Whitstable Yawls: The Tale of Emeline & the part played by Jessie, Len, Ray and Olive

Emeline...and Coincidence

A number of old Whitstable yawls have been saved and preserved by caring owners and each has a story to tell. However, I doubt that many tales involve quite such a coincidence as that of the Emeline. Here, we document her amazing discovery by friends Ray & Olive Harman and Leonard & Jessie Cole who, during the summer of 1992, spotted the vessel on the Costa del Sol - one thousand miles from home.

How did the Emeline get to the southern tip of the Iberian peninsular?... What was her condition?... How did she return to the UK?.... and How was she restored? To answer these questions, I spoke to Ray, Olive and Jessie at their Whitstable homes.

But, first, let me provide some historical background to the vessel....

Early Days of the Emeline

The boat was built at Collars Yard in 1904 for a member of the well known local Whorlow family and she was named after the owner's daughter, Emeline. Collars yard was located on Island Wall.

Although a traditional smack built for the oyster trade, Emeline was not used for oyster dredging towards the end of her working days. Ray's brother John explains.....

When I left Whitstable in '54, there was just one boat left shrimping, That was the Emeline, owned then by Vic Foreman. She was not kept in the harbour but moored off in the bay.

John Harman

After her shrimping career ended, she changed hands and underwent a yacht conversion at the local Anderson, Rigden and Perkins yard on Island Wall. The conversion involved the construction of a wheelhouse and the fitting of a powerful motor. In fact, Ray recalls that the motor was so powerful that it sent a fountain of water cascading up the rudder trunk when it burst into life!

After the conversion, Emeline seems to have disappeared from the Whitstable scene until that remarkable 'find' on the Costa del Sol.

Re-Discovering the Emeline

In 1992, Ray, Olive, Leonard and Jessie embarked on a holiday in Benalmadena - located between Fuengirola and Torremolinos some 29 kms south west of Malaga.. Many older Natives will remember Leonard and Jessie for their own piece of local history... as proprietors of the town's biggest and best ever toy shop - Leonard's of Whitstable High Street.

It wasn't long after arriving in the Spanish resort that Ray established an early morning routine... by disappearing off for a walk around the local marina! During his very first foray, he spotted something very odd across the local yacht basin. It looked liked an oyster yawl.... and this was confirmed when he moved closer. However, there was an even bigger shock to come.

Fig 1: The converted Emeilne at the mariina in Benalmadena, Costa del Sol.

Fig 1: The converted Emeilne at the mariina in Benalmadena, Costa del Sol.
Ray Harman spotted the craft across the marina while examining the large sailing ship in the background (Photo by Leonard Cole - © Jessie Cole)

Fig 2: Emeline's name hidden under the vessel's sloping counter stern

With the craft's bow pointing into the marina basin, Ray had some difficulty identifying the vessel from the sharply sloping counter stern. However, when he stooped down, he could just about decipher the lettering..... Emeline!

It was a name and a craft that he knew well.... for he had grown up on Island Wall as part of a well known local maritime family. After leaving the council boys school in Oxford Street (now Whitstable Juniors) at the age of 14 and working briefly at Haywards Coach Builders in Cromwell Road, Ray had been apprenticed to the Anderson Rigden & Perkins boatyard- just a few metres along the road from his home. Thus, Ray had lived and worked within a stone's throw of Emeline's birthplace at Collars and had often seen her operating as a working vessel on Whitstable's waters. He could also cast a knowledgeable eye over the stricken vessel.

Olive told me that Ray arrived back at the hotel out of breath and announced excitedly that he had discovered a Whitstable yawl. The party was guided down to the yacht basin for a viewing. Emeline's fortunes were about to change in a big way.

Initial Assessment and the Local Story

In the days that followed, Ray spent a considerable amount of time at the local marina and discovered more about the Emeline's plight. Although still on the water, she was leaking and needed the full time services of a pump to keep her afloat. Emeline's crew was nowhere to be seen and the pump was being operated by the owner of a neighbouring yacht.

Locals related the story as far as they knew it. They believed that Emeline had been acquired in Essex by a young couple who had then embarked on a lengthy journey to Marseilles (on the Mediterranean coast of France) in order to take up employment. Unfortunately, while rounding the Iberian Peninsular, she had suffered engine failure and had been forced to put into Benalmadena for emergency repairs.

