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Boat Talk


 For those who go down to the sea in ships.



One of the main subjects of conversation of boys and men who live near the sea is boats. I’m sure every one of us has gone through a time of wanting to run away to sea, to sail the world, to find a deserted Treasure Island in the far away Caribbean, to live the life of Robinson Crusoe or Captain Blood. The closest I came to this dream was when the Anstruther lifeboat, the Nellie and Charlie, was put up for sale. After seventeen years of being in service the Nellie and Charlie was replaced by a next generation lifeboat, The James and Ruby Jackson. The Nellie and Charlie was offered for sale either with or without it’s large engine. Without the engine the price was 300 pounds, a fraction of what it must have cost when it was built. A placard with the facts was attached to the lifeboat and there it lay for months,  moored to the harbor wall, just across the road from where the famous Anstruther Fish and Chip shop is now.  Being able to buy the lifeboat without it’s big engine was a plus. All lifeboats are pampered from day one and the Nellie and Charlie was no exception. When it was put up for sale it looked like it had just arrived brand new from the builder. The hull was carvel built with double diagonally fastened mahogany planking and with a layer of white leaded calico between the layers of the planking. It was a vessel that I knew could safely go anywhere in the world once it was decked over and rigged to become a motor/sailer with a low profile lug sail and a small engine. There were three of us in on this reverie. With me were my Earlsferry pal, Jimmy Linton, "Jems" and an Elie pal Tommy Grant. (Tommy Grant's father was Sir Michael Nairne's butler at Elie House. Sir Michael was the inventor of linoleum floor coverings.) We reasoned that it would take all three of us to buy, refit and run the boat. At the time the boat was for sale a Glasgow instrument shop by the name of Charles Frank was advertising government surplus brand new ex navy sextants and I got on a bus to Glasgow and bought one along with instructions as to the navigation of ocean going vessels. I also had an Anstruther man by the name of Tom Tothill teach me the rudiments of ocean navigation. Tom was a navigator who had crossed the Atlantic several times in sail boats.  But that daydream wasn’t to be as while we were doing just that somebody came along and bought the Nellie and Charlie. "What's fur ye'll no gan bye ye". The dream was fun while it lasted.


The 2nd of June 2010. 

Incredible. Out of the blue. Today I received an email from Bevis Musk in which he tells me that he is the proud owner of the Nellie and Charlie and that after 77 years the Nellie and Charlie is used every week and is still in excellent condition. What a testimony to her builders and those who have taken care of her for all of those years. For anyone who would like to see her Bevis keeps the "Nellie" moored at Sharpness on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal about 50 metres from the estuary of the River Severn in England.  Next year, 2011, Bevis is planning to take the 'Nellie" back to Anstruther for a visit where she will be on display at the Anstruther Lifeboat Day Festival. 


I wonder whether Bevis and the Nellie will go by way of the Irish Sea, the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Falkirk Wheel and the Firth of Forth or whether they will go by way of the longer route that will take them further north to the Caledonian Canal to cross Scotland from west to east by way of Loch Ness, where the monster lives, then come back down the east coast to Anstruther in the Firth of Forth?  No matter which way they go it will be a memorable cruise.  Which way they go and return will, no doubt, be a last minute decision and one determined by time available and the prevailing weather.


When the Nellie cruises in to Anstruther Harbour and ties up at the pier, next to "The Reaper" what a homecoming that will be.

 The "Nellie and Charlie" as she is today. There's no mistaking her ancestry.


The "Nellie and Charlie" is now listed on the register of National Historic Ships. 


