once the restoration has been completed.
Charlotte Restoration Steering Group
Chairman: Viv Head Treasurer: Charlie Harris Events: Glynis Parsons Technical Director: Ben Punter (Shipwright)
Several fundraising events took place and a bank account was opened. Research was undertaken, including through Nick Miller, the OGA Morecambe Bay Prawner (‘Nobby’) expert. One vessel named ‘Charlotte’ was traced but she became a total wreck in Fleetwood Harbour. Nothing further of any consequence was discovered.
During 2015 and 2016 ‘Charlotte’ was stripped and disassembled and all usable parts placed in storage. One or two planks at the sheer line were left on to hold the frames in place. All of the frames will need replacing and this is being done one at a time. The mast is not fit for further use and will need to be replaced. Renovation work was carried out on the rudder, bowsprit, boom and gaff spar. Full details of the work schedule were recorded by Matt Goode on a weekly work bulletin email. Replacement frames to be made from green oak and a search began to source timber.
Read a News report from the restoration team here.
16 oak logs were recovered from undergrowth at Coedcochwyn Park in Rhiwbina on the outskirts of Cardiff, with the blessing of the Cardiff Parks Department. Once these were used, little reconstruction work was able to be done during early 2018. However, further supplies of oak were sourced including the purchase of several lengths from Somerscales of Grimsby. By March 2019 the replacement of the frames was almost complete. Some larch planks have been set aside but are probably insufficient to complete the planking. World of Boats is due to move away from Cardiff at some point and some strengthening work will be needed if she is to be moved. Charlotte’s future is currently uncertain, but hope remains that work can continue elsewhere.
Viv Head, March 2019