Monday, August 31, 2009

Kayak 3.2, Contemporary Builders: John Petersen and Shaman Kayaks

Heading into surf in a baidarka

One of John's Greenland style Qajaq.

Here's John Petersen using a time honored arctic tool!

Toggles and paddles.

Effigy toggles, paddles and one of John's leather backrests.

Here's a group of paddlers at one of the T.A.K.S. events, a kayak rolling workshop.

A lineup of participants for the first T.A.K.S.

all photos courtesy John Petersen

I have to say right up front that I find the use of the term Shaman, for a commercial enterprise, especially by someone who isn't a shaman, a bit objectionable. I have studied shamanism for most of my adult life and have the highest respect for this form of spiritual endeavor and healing methodology. Marija Gimbutas, among others, has named shamanism as the first religion, and common to all early emerging cultures. That said, it is obvious that John Petersen has a very high regard for the cultures he is drawing from and his skin on frame kayaks and especially his kayak accoutremont are beautifully wrought and approached as an art form. His toggles are particularly compelling. Following he lead of his traditional exemplars, John crafts finely carved effigies which are put to practical use. John's work is highly regarded by the traditional kayak community. He has also been successful in originating and organizing a gathering of like minded traditional kayak enthusiasts for an annual event in California dubbed the Traditional Arctic Kayak Symposium or T.A.K.S. In it's fourth year, the symposium has proven to be an important and exuberant expression of the growing interest in and celebration of traditional kayak research, building, skills preservation and acquisition, and appreciation. Not to mention just good plain fun.
John Petersen seems to be attuned to the reality expressed by both traditional and contemporary builders of these craft- that they take on a life of their own, they become living beings. Visit his website.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Andy Seedhouse Boats

Andy Seedhouse, aka Captain Birdseye

The office

Out front

The Yard

River Deben

Signet Saffron

Folkboat Emily

Osprey, Thought to be a Lymington one design

The Chanderly

all photos courtesy Andy Seedhouse

I have never before written about a brokerage/boatyard, and probably won't very often, but this one piqued my interest. I stumbled across this family run business while searching for the little Signet twin keeler designed by American Ray Kaufman. Many were built in Britain. It was a fortuitous find. This is the kind of boatyard I would like to see more of. Built and operated by Andy Seedhouse, it is located in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on the River Deben. On a hunch, I checked the yards proximity to my friend Roger Taylor and found it was within striking distance. Following up on my hunch I asked Roger if he knew of the yard. Paydirt! Not only did he know of it, he had written about it on The Simple Sailor. Here's and excerpt from Roger's article on acquiring a set of sweeps for Mingming:

Iron Oars

Quite out of the blue I got lucky. Late one Saturday afternoon I was up in Woodbridge, Suffolk, prior to giving a yacht club talk. With half an hour to kill I wandered around the town's endlessly fascinating waterfront area. I looked at the barges and smacks and projects and oddball craft sunk into their mud berths. I wandered through Everson's yard, chock-a-block with winter lay-ups. I took a stroll down Andy Seedhouse's boulevard of maybe eighty or a hundred small craft for sale - Kestrels and Folkboats and Dauntlesses and anything under twenty-five feet or so you could think of, some sparkling, others quietly expiring under a blanket of mould. I meandered along to Andy's dinghy park and his Aladdin's cave of a second-hand chandlery and there they were. Tucked away up against a wall, mixed in with a load of assorted junk too long or too awkward to fit inside, abandoned, forgotten, redundant, unloved and unwanted, unappreciated and obsolete, were not two but three proper, solid, uncompromising, beautiful sweeps. None of them matched, but it wouldn't take much work to fashion two into an identical pair. They were slightly longer than I wanted. Well, easy enough to shorten them a little. I picked them up. Heavy. Almost certainly ash, but difficult to be sure until I could shave off the patina of grey surface timber and green mould that was starting to form, and examine the grain and colour of the virgin wood that lay patiently beneath.

