HISTORY – TELEGRAPH BN122
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Boston Sailing Trawler “Telegraph” (BN122) by Colin Swindale
Built: Boston Lincolnshire 1906
Built for: Mr William Stringer of Skirbeck Quarter Boston –Fish merchant
L.O.D : 52ft.9 in.(16.03m.)
Beam: 14ft ( 4.27 m.)
Draft: 6ft 10in.( 2.1 m.)
Tons: 23.81 Regd: 38 gross (1st Class)
Rigged: Gaff cutter with topsails
There were several Telegraphs in the past a 1118 ton ship of 1853 an 800 ton Barque also of 1853, a 192 ton Snow from Middlesbrough a 75ft cutter rigged Smack from Lerwick (LK 35) built 1854 (lost November 22nd1881), two Brightlingsea /Colne smacks, the first lost in 1873 off Calais and her replacement in 1924, a Leigh Bawley a Thames Barge, two smacks from Boston and two or three steam ships. The sole surviving Telegraph was known by the older fisherman as the “Boston Telegraph” to differentiate her from the others.
The Stringers who were Boston fisherman by or before 1858 owned a 21 ton Whelker called Jane and Eliza (BN33) which when anchored in Boston Deeps between the Cut end and the pilot sloop on Saturday morning the 9th September 1905 was run down and sunk by the 186 ton steam trawler Dalmatian (BN 83) which wasowned by the Boston Deep Sea Fishing & Ice Company, fortunately with no loss of life.
Jane and Eliza was raised but it was reported that she was “ almost cut in two” William Stringer her owner advised the registrar on November 3rd 1905 that she had “ become a wreck owing to the extensive damage done to her “
William Stringer received £120 from the insurance company to pay for a new vessel and commissioned a well-known smack builder Alexander Munro Gostelow of Skirbeck Quarter , Boston to build him a new vessel in his yard, an unusual feature of Gostelows yard was that owing to the steepness of the bank all vessels were launched sideways as contemporary photographs show
It is shown in the 1899 registers that the Stringers owned an earlier smack called Telegraph (BN 60) a half decked 12 tonner, that was condemned and broken up, the registration being cancelled on the 30th December 1902.
The new smack was named Telegraph in memory of the earlier vessel and was launched by Mrs. Alice Stringer, William Stringer’s wife around 5pm on Wednesday the 9th of May 1906. The mast and sails were transferred from the wreck of the Jane and Eliza and the new Telegraph first registered as (BN 122) on the 23rd of May 1906 the mode of fishing being given as prawning, whelking and later spratting.
The local paper the “Boston Guardian and Lincolnshire Independent” of May 12th 1906 reported the launch and stated that “Mr Alex. Gostelow has built several fine smacks but it seems to be the general opinion of the local fishermen that this one will eclipse all others”
In fact Telegraph was reputed to be one of the three fastest smacks to sail out of Boston and was entered for many local regattas.
A photograph of Telegraph taken in 1908 shows her anchored at Frieston shore waiting for water up to Boston, the photograph is captioned “Mr.William Stringer’s Telegraph winner of the Skegness regatta 23rd September 1908” and it was reported “that she beat the19 ton Elsie (BN 140) by a few seconds” William Stringers pride was somewhat tempered by her return a week later than expected from the regatta. The crew had with their £5 prize money attempted to drink the Skegness pubs dry…. they did however return with a silver cup which was still in the family’s possession some years ago.
Telegraph and her near “sister” Majestic (BN 96)“ were noted regatta winners” for several years in local events, Majestic finished fishing in 1966, became a houseboat on the Thames and sadly was broken up around 1979.
By 1909 the fishing boat returns for the Port of Boston showed Telegraph as “spratting” and she continued stowboating for sprats until at least 1917 later reverting back to prawning and the crew of four were reduced to three at the same time.
The Stringer family also had a fleet of at least twelve large steam trawlers under the flag of Stringers Steam Fishing Company and purchased the Dalmatian (BN 83) in April 1917(the same vessel that ran down Jane and Eliza) from the Boston Deep Sea Fishing & Ice Company, she sailed on April 14th on her maiden voyage for the Stringers, tragically she was mined with the loss of eight of her crew the one survivor being picked up badly frostbitten by a German Vessel after many days adrift in the North Sea
The Stringer’s also owned another Steam Trawler the 202 ton Drummer Boy (1919 to 1925) and commissioned Gostelow in 1917 to build a 49ft prawner of the same name. William Stringer was impatiently pacing the deck of his new smack waiting for the tide to flood enough for her to be launched. For some reason Drummer Boy slid down the ways early and William Stringer was thrown off at the bottom of the slipway-some local stories have him being killed then and others of him dying some while later as a result of his injuries.
Ownership of Telegraph passed to Mrs.Alice Stringer on the 10th July 1917 and she is shown in the register as a widow.
On April the 12th 1923 the Blakeney lifeboat Caroline stood by Telegraph off the North Norfolk coast presumably Telegraph being escorted into Blakeney Harbour.
The following year Telegraph had an auxiliary engine fitted, a 14h.p. Petrol / paraffin Kelvin and that was noted in the register on the 1st November 1924. The topmast was laid ashore the crew reduced from 4 to 3 and the copper moved from the aft end to the forward end of the fish hold as burns in the deck beam testify to this day
Ownership of Telegraph passed to William Stringers oldest son William Frederick (Eric) on the 13th December 1944 but by this time Telegraph was in need of major repair work and was laid up at Boston on the 2nd July 1945
In 1946 Telegraph was taken to Worfolk’s yard at Kings Lynn for a major rebuild, which took some two years and cost £4,600, Eric Stringer then expecting her to last him at least 25 years.
Telegraph was entirely redecked using nearly 3000 ft run of 4”x2” Oregon pine on new 8”x5” Oak deck beams all new covering boards and stanchions throughout in English oak and nearly every top section of frame was replaced to the first futtock, being scarphed and strapped with wrought iron futtock pieces through bolted. These may have been as original or due to timber shortages just after the war.
The original hull planking was 2” pitch pine and this was made good and sheathed with 1” Wytch Elm making a total planking thickness of 3”apart from the wales which are 4”thick.
New bulwarks rail cappings and hatches completed the deck layout as per original and a short derrick mast and boom fitted, reputedly being her old mainmast cut down.
An intriguing remark made by Eric Stringer was to the effect that Telegraph had a double stem…and so she has. Due to her bow being so fine when Worfolks doubled her the extra thickness of planking ran right past the existing stem so they were forced to plant another wider stem on the forward side of the original existing one, the old stem effectively becoming an outer apron, so there is now 3ft of solid timber in this area.
The fitting of a K type 44 horsepower Kelvin diesel completed the refit and Telegraph went back to work as a fully powered motor vessel beam trawling for prawns and still retaining the copper in the forward end of the fish hold.
Olsen’s Almanac for 1958 shows Telegraph as a motor vessel with auxiliary sail, so presumably she had retained some vestige of canvas even then but by 1961 no sails were carried at all as photographs show.
Disaster befell early in 1969 on a fine clear day, Drummer Boy was towing her gear in the Wash and Telegraph collided with her, striking Drummer Boy fine on the port bow driving deep into her