We do not know precise details of Emiline's journey to the Mediterranean but the map below shows some of the geography and distance involved.

Map showing the geograpy involved in Emeilne's escapade

Fig 3: Map showing the geograpy involved in Emeilne's escapade to the Costa del Sol en route to Marseilles

The Costa del Sol may have been a convenient port of call in an emergency.... but, as one of the yachting playgrounds of the Mediterranean, it was not necessarily the 'cheapest' of places to moor a boat!

Problems mounted. Initial attempts to fix the engine failed when it was discovered that local engineers had ordered the 'wrong part'. In the meantime, berthing costs were rising at the rate of £10 per day. Locals claim that the Emeline attempted to put to sea (presumably under sail) but the move was countered by the authorities and she was impounded for non-payment of harbour fees. The boat's young owners were thought to have moved on to Australia after the "loss" of the vessel. Whatever the truth behind those local stories, it does appear that Emeline fell into the hands of Spanish officials.

A Closer Look

Within a day or so, the friends found that the situation was progressing. Emeline had been removed from the water and placed in a nearby boatyard.

Fig 4: Emeline at the boatyard in  Benalmadena

Fig 4: Olive, Ray and Jessie examine the Emeline at the boatyard in  Benalmadena
(Photo by Leonard Cole - © Jessie Cole)

This gave Ray a chance to give the craft a more detailed 'unofficial' inspection! The serious leak was located midships (three planks up) where gribble worm had bored into the wood. Gribble worm is a marine crustacean that can cause serious damage to wood below the surface of the water. It attacks not only boats but also other structures such as piers and jetties.

Ray, Jessie and Olive examine the stern of the stricken Emiline

Fig 5: Ray, Jessie and Olive examine the stern of the stricken Emiline
(Photo by Leonard Cole - © Jessie Cole)

Ray was also able to give the upper parts of the Emeline a 'once over' by commandeering a ladder and using it to good effect.... out of sight of the boatyard offices! He even managed a peek inside... and located the crafts original sails!

Overall, Olive tells me that her spouse spent quite a bit of time at that yacht marina during their holiday!

Bringing Her Back

On return to Whitstable, Leonard & Jessie contacted the Whitstable Times who were keen to help. They ran a story of the discovery under the headline "Will anyone bring her home". Things went quiet for some months but then Ray received a call from a consortium who planned to retrieve and restore her in the UK. Apparently, Emeline was being offered at auction by the Spanish authorities.

The consortium was represented at the auction and secured the purchase for an amount in the region of £400-£500. However, that didn't settle the matter. Ray tells me that the consortium representative discovered that Emeline could not be released until all harbour fees had been settled. As a result, a quick dash was made to the bank for more pesetas!

Fig 6: Leonard, Olive, Ray & Jessie with the Emiline at Faversham

Fig 6: Leonard, Olive, Ray & Jessie with the Emiline at Faversham
(Photo by Leonard Cole - © Jessie Cole)

The Home Coming

Damage to the hull meant that the Emeline could not return to the UK under her own power even if the engine could be repaired. Fortunately, help was at hand. News arrived that a vehicle with a low-loader trailer would be making a delivery to the continent.... and returning empty. It could bring Emeline back by road to Standard Quay at Faversham.

Leonard, Jessie, Ray and Olive visited the boat on her arrival in Faversham. The photo below was taken in February 1994 after Emeline had made the 1000 mile trip home.

Repairs at Faversham

Ray maintained his interest in the vessel throughout the lengthy renovation at Standard Quay.... and he wasn't the only local to take a keen interest. Bill Coleman provided some advice on the work. Bill is, of course, the owner of another well known Collars yawl.... Gamecock.

Fig 7: General View of Standard Quay, Faversham in 2008

Fig 7: A General View of Standard Quay, Faversham in 2008

The restoration returned Emeline's Whitstable yawl appearance with the removal of the cabin/wheelhouse. A substantial amount of replanking was undertaken but Ray tells me that the original keel and stern were retained. She remains afloat to this day and has appeared with Gamecock in local Swale Sailing Barge and Smack matches. She can also be seen from time to time at Whitstable harbour.

We are not entirely sure but Peter Dalrymple's photo below may be Emeline at the barge match of 2007.

Fig 8: Emeline at the barge match of 2007?

Fig 8: This may be the Emeline at the barge match of 2007. Can anyone confirm this?
Photo by Peter Dalrymple © Peter Dalrymple

The Emeline is home where she belongs.... thanks to all the caring people involved in her rescue. However, there may still be questions that remain unanswered. Read on....

