Meeting at Salcombe, Saturday 4th November 2000
Some 50 members gathered at Salcombe Yacht Club and after coffee and enough time to take in the glorious view of the river, we were given a warm welcome by the Rev. Peter Frowley, who is Commodore of the Salcombe Yacht Club and a member of our Society. Warm in more ways than one, for as Peter pointed out he had made the right pleas to his Boss and the sun shone on us all.
Our first speakers were John Nash and Peter Scott who gave us a detailed picture of what "Flatners" and "Friends of Flatners" were about with plenty of slides to illustrate their enthusiasm. The following write- up by John explains all.
The Friends of the Flatner
It all started in 1996 when a small group of Watchet sailing enthusiasts borrowed the last sailing flatner from the Somerset County Museum Service to publicise the idea of the Watchet Community Marina. They sailed the boat at the Festival of the Sea in Bristol that year, and much enthusiasm was generated. The group then built a brand new flatner, which sails regularly. Further boats were acquired and the Watchet Boat Museum was founded.
Watchet Boat Museum
The collection is now the largest of its kind in the world, and comprises nearly half the Somerset flatners known to exist. Many other artefacts concerned with the various uses of flatners are also in the collection, and a programme of research into these boats and the life around them is well under way. In addition, it is our aim that a boat shall be shown in the process of construction or restoration at any time.
What is a Flatner?
Flatners are defined as double-ended, flat-bottomed boats. They have no keel, and the sides may be flat and single-planked, or clinker built. They are found, many still in use, all over the world, but we concentrate on the Somerset Flatners. There are several different specific types:-
· Turf boat
· Withy boat
· River boat
· Bay boat
· Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon flatners
Found on the Somerset peat moors, the turf boats were used for carrying the cut and dried peat blocks to market, and were tracked from the bank, or propelled by means of a pole. Of simple, and often crude, construction, they have identical ends with simple planked sides and a single-slab bottom. It is possible that these boats were originally a development of the log boats, with expanded and extended sides. Sizes vary between 15 and 19 feet long.
The withy boats were used on the Somerset levels to carry the cut and bundled withies to the basket makers. The construction is somewhat more sophisticated and looks more familiar to the modern eye, with the stem and the stern raking at different angles. The sides are either flat elm boards or clinker built, with a planked bottom. The boats were pulled along the banks of the many drainage ditches which cover the Somerset plain. It is thought that these boats were a later development of the turf boat. Both this and the turf boat were also used as general farm transport before motor vehicles became common. 16 to 20 feet long.
The river boats are of similar construction, but the bottom is gently curved both ways into a long, narrow, pointed spoon shape to allow the boats to be launched down the sloping muddy banks of the local rivers, in particular, the River Parrett. Used as fishing boats, they were rowed upstream with the incoming tide, and salmon were 'dipped' out of the water with a large dip net. Since the 1950's, many of these boats were converted to carry an outboard engine by cutting the stern off square. River boats are still in limited use on the Parrett, but built from the outset with plywood sides coated with GRP, and fitted with an outboard engine. Overfishing in the Atlantic has reduced the work available for these boats to almost nothing, and killed off what was once an important local industry. Usually around 19 to 20 feet long.
Further developments of the river boat were the Bay Boat and Gore Boat, both of similar construction, with the Bay Boat being slightly longer at around 19 feet, compared with the Gore Boat's 16 feet. Fitted with a simple sprit or jib headed sail, a long rudder and a dagger board, they were used in Bridgwater Bay for other types of fishing and are said to have brought coal and sheep from South Wales!. Many of these boats were destroyed at the start of the Second World War as a result of Special Defence Regulations, and the example on display is believed to be the only surviving sailing flatner left. The sailing boats used in Watchet were known as flatties, and had an extra layer of planking on the bottom as they were launched down the rocky foreshores in the area. Generally with a two-man crew, and around 20 feet in length, these boats were originally built with flat elm planked sides, although clinker built examples are known. More recently they have been built using suitable plywood for the sides. These boats operated from Watchet, Bridgwater, Burnham and Highbridge, and were once a common sight in Watchet harbour.