At the end of World War II a considerable number of government surplus boats came on the market at a boat yard at Dundee and four of them were bought by Elie/Earlsferry people and were brought to the Elie harbor. Two of them were 30 plus feet or so long displacement hull cabin cruisers and the other two were 20 foot planing hull runabouts. The first of the cabin cruisers was an all white boat and was bought by Johnny Green, an Elie man who named his boat the HeatherIan. The second cruiser was all varnished mahogany and was in like new condition and was bought by his brother David who named it the Heather. The Heather was the best looking boat in the Elie harbor. I cruised the Dundee boat yard, made an offer and bought one of the 20 foot runabouts that were for sale. I was told that it had been the captain’s going ashore jolly-boat on the ship that it had come off. There it sat all spic and span in the yard on an ex navy trailer that had been used for hauling torpedoes and just waiting for someone to tow it away, which I did. I named it the Comet which turned out to be a misnomer. The Comet instead of being a fast boat was an absolute dog. It was a beautiful looking boat but it’s beauty was skin deep. The problem was that it had been built of the very best and overly thick mahogany throughout and was way too heavy for it’s four cylinder American Willys jeep engine. Coupled to the engine was a heavy Kermath epicyclic gear box. The engine was fresh water cooled and had a secondary, indirect, salt water heat exchanging cooling system. All of this plumbing was made of very heavy copper and brass that added to the boat's dead weight. The boat was designed to be a planing vessel but at full throttle only once or twice did I get it to come up on the step and plane. Anything less than maximum throttle and it sank down into the water to function as a slow displacement hull boat, like a draft horse hauling a plough, which it wasn’t meant to be. The boat was a disappointment after all the work I'd put into it to spruce it up and it wasn’t long before I sold it at a giveaway price. But the Comet did provide me with one lasting good memory. While I was going all over the boat and getting it ready for it’s first jaunt I determined that the engine needed new spark plugs, distributor rotor, points and condenser. I soon discovered that it being an American product nobody in the UK had these spare parts. Luckily the Willys address was on the engine’s name tag so I wrote to Willys in the US to explain my dilemma and asked for the parts and to first let me know how much I would owe as I thought they would want to be paid before they shipped the parts. No letter came but about two months later a box was delivered to me. In the box, instead of the bits and pieces for the distributor that I’d asked for, were two brand new complete distributors, six sets of spark plugs and several other miscellaneous engine spare parts. Along with the parts was a letter from Willys saying that they had a good supply of the parts and there was no charge for the shipment and if I needed any more parts at any time to just let them know and they’d send them no charge. Wow.  This must have been pay-back carry over wartime camaraderie. Whatever it was I thanked them very much for their generosity.


By contrast the next runabout that showed up in the harbor was the same size of runabout as the Comet but in comparison it was a shabby, scungie looking boat that badly needed a shave and a haircut and a new paint job. It was clinker fastened, was  lightly built and had a large direct drive V-8 engine. This boat was named the Vosper. But despite its looks, wow, could the Vosper ever fly. The Vosper had the right power to weight ratio. Once I was invited to go along with its owner to try it out.  At a little over half throttle that boat lifted up on the step and planed as easy as could be, like a seabird taking flight. It must have been doing at least an easy 30 miles an hour. What a contrast to my beautiful, at anchor, Comet. 


Just shows you; as you can't judge a book by its cover, neither can you judge a boat by it’s color.



Elie Harbour


Today, The Granary at the Elie harbour has been converted into modern residential flats but in my young day The Granary was  used as a place of commerce. Small puffer coaster vessels came to unload coal from the Wellesley coal pit at Methil. Coal was the prime means of providing fuel for the village at that time. Coal was also baked in a battery of retorts that converted coal into coal gas and coke at Jimmy Stevens gas works at Liberty. Bags of grain and potatoes from the local farms were stored at The Granary where at a later time they were slid down a chute and loaded into the holds of coaster vessels to be shipped elsewhere. In the wintertime the lower level of the granary was used to store small boats and the nets and fishing gear of the locals and the gear that belonged to the commercial salmon fishermen.  A summertime use of the Granary was as a place for boys who were trainees on the Mars Training Ship at Dundee, to stay at when they came to Elie for a summer break. Mars ship boys wore cadet naval uniforms and part of their training was to play musical instruments. When they came to Elie their marching band entertained the locals as they paraded through the village. 


And lastly if you want to advance in the Navy.