FENLANDER: Historic fishing boat gets �30k refit at Wisbech yacht harbour

LATER this month, weather permitting, a 75-year-old former fishing boat will set off up the River Nene at the start of a three-day pilgrimage up the east coast to its original home of Whitby following a major �30,000 refit in the yacht harbour at Wisbech.

And its owners have paid a glowing tribute to all the people who have helped to put the vessel back on the water.

“Progress of Whitby” was relaunched in Wisbech at the end of last month. It has since been moored in the marina. Its owners, Robin Dunn and his partner Carol Harvey, said: “To see it relaunched after all the work that has been done on it was a really emotional moment. We were pretty ecstatic. Now we can’t wait to get on the move.”

The boat’s arrival in Whitby is certain to be equally emotional. It is due to be skippered into the port there by Sonny Winspear, the son of its original owner, and Jim Hebden, one of its original crew members.

“We meet with Sonny and Jim every time we go up to Whitby,” said Robin. “It‘s a wonderful privilege knowing them and it’s through them that we’ve been able to pull together so much of the boat’s history.”

The trip north was due to start next week but a forecast of bad weather has caused it to be delayed.

The refit in Wisbech has taken 18 months. It has included rebuilding the wheelhouse in keeping with its original character, new wood and engineering and repainting in the old livery of Oxford blue with gold lettering.

Most Read

Almost all the materials have been sourced locally and the work done by local people. Clinton Dorrington, the Harbour Master, has been closely involved throughout and key craftsmen have included boatbuilder Tom Penney, carpenter Keith White and S and H Engineering.

Robin had nothing but praise for them all. “The support we’ve had from Clinton and his team has been excellent and we’ve been very fortunate with the mix of skills in the boatyard here,” he said. “The facilities are wonderful and the relationship that exists between everyone is remarkable. Everyone has been prepared to pull together to get the job done.”

Councillor Mac Cotterell, Fenland District Council’s portfolio holder responsible for the port, said: “This is a tremendous story for everyone involved – it represents progress in every sense. The refit has been a huge job and highlights what we can do here in Wisbech.

“We’re in the process of creating a wonderful marine facility complete with modern moorings, a 75-tonne boat lift and a slipway that is welcomed and widely used by the boating fraternity. It provides jobs and income for the local community and serves as a catalyst to stimulate wider economic development in and around the port.”

“Progress of Whitby” is registered as a “national historic ship” and has had an eventful career, including operating as a very successful commercial fishing vessel and acting as “eyes and ears” watching out for submarine activity during the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944.

Robin and Carol are its seventh owners. They have lived on board since buying it nearly four years ago with the proceeds from the sale of their previous boat.

Life in the very cramped quarters has been a challenge. “There are extreme limitations,” said Robin. “I’m used to clutter and find it OK but it’s not something I’d recommend to anyone without real commitment. Carol has been amazing.”

Carol added: “It has certainly been hard but in the end you know that when everything’s finished we can go cruising and that’s when the dream starts.”

That dream will become reality when the couple set off from Wisbech. On their way to Whitby they’ll be stopping off in Grimsby and Scarborough. After that they will return to Wisbech to complete the internal refit, before setting off on their travels again next year.

“Next year we’re going on up to Scotland to Anstruther, where it was actually built,” said Robin. ”Then we’ll head through the Caledonian Canal across to the west coast – and then we’ll see where life takes us.”

• For more details on the Port facilities, contact the Harbour Office on 01945 588059.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter