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Whitstable Memories - Building the Marcelle

What did youngsters do back in 1948 during the austere days of post war Whitstable? Well, if your family had strong connections with maritime industries, you might just build a boat. However it isn't a straightforward business when materials are in short supply.... your boatyard is the family garden... and you are just 15 years old. 

Following a Maritime Heritage


As a boy, I had grown up amongst boat builders and, at times, helped them with the "clenching" (riveting of copper nails). After the war, when things were returning to normal, I just had to build my own boat. By then, I was 15 and attending the Canterbury College of Art.

Going by eye and taking a few simple measurements from a boat that I liked, I made the moulds for what was called a Tankerton Boat - an eleven foot clinker (lap strake) rowing dinghy with a full tuck stern (wine glass shape). 


Above: John's boat 'The Marcelle' alongside the old Vigilant Barge 


Apart from my age, it would not be any easy feat to build a boat at that time.  There was no electricity at home, power tools had not really arrived.... nor had money! Plastic sheeting (to cover things up) was still to come in the future.  The long, "out door" work bench that I had prepared was always wet.  


A Limited Boatyard!


Not having a large enough shed to build the boat in, I set the stocks up in a corner of the back yard - by the tall fence and chicken shed at the end. I put cross pieces from this building frame to the fence and covered it all with old canvas sails. 


 Using the 1948 version of the "corldless" drill 


 The only problem was that, when a gale force gust of wind hit the fence, it all went momentarily "out of plumb"!  


"Half planked" - in an improvised garden workshop along Island Wall!


Resources and Rationing


Obtaining the wood was another challenge. Wood was rationed.  The allowable amount was 3 pounds in value per month.  Out at the South Street saw mill (by the level crossing),  they had cut a large elm log into 'boat board' (full width, and rough sawn to a full 3/8" thickness).  I bought my month's allowance, and for a packet of cigarettes,  the "outside foreman" hid the remainder of the sawn log that I needed until the following month.

Transporting the wood home is a story in itself.  I had borrowed a builders push cart and walked out to the South Street mill.  Being just 15 I could hardly push the cart when loaded with these long bendy boards. 

Then, I had to come down Millstrood Hill. I moved one wheel over on to the grass verge and came down backwards.... very slowly, leaning into the load with my heels dug in.  Had it gotten away from me, the whole load would have ended up in Belmont Road..... through someone's front door.  

A lot of other wood was scrounged, and some mahogany I salvaged from a wrecked landing craft. The largest copper fastenings had the government arrow stamped on them.  These were always falling out of my brother Ray's overalls when he worked at the shipyard during the war. When he took them off at night, they scattered all over the floor of the small bedroom that we shared. 

I made all the metal fittings in the Silversmith Department at art college.... including lovely brass rowlock plates with deep furrels, a large pear-shaped ringbolt and plate to fasten to the apron and through the stem and a brass keelband.


The Marcelle awaits launching.... on the Island Wall roadway. 
(Note: The garden wall in the background  belongs to The Vines seafront cottage).  


I recycled the mahogany backrest from an old navy whaler, planed it down and carved the boat's name in it ....'Marcelle'. It was my mother's name. After all, she had to put up with two years of wood shavings!  



The Marcelle Afloat


The picture on the right shows my mother me on board - shortly after the launching ceremony

The shot below was taken at the Vigilant beach and shows the old Sea Cadet diving board in the background. 

"The board was erected immediately after the war in 1945. It was later replaced with a concrete one - built by the cadets themselves under the supervision of  Percy Monday (a man who lived in Nelson Rd and was in that line of work)".


The final picture (below) shows the Marcelle in a heavy swell..... 



"The longish boat over my stern is the Sea Cadet Whaler. At one time I think they had two whalers and two cutters -  all very large boats".


John Harman 
British Columbia



It's strange how so many old and diverse stories suddenly come together as Simply Whitstable grows. In our Flood of '53 section, Dennis Begent provides the following anecdote.....


"In Douglas West's book, Second Portrait of a Seaside Town (page 40), there is a picture of our mother being rescued."

Dennis Begent


That Doug West photo shows Dennis's mum being rescued by rowing boat from the top floor window of the family home in Middle Wall. John has since studied the picture and it seems likely that the boat used to transport Dennis's mum from the floodwater in Middle Wall was none other than the Marcelle. It had been commandeered from the harbour.

Where is the Marcelle now? Well, John believes that may have been retored by Faversham boat builder Alan Staley.