You can read the entire article here (scroll to Iron Oars). The yard seems to be user friendly, with a very relaxed atmosphere, "all the boats have a full description & price attached to them so you can look in peace anytime - the yards have 24 hour pedestrian access & there is a great cafe on the front doing "fryups". As Roger says, it's filled with interesting smaller boats, from older traditional small craft to liveaboard homes with lots in between, including the largest selection of small family sized cruising sail from the postwar period I have yet found. The chanderly where Roger found his oars is "packed to the gunwales with every conceivable boat fitting, accessory and allied equipment that you can imagine, and all at a fraction of the new price!". The website exudes a kind of warm welcome. I suspect this is the kind of yacht brokerage we'd all like to find around the corner.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mingming's voyage north

The mountains of south Jan Mayen

Sailing along the base of Mt Beerenberg, Jan Mayen

A proud moment as we reach 72ºN

Amongst the bergs and bergy bits, 80 miles ENE of Scoresby Sound on the East Greenland coast

Entering Adalvik, Iceland’s most north-westerly bay

Leaving Adalvik, with the headland Ritur to starboard

Sailing down the west coast of Iceland under the lee of the Snaefellsjokull

Back at Whitehills harbour, with 48 days at sea showing above the waterline.

all photos courtesy Roger Taylor

Roger Taylor wrote me with a brief account of his voyage to the hinterlands of the north, the Arctic Ocean to be exact. He's outlined the journey for us here and I am passing it along verbatim:

(bear in mind, Mingming is a modified, engineless junk rigged 21' Corribee.)

"Left Whitehills Harbour on the Moray Firth, northern Scotland, at high water, 0200H on Friday 26th June. Ran up through the Fair Isle Channel, past Fair Isle, then outside Foula, the westernmost Shetland island. With settled weather from the east, though with occasional calms, I was able to lay down an almost straight track to Jan Mayen, which we reached 121/2 days later, on Wednesday 8th July. The highlights of the leg to Jan Mayen were two encounters with pods of killer whales, and a close shave with a Russian factory trawler, the Armanek Begayev, of Kaliningrad, which we met just inside the Arctic Circle. We had crossed the Arctic Circle, 66 33N, at about 0800H on Saturday 4th July, 8 days after leaving Whitehills.
Spent two days close inshore at Jan Mayen, the first sailing up the east coast, the second becalmed off the North east end of the island. The scenery was magnificent, the only disappointment being that Mt Beerenberg, the 7000’ volcano that dominates the north end of the island, was permanently shrouded in cloud.
From the North Cape of Jan Mayen I sailed on due north, partly out of necessity (we had a brief north westerly wind) and partly from choice as I wanted to reach 72N before turning west towards the Greenland coast. This we did at 1840H on Friday 10th July. Then headed west towards the East Greenland coast, in search of ice, meeting our first floes on the late afternoon of Sunday 12th July. Spent about 24 hours in sea ice of low density, but towards 2300H on the evening of Monday 13th July, about 80 miles east of Scoresby Sound, began to encounter small bergs and bergy bits in dangerous concentrations. After a small bergy bit had wedged itself under the starboard quarter for a few seconds I decided that we had seen enough of what we had come to see, and started to retreat rapidly east. This was none too soon, as a few minutes later I could see a line of unbroken pack ice to the south, directly to leeward. Having got clear of the ice I sailed south east to get out of the East Greenland Current and away from any stray bergs or floes.
At this point I was undecided whether to go south via the east coast of Iceland, or to carry on with the third objective of the voyage – a passage through the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Finally decided to go for the latter, so shaped a course south west to take us to the north west headland of Iceland, Stromnes. We reached here on Monday 20th July. In deteriorating weather we closed the coast and I eventually decided, somewhat against my better judgement, to enter Adalvik, Iceland’s most north-westerly bay, immediately to the south of Stromnes. Got into the bay, but despite a F6 north-easterly blowing outside, were totally becalmed for almost 4 hours, at the mercy of a mix of tides and currents evidently at work thereabouts. By this time I had given up all thoughts of sailing to the head of the bay to anchor. As soon as some wind finally came in we scooted offshore again as fast as possible. Had a good run down the west coast of Iceland in a cold north-easterly, the seascape dominated for two days by the Snaefellsjokull, the glacier at the end of the peninsula in central west Iceland.
We skirted round the end of the Reykyanes Ridge that extends 40 miles off the south west tip of Iceland, with its shoals and skerries. At that point I had a ‘nearly home’ moment, although there was still nearly 800 miles to go. Any hopes of a fast passage back to Scotland were soon dashed as we met constant calms and light headwinds, interspersed with the worst storm I have encountered in Mingming. We lay to Mingming’s series drogue for 12 hours and, after that parted through chafe caused by a silly mistake on my part when setting it, another 5 hours under my home-made B & Q sand-bag sea anchor. Off south west Faeroes we were badly held up again with a F7 from south east that blew for a good four days. Finally arrived back at Whitehills at 0930 on the morning of Thursday 13th July, the last 800 miles having taken 20 days.
Our noon to noon daily runs totaled about 2700 miles, although we of course sailed a lot further. By far the most interesting and challenging voyage I have made, with 16 days spent inside the Arctic Circle. For once we achieved all our objectives. Mingming was ,as ever, amazing, and the insulation I had put in over the winter made her incredibly comfortable, even in water at nearly zero degrees."

There's a lot more at Roger and Mingming's website the Simple Sailor.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More on Ahmad Bin Majid, Creed O'Hanlon's Tiki 38

This from Warren Matthews, a New Zealander building a sister ship to Creed's Tiki, also with the same builder. Warren withdrew his boat in January, 09. Link to his website for more and context.


Would my boat have met the same fate as Creed O'Hanlon's??

It would seem so. Whether it would be for the same reasons I can not be certain as I did not have an opportunity to examine where the failure occurred on Creed's boat and the builder did not send me the photos that he promised in a separate email to the one I published.
Let me explain why I think that my boat would have met a similar fate.
In an earlier posting entitled 'The bad' I explained how some of the beam troughs were out of square. Well things have got even worse...much worse.
I now find that the beam troughs are lacking totally in any of the supporting structure and apart from one piece of wood on the aft most beam trough which sits on top of the Nida core deck there is NO reinforcing timber at all...period. So there is nothing to tie the beams into the hulls to ensure structural integrity.
To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement. I wouldn't had thought that such an important thing would have been ignored but a little voice inside of me said 'check it out'.
I wrote to the builder yesterday expecting a reply today but none came so I thought that I may as well publish the email to him which explains my concerns. This is copied below.
I will now engage a marine surveyor to check out the rest of the hulls and take core samples to ensure that it is seaworthy.
Although this puts back my program by a couple of weeks it was better to find out now because if we had not picked it up I doubt that it would even have survived the sea trials. Also, there is no way I would have got a Cat 1 certificate which is required by all New Zealand boats leaving the country under their own propulsion. This survey is very tough because the NZ government got tired of foreign yachts visiting NZ after having sailed around the world in the tropics and then having to be rescued in NZ offshore waters because the vessels were not properly equipped for the rough conditions that are common around here.


The builder responds to my letter...but I still have TOTAL faith in the Wharram designs!

As expected, by publishing the letter on the blog it solicited an immediate response from Raoul. Whether he would have responded eventually to my email I don’t know but that is irrelevant now.
The outcome was as cooperation but a threat. Nonetheless I thought that it was fair to ask him the relevant questions particularly about the modification of the beams. As he is not prepared to cooperate on helping with this but instead chooses to threaten me I guess that we will just have to assess the beams ourselves and decide whether to build new ones.
As I said in the heading, I have total confidence in the Wharram designs and I would rather go to sea in a well built Wharram than a modern cat of the same size PROVIDED the key structural areas are built as per the spec’s.
I have posted Raouls replies, unedited, and my response which will be the end of this matter as I am obviously wasting my time seeking any support from the builder. I will now just get on and fix it and post the progress on this blog.