Did She Visit the Med Twice?

Was the Emeline's disastrous escapade to the Meditearranean a one off journey and a spur of the moment adventure? Well, it may not have been.... because we now have some extra information to add to an already fascinating tale.... and it is thanks to an email sent to us by Derek Weatherall.

Back in 1987, (five years before Emeline was discovered in Spain), Derek captured this scene at Whitstable harbour....

Fig 9: Emeline at Whitstable harbourin 1987 - converted for canal use

Fig 9: Emeline at Whitstable harbourin 1987 - converted for canal use
Photo kindly supplied by Derek Weatherall © Derek Weatherall

It shows Emeline in her converted state - ie with the wheelhouse in place. Derek relates the story....

I am able to add a little bit to the Emeline story. She called in to Whitstable in May 1987 with four young lads aboard.

Their aim was to get to the Mediterranean through the French canals. They left for Ramsgate on the 17th, two days after the photo was taken.

Derek Weatherall

Interestingly, Derek's photo shows that Emeline had indeed been adapted for canal use as John Harman explains....

The picture shows the extent of the vessel's "degradation" as a result of revisions made to suit other purposes! These included that large box like wheelhouse, two large ventilators and a change to the mast.

This was obviously done for inland water ways. In the picture the mast has been cut off at deck level and hinged in a 'tabernacle' mounted on deck.

Originally the mast was octagonal in section at the base and went down through the deck where it would be stepped between the frames above the keel.

The hole in the deck was also octagonal in shape, but larger to accommodate carefully fitted wedges for alignment of the mast.

John Harman

It is not clear if the mast alteration was undertaken by the four lads. If it was, they may have planned the trip for some while. Of course, a mast needed to be hinged to cope with any low bridges and/or tunnels on a canal system.

French canals link the rivers on the country's northern and western coastlines to the Rhone which flows southward into the Mediterranean. A waterway journey could probably be achieved via a number of different routes depending on which west coast river was used to access the system. However, it is clearly NOT the expedition that left the Emeline in a sorry state on the Costa del Sol. It was 5 years too early and the geography is all wrong!

Were plans for the canal trip scrapped? Possibly.... but, if it did go ahead, the ageing Emeline may have made two lengthy trips to the waters of the Med by totally different routes.

Is there a link between the four lads who put into Whitstable in 1987 and the young couple who were forced to hand the Emeline over to the Spanish authorities in 1992? One would tend to think that there was.... but, again, we don't know. I have a feeling that Emeline still has a lot of secrets to reveal and that we will discover more on the subject in the future. If only a yawl could talk!

The Outcome

Despite the remaining riddles, the overall story has a successful and heartwarming outcome. Jessie Cole's photos below were taken at Whitstable in July 2001... after Emeline had been restored. The first shows the vessel alongside the quay at the harbour.

ig 10: Emeline at the Quayside, Whitstable harbour

Fig 10: Emeline (nearest the camera) at the Quayside, Whitstable harbour
© Jessie Cole

By then, Emeline had regained her typical "Whitstable Yawl" appearance after a lot of loving care lavished on her by her new owners. The scene was witnessed by the four friends who had spotted her in Spain and who had sparked the flame that eventually brought her home.

Fig 11: Leonard Cole (left) and Ray Harman (July 2001)

Fig 11: Leonard Cole (left) and Ray Harman (July 2001)
© Jessie Cole

Could they possibly have imagined that they would be paving the way for a picture such as that below when they first sighted the boat in such a distressed state at Benalmadena...

ig 12:  Emeline back in Whitstable Bay

Fig 12:  Emeline back in Whitstable Bay
© Jessie Cole

Yes, the final photo (right) shows Emeline heading into Whitstable Bay just a few hundred yards east of her birth place at Collars Yard. A Thames barge lies to port, the Isle of Sheppey ahead... and she's home where she belongs.... amongst friends.

Our Thanks....

I would like to thank Ray, Olive and Jessie for their help in producing this article. Sadly, Leonard Cole died a few years ago. He will be fondly remembered by the many Whitstable children who frequented his wonderful emporium - that Aladdin's Cave known as Leonard's Toy Shop of Whitstable High Street.

I would also like to thank Derek Weatherall, John Harman and Peter Dalrymple for their contributions.

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