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Page last updated at 09:50 GMT, Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:50 UK
Fighting to keep the Dunkirk 'Little Ships' afloat
By Stephen Stafford
BBC Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Count Dracula onlien advert
Count Dracula has been on the market for four years

For sale - one Royal Admiral's Barge, several careful owners, around 100 years of sailing on the clock - including a cross-channel rescue of hundreds of Allied troops from Dunkirk under German fire.

The price tag is currently £60,000.

'Count Dracula' is being sold by Ross Farncombe, an international yacht broker based in Hayling Island.

But despite 30,000 visits to the sales website, there have been no offers for this piece of maritime heritage.

Mr Farncombe regularly sees similar classic boats which took part in Operation Dynamo - the evacuation of retreating Allied troops from Dunkirk - coming onto the market.

He said: "There are a lot of dreamers out there, but the realities of the cost of restoring and maintaining these classic boats tends to put a lot of people off. You have to go in with your eyes wide open.

Little ships returning to Dunkirk

"They take old boat-building skills which are labour intensive, it's time consuming and materials like oak are expensive.

Military history

Like many 'Little Ships', the Royal Admirals Barge undoubtedly has a remarkable history.

Ironically it was built by the German Admiralty (from plans smuggled from the British). It took part in the battle of Jutland in World War I, was rescued by the Royal Navy at Scapa-Flow and was dispatched to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation of the Allied forces in 1940.

It has been on sale for the last four years and was last on the water at Cowes Week in 2008.

Although any boat with a Dunkirk vintage "always attracts interest", Mr Farncombe said: "Only a full survey will give you a good idea of cost - it's more than than some 'TLC', some polish and a lick of paint."

"It's a lovely pipe dream, but there are fewer and fewer people around with the commitment for a labour of love and the deep pockets to be able to afford that dream."

Restoring Vere

In a boatyard in Cowes, Isle of Wight, Ian Campbell, Mike Waddleton and Andy Metters have taken on just such a challenge. They have spent much of the last three years re-building Vere - a 'Little Ship' which had rotting away in the Arun Canal in West Sussex.

Ian Campbell and Mike Waddleton
Ian Campbell and Mike Waddleton want to use Vere as an educational resource

The painstaking work has involved building a new side and finding authentic parts such as portholes and a winch although 90% of the original material remains after been Vere has been completely taken apart and renovated.

Built from oak and teak in 1905, Vere was originally a Naval Steam Pinnace before being sold as a cruiser in 1925.

In May 1940 it crossed the Channel with the hundreds of other ships and rescued over 340 men from the Dunkirk beaches despite twice breaking down on the first crossing and returning with a couple of German machine gun bullets embedded in her frame.

Although the restoration work will not be completed in time for the 70th anniversary crossing to Dunkirk, they have set up a trust to establish Vere as a floating educational resource.

Ian explained: "To make it sustainable, we'd like to convert her into a floating educational memorial. Dunkirk is never celebrated as it was a military defeat, but it was a maritime triumph.

"A lot of people under 45 have never heard of Dunkirk, but if we had lost our standing army in Europe in 1940, this country would be a very different place."

The work to restore Vere has cost around £70,000 but Mike said: "We just didn't want to let a treasure like this go - particularly with her track record."

Vere
Vere was rotting in the Arun canal before being taken to the Isle of Wight

Like many of the 'Little Ships' enthusiasts, Dunkirk runs in Mike's family - his father's boat, Gay Venture, was one of the last out as the German forces advanced.

The importance of the Dunkirk fleet was brought home to him years later. He recalls a retired serviceman who came across the Gay Venture with tears in his eyes, saying "That's the boat that got me home."

Skylark's voyage

Jerry Lewis from Warsash runs the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. He will be skippering his 60ft Auxiliary Ketch across the channel on the 70th anniversary.

Originally called, Skylark, Tahilla had been laid up in the Thames when commandeered by the Ministry of War Transport.

It was hit by enemy fire during Operation Dynamo and the steering was damaged and, after being abandoned, was found drifting off Dunkirk.

Jerry bought the boat from a friend 41 years ago, without knowing it was a Dunkirk ship. He said: "It is important to look after our history and be able to pass it on to our successors."

Jerry will be making his seventh crossing to the beaches of Dunkirk this week which will be an emotional journey.

He said: "Inevitably this will be more or less the last time the veterans will be able to make it to Dunkirk, but it's important the ships carry on - they will outlast us all."

Follow the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation on BBC Radio Solent and on Twitter @bbc_hampshire from Thursday 27 May 2010.




SEE ALSO
WWII veteran recalls life as a POW
24 May 10 |  Dorset
Dunkirk rescue boat gets revamp
17 Apr 09 |  Kent

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