First response from Raoul received at 10.31pm Tuesday Aug 19th New Zealand time.

Dear Warren ,
As I said once , Wharram cats are not designed and don’t comply to any international recognized standard , such as ISO or similar .
It is then impossible to properly perform a Survey of these vessels , as there are no reference points .
As I said once , the construction with beams , ropes and locating pins , is not foreseen by any internationally recognized Notified Body or standard .
No Class is applicable either .
These boats are floating and sailing around the world , based on empirical experience .
We tried to build as good as we could , without data , and based on experience .
A normal RB boat can be surveyed and surely will pass , as the structure is built accordingly to the ISO 12215 for small boats or other rules .
You decided to remove the Tiki 38 before the completion and to make void the boatbuilding agreement . Your choice , and about the losses that you had to suffer , unfortunately are a consequence of that choice .
I don’t believe the Tiki 38 is a right choice for you ; I don’t think can carry the weight you are planning to load aboard ; I don’t trust hinges in rope as they are absurd in the modern world where the bronze and stainless are commonly available , I don’t think a sailing plan without booms will be efficient on a cat , I don’t think the Tiki 38 rig made in aluminium pipes makes any sense in the modern world where aluminium masts are commonly available .
My suggestion is to complete the boat ( if your new Builder can hold the pressure ) and perform some tests , then modify , adding reinforces here and there , in order to have a working boat ; time will say if your boat is reliable ;
Step to step , sail around the gulf and don’t expect to cross an ocean on that boat the first day . Slowly slowly build up some experience and listen to somebody ( this is the hardest part ) more experienced and as I said , after few attempts eventually will work .
If you don’t like , find a more reliable design and build another vessel .



Second response received at 10.38pm Tuesday Aug 19th New Zealand time.

Dear Warren

I think mr Allan answered to you already .
Your boat and the first Tiki 38 are built , in my opinion , properly , considering that these boats cannot be certified , as the design is not following any recognized rule , as far as I know .
You picked up the boat from RB yard , in condition of " where is as it is "
And you agreed and requested the delivery . You signed an agreement indicating that you would not have done any bad promotion , and you are doing or trying to do this right now , trying to black mail me in change of money .
If I read one more word in your blog containing defamations and an attempt of extortion , I will report to the Police and your next trip to Thailand will be an unforgettable one .



My emailed response to Raoul.

I have not heard from Allan
The reason I contacted you was to bring to your attention serious deficiencies due to not building critical components of my boat as per spec. These deficiencies would have made it unseaworthy. I asked you two very simple questions.
One was for the details of the changes you made to the beams from the specifications and two if you are prepared to meet the cost of rectifying the deficiencies.
Instead of providing the information which I requested and answering if you are prepared to meet the cost of bringing that part of the boat back to spec you respond with a serious threat. A request like this is hardly extortion. I did not make any threat to you or attempt to extort you. All I wanted was a yes or no. If you had answered yes, then well and good. If your answer was no, then it would be up to me if I wanted to consider legal action.
That is the way normal business people go about their business.
Never mind, you have said no, so that’s fine.
I do not appreciate your threat. You are welcome to do what you want to do. I feel quite comfortable as I have some significant influence in Bangkok at the highest levels.
I have done nothing but publish truthful things. I am well aware of Thai law and I have not breached it.
Just for the record Raoul, in New Zealand we don’t have a nice little calm gulf like you do. And, when it comes to open ocean time I have more than my share of experience having been a commercial fishing boat operator off the coast of New Zealand for many years. Also in other parts of the world.
Anyway, you have made it clear that you are not prepared to cooperate in this matter so I do not intend wasting my time communicating with you any further. I will get on with the completion of ‘Natural High’, I will sail it to Tahiti and enjoy many days exploring the islands.
I am not going to address your comments about certifications etc, etc. I think that Wharram cats have well proven their sea-worthiness over some decades. If you feel otherwise maybe you could do an article about this on your blog and compare the Wharrams with any successful ocean crossings that may have been completed by your RB35. (Real ocean crossings at higher latitudes)
If you read my other blog on health you will know that I never wish anyone ill will even if I feel they have wronged me. The same applies to you Raoul. I hope that the time will come for the benefit of both you and others that you will contemplate the way that you treat others and perhaps make some life changes.