The Weston and Clevedon flatners were rather different, with greater length (up to 23 feet), clinker built with more rounded sides, and latterly with a square transom. They were used for fishing and were also very popular from Victorian times for 'trips around the Bay'. The sails often carried advertisements for local businesses. One boat survives in the Museum in West-super-Mare and one more is known to have survived.
The barges were, by comparison, huge. They were used on the Rivers Parrett and Tone and the Bridgwater to Taunton canal, carrying goods, especially coal, to Taunton and Langport from the colliers moored at Bridgwater. Those on the canal were restricted to about 53 feet in length due to the size of the locks, while the river barges were up to 60 feet. Crewed by two men and a 'boy', they were pulled along the towpaths by a horse, but below Bridgwater they travelled up and down on the tide. They were used downriver of Bridgwater for collecting the river mud from which scouring powder and blocks were made. With the coming of the railways and road transport, the barges gradually fell out of use, and none now survives.
Our next speaker was Tim Bass whose subject was Early Recreational Boats in South Devon.
He emphasised that the Victorians differentiated between yachting and boat-sailing in a way quite unknown today. Yachting was largely the province of the professional sailor, yacht owners and their friends usually being little more than passengers aboard. It seemed that boat sailing started in earnest in the mid nineteenth century with the rise of the middle classes, flourished until the turn of the century and then declined a little in the years before the outbreak of the Great War. However, by 1914, foundations had been laid for the development of boat and dinghy sailing in the interwar years and its subsequent explosion after World War II.
Three stages in the growth of boat sailing could be identified. Recreational sailing started in boats based on inshore working craft. These were almost always ballasted and, by modern standards, heavily over-canvassed. Accidents were not infrequent and, as a capsize was almost always followed by the boat sinking, 1oss of life was not uncommon.
In competition at local regattas and in "matches" organised by the new sailing clubs, the first of which, Dart Boat Sailing Club, dated from 1873,simple handicapping, based mainly on waterline length, was used. In 1886 the recently formed Yacht Racing Association (now the Royal Yachting Association) adopted a system of handicapping based on the "Ratings" of yachts and boats and craft designed to suit the rating formula became known as "Raters". Classes of Raters flourished in our waters for about fifteen years but were then gradually replaced by boats built both to "One-Design" rules and more restricted parameters. "Sailing dinghies" as distinct from "boats" were first recorded in 1890 when they competed in a race in Teignmouth Regatta.
Tim's talk was interspersed with many anecdotes which made it all the more enjoyable.
Lunch, but down to the Bar first. This is first class, and I must say that I envied the members of the Yacht Club for having such a congenial meeting place. The Beer was good too!
Most of us took the set lunch which had been organised in the Club dining room and after coffee and cigars on the terrace, basking in the sun, we could be forgiven for making believe this was what it was like to have been a Yacht-owner in Victorian times. Despite the presence of boat-sailors, some of us were reluctant to go back inside. But the sound of our Chairman's gong (or the thought of it) encouraged us.
We were soon settled though, for our next speakers Mike Atfield and Jim Stone, two of the last Salcombe shipwrights to have served traditional apprenticeships, talked to the meeting about the new Salcombe Yawl which they are building. The 16 foot Salcombe Yawl, a "restricted" class, was introduced in 1935,and to date some 170 boats have been built to the rules. These are a series of parameters within the limits of which designers are obliged to work. The boat is designed by Ian Howlett, a naval architect of international repute, and includes a number of interesting innovations. The development of a brand new design also entails close co-operation and input by the builders. With the aid of a series of slides, Mike first explained how Howlett's drawings where expanded to full size and then went through the stages of the construction of this traditional wooden clinker-built boat. Modern materials such as plywood for decks and epoxy adhesives for laminating are employed but the basis of the construction method would have been familiar to many a shipwright. Mike and Jim, are not only boatbuilders but pattern makers too, as they made the patterns for a foundry to produce the bronze shoe which holds the seal for the centreplate and for the centreplate itself which will also be made of bronze.
Mike, and Jim, who is to be the boat's owner, fitter out and helmsman, answered numerous questions from members as the talk proceeded. Their concluding slides showed the boat, which is to be named Storm, in the final stages of construction and awaiting fitting out.
Of course slides of the various Salcombe Yawls racing in the past stirred the memories of many in the audience and we heard some delightful tales.
Our Chairman David Pulvertaft then gave a vote of thanks to our Hosts, all of our speakers and a special thank you to Tim Bass for organising the day.
All hands then repaired to Mike Atfield's Boatyard in Island Street where we got a good look and a smooth, of the most up to date Salcombe Yawl in the world, beautifully finished and as everyone remarked a credit to the craftsmen who had entertained us.
Finally those fit enough climbed the hill to Jane and Tim's new house, while some of our members who knew Salcombe stayed at base camp with the oxygen bottles. However, it was easy to see one of the reasons Jane and Tim had chosen the house, the view from the windows looking out over the river was spectacular. After a nice cup of tea, thanking our organisers for another memorable day and wishing them well in their new abode, we dispersed and found our various ways out of Salcombe.
As a footnote to this meeting I am pleased to tell you we were able later to put John Nash in touch with a gentleman member of the Old Gaffers Association the minute their newsletter Gaffers Log came through the letter-box advertising the Bristol Channel Flatner "Ann" for sale.
It's a small world.
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hi maritime peops anyone got any info on captain george dornom and his voyages please
Thanks to John Cove in Norway for responding to my query regarding my father's boat 'Caterina' built by his brother Edward in the early 1960's. I note that you are developing a website for Edgar Cove - I can't find it anywhere - can you help? My email address - firstname.lastname@example.org
Very pleased to hear (see?) from Chris Martin. We are in regular contact with your sister, Ann, who visits the museum from time to time - last Saturday in fact!
She is following the restoration of boat Ann, and takes a keen interest. She has given us many photos and much info - if you have any more, please get in touch?
HI I AM THR GREAT GRANDAUGHTER OF AARON DORNOM WHAT INFO CAN YOU GIVE MR PLEASE AT
JENIMATTOCK@HOTMAIL.COM THANK YOU
I read with great interest the reference to the Flatner called "The Ann". I have since heard from my sister Ann (whom the boat was named after by my father) that the Ann now resides in the Watchet Boat Musuem. I can recall many hours helping my father with the upkeep of this boat at the Old Quarry at Weston Super Mare and he always referred to her as a Weston Flatner. I recalled she sailed very efficiently under a gaff rig and was moored at Knightstone when in the water. I believe I have a couple of old photos that would have been taken 45 years ago. Streuth, how the time flies.....
Sincere best wishes with your endeavours to preserve these unique boats.
West Vancouver Canada
I have only just found this site and noted Paul Duggin's comment. Our family boatyard closed in the mid 80's, not 70's as stated. I can remember my brother building 'Caterina' but do not know where she is now.
I live in Norway now and still have several 'Cove' boats here including a 22' motorboat 'Atlantic' that my father built in 1918.
I am preparing a history of the business founded by my father which, together with a photo gallery and other articles I will, hopefully soon, put onto my website 'Edgar Cove.com' which is under construction but empty at the moment (and has been for some time!).
I was also interested in David Field's reply as I knew his father and remember the sinking of his yawl. There is a good history of the Salcombe yawl class online, prepared by Tim Street.
Fascinating stuff. My father once owned the boat I understand to be acknowledged as Yawl 1 - 'Foam' - now restored/refurbed & presumably yawl rigged. She was gaff rigged and a glorious sight under full (red) canvas. She was built by Aaron Dornom's father(Aaron too) for Andrew McIlwraith & often sailed for him by my father. My brother Peter used Foam to earn cash teaching visitors to sail - in competition with Dave Gibbons who used the A Class Joan for that purpose if I remember rightly.
Father had a group of novices aboard when Foam was capsized & lost until found near the harbour entrance...
Etc Etc Etc !!! Those were the days !
Sounds like a good meeting - this comment has nothing to do with it really but some of your members mu8ght be able to help! Does anybody have any history of Edgar Cove's boatyard which closed in the early 70's? Also does anybody know what happened to the 21ft motor launch 'Caterina' which my father Bob Duggins had built there by Edward Cove in 1962? I last saw her at the Crabshell Inn, Kingsbridge, in the early 80's. She was looking neglected.
Nice report of this meeting, but I appear to have been rechristened from Bruce to Peter