Good luck,


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oughtreds En Masse

Ed Armstrong's Acorn Dinghy

Here on her home waters, Lake Wright...

in the Seirra Nevada mountains.
courtesy Ed Armstrong

Nick Coppin's Tammie Norrie ''Christopher" on Beale Pond June 2008.

And here.

Chris Perkins' Stickleback canoe 'Stangarra' at the UK HBBR Barton Broad Rally

Dave Wallwork's modified Puffin 'Lucia' at the UK HBBR Barton Broad Rally, proud builder posing!


Tim O'Connor's Acorn Skiff 'Ardilla', first time afloat at the UK HBBR Barton Broad Rally

Tim O'Connor's Acorn Skiff 'Ardilla', in full flight on the Broad, UK HBBR Barton Broad Rally

'Caitlin' and ' Scotch Mist' on the beach at the UK HBBR Cobnor

Graham Neil's lovely Whilly Tern 'Caitlin' at the UK HBBR Cobnor meet

Chris Perkin's Humble Bee 'B. Monticola', first time on the water at Beale Park Boat Show, grandson Liam at the oars for the first time

A very special moment, Iain visited in May this year and was kind enough to try my build of his Stickleback design, as the snap shows, for him, she sat lightly on the water and seemed to fit like a glove - a far cry from the effect my bulk has on her! As far as I know she was the first Stickleback to be launched, apart from Iain's build I know of a couple of others on the way.

Chris Perkins' MacGregor sailing canoe ' Scotch Mist' on Beale pond in the hands of John Greenford, the first time she had been sailed.

Chris Perkin's MacGregor sailing canoe ' Scotch Mist' on Beale pond , June 2007, probably his favourite shot of her

Badger Skiff, Francis Raynes First prize-winning entry in the WaterCraft Amateur Boatbuilding Competition at Beale Park Boat Show 2006

Nick Coppin's Humble Bee ' Little Nell' at Beale Park Boat Show

'Gilly B' a Tammie Norrie by Paul Bennett at the Beale Park Boat Show

Graham Davies taking his Badger Skiff 'Talpa' for her maiden voyage, UK HBBR Cotswold Water Park Rally

Dave Proctor's Ness Yawl 'Iona' on the UK HBBR Thames Raid

Richard Rooth's Elf 'Inwe' on the UK HBBR Thames Raid

photos courtesy Chris Perkins

In response to a recent request for photos and stories from owners/builders of Iain Oughtred designs, I recieved photos from two parties, one indivdual owner, Ed Armstrong and one from Chris Perkins aka strathkanchris. Ed Armstrong hails from Northern California and sent these of his Acorn Dingy's home waters on Wright's Lake in the Sierra Nevada range. Chris Perkins has built several Oughtred boats, lives and buildson the northwest coast of Scotland, (near the area where I enjoyed a beautiful long summer in 1976) and has sent photos of some of his and of many others from friends and co-obessives who also own Oughtred boats. As Chris says:

"I am lucky to be able to count the majority of these builders as good friends, it makes a huge difference to be able to share one Obsessive Compulsive disorder with other understanding souls."


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Operation Dynamo and the Little Ships of Dunkirk

A barge or tug tows a flotilla of Little Ships down the Thames to Ramsgate.
courtesy Sea Scout Minotaur

A Little Ship fishing vessel taking on troops at Dunkirk
courtesy Wikapedia

Few true sailing craft were involved. Windsong was one, shown here in then and now photos, a highlight of the ADLS website.

The website also supplies copious information about each member/boat, here's an example:

Boat Name:
Boat Type:
Auxiliary Ketch
Boat Length:
44ft 6ins
Boat Beam:
10 ft 9ins
Boat Draft:
Boat Displacement:
11.75 tons
Boat Engine:
Petter Diesel
Boat Construction:
Pitch pine on oak
Boat Builder:
David Hillyard, Littlehampton
Boat Year:

The only surviving David Hillyard sailing yacht to take part in 'Operation Dynamo' - and one of the very few pure sailboats, rather than motor-sailers, Windsong was not ideal for evacuating troops off a beach. In the light airs prevailing on 1st June and with only a small Ailsa Craig auxiliary engine, she was neither fast nor very manoeuverable. She must have been at considerable risk working close inshore amid bombing, shellfire and a host of every conceivable kind of ship, going in every direction.

She had not been requisitioned by the Royal Navy prior to 'Operation Dynamo', as had the majority of the 'Little Ships'; her owner had laid her up for the duration at Hillyards yard in Littlehampton on the South Coast of England. However, in response to the broadcast request for every kind of craft to be made available, her owner, Mr. G.L. Dalton, made her ready for sea, and on the 31st of May sailed her to Dover and reported at 1840 that he was "ready for sea and able to take thirty passengers" - which said more for his valour and patriotism than for the capacity of his vessel. He was told to report to Ramsgate and there in company with eleven other small craft, he was towed over to Dunkirk by the trawler Kinder Star. In David Divines' book their arrival is described by Mr. Dalton: 'We were on the point of making for the beach when we were heavily raided by dive-bombers, one large salvo just missing our trawler. We were ordered to cut adrift and make back; it was every man for himself.'

Windsong was back in Dover at 2115 on 2nd June. At this point she was taken over by T.H. Falkingham and A. Barden; it is not clear if they were naval ratings or fishermen recruited for 'Operation Dynamo'. By any reckoning Mr. Dalton had by then been without sleep for over 48 hours and was probably in no condition to make another crossing of the English Channel. Clearly the replacement crew did, for a later document refers to T.H. Falkingham and A. Barden, both of Windsong, 'who volunteered and deserve a medal.'

After Operation Dynamo, she was formally taken over by the Navy. In company with Sundowner she went to Brightlingsea on the East Coast, where, under the command of a Mr. Birtwhistle (a solicitor called up for the duration), she was used as a patrol and mine-spotting vessel in the Thames Estuary.

Mr. Dalton did not retain ownership long after the war and by 1950 Windsong went to work for her living as a charter yacht. In the course of one of these she was caught in atrocious weather in the Channel. With all but the mizzen sail blown out and the auxiliary engine lifeless the skipper hoisted a distress signal which was eventually answered by the 600 ton German freighter SS Feronia. After a struggle a tow-line was passed, but in the course of this the Feronia's counter came down with a sickening crunch on Windsongs' stem post, leaving a scar she still bears today. The long tow at five kts up-channel then commenced, and although the tow-line parted twice, they eventually entered the Solent. By this time the Press were alert to the story, for the Feronia was the first German ship to enter Spithead since the end of the Second World War.

The fifth owner in Windsong's 'Blue book' was Lady Effie Millington-Drake, wife of Sir John, who was 'our man' in Buenos Aires at the time of the Battle on the River Plate. It was he who contrived to delay the departure of the German Battle Cruiser Graf Spee from Montevideo by a series of spurious radio messages, enabling the Royal Navy to reinforce Admiral Harewood's cruiser force waiting outside, so that they could successfully attack her when she left neutral waters. She was finally scuttled in the mouth of the river Plate to avoid falling into British hands.

The present, and thirteenth, owner of Windsong is Col. (Retired) M.N.V. Duddridge, OBE, who bought her in 1986. For six years he moored her in Holland and sailed extensively in Dutch waters and up the East Coast of England. In 1992 he and his wife sailed Windsong from her winter mooring on the river Maas to Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. With the masts down the first month was spent in negotiating the rivers and canals (and the 209 locks!) of Belgium and France. At Marseilles the masts were stepped and for the next two months Windsong turned heads in the Mediterranean. Elba, Capri, the Corinth Canal and the Greek islands of the Aegean were all graced by the indefatigable old lady.

Seven years under the Mediterranean sun has caused Windsong's timbers above the waterline to dry and shrink alarmingly. However a major re-fit ashore has just been completed, which included some re-caulking, and a completely new paint scheme has restored her to her former glory, befitting of the sole representative of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships in the most Easterly corner of the Mediterranean.

Some were motorsailors, like Skylark

some were working craft, like Vanguard

A few were lifeboats, like
the Abdy Beauclerk

and a great many were pleasure craft, like

with rescued troops aboard.

and Hilfornor

all photos courtesy ADLS unless otherwise noted

Not usually one who is drawn to military exploits, I found myself totally arrested by this operation in which, during the early days of WWII, 700 private British boats were pressed into service to aid in the evacuation of hundreds of thousands British and French troops whose situation had become critical. A story of immense heroism and one which boosted British morale at one of it's lowest ebbs. Many of the boats owners insisted on sailing there boats into the fray.

This Wikipedia entry says it all.

The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France between May 26 and June 4, 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo, the rescue of more than 338,000 British and French soldiers, who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War.

The situation of the troops, who had been cut off from their advance into France by a pincer movement from the German army, was regarded by the British prime minister Winston Churchill as the greatest military defeat for centuries; it appeared likely to cost Britain the war, leaving the country vulnerable to invasion by Nazi Germany.[1][2][3] Because of the shallow waters, British destroyers were unable to approach the beaches, and soldiers were having to wade out to the warships, many of them spending hours shoulder deep in water.

On May 27, the small-craft section of the British Ministry of Shipping telephoned boat builders around the coast, asking them to collect all boats with "shallow draft" that could navigate the shallow waters. Attention was directed to the pleasure boats, private yachts and launches moored on the River Thames and along the south and east coasts. Some of them were taken with the owners' permission — and with the owners insisting they would sail them — while others were requisitioned by the government with no time for the owners to be contacted. The boats were checked to make sure they were seaworthy, fuelled, and taken to Ramsgate to set sail for Dunkirk.[2]

When they reached France, some of the boats acted as shuttles between the beaches and the destroyers, ferrying soldiers to the warships. Others carried hundreds of soldiers each back to Ramsgate, packing the men in like sardines,[4][5] protected by the Royal Air Force, as the Luftwaffe tried to attack the ships from the air. Within the space of nine days, 192,226 British and 139,000 French soldiers — 331,226 in all — were rescued by the 700 little ships and around 220 warships. The rescue operation turned a military disaster into a story of heroism which served to raise the morale of the British. It was in describing the success of the operation to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940 that Churchill made one of his most famous speeches:
“ We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ...[6]

The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships is an organization devoted to documenting, preserving and locating the boats involved in Operation Dynamo. There website is a testimony to the passions this moment of British history has engendered, and is a monumental effort by those involved. It is also beautifully realized, with lengthy biographies of the boats collected, and many photos of the boats then and now. I applaud not only the valor of those involved in Operation Dynamo but also the folks of the Association and the owners of these boats, both for preserving a moment of human dignity and the physical artifacts as well.

Note: I must say that I find the actions of both the participants in Operation dynamo and the member's of the Association inordinately inspiring.I stumbled across this website while researching Percy Mitchell, a gifted boatbuilder featured on Gavin Atkin's intheboatshed. I believe Percy was builder of one of the 'Little Ships' but cannot trace the link. Thanks to Gavin, and Percy, for opening this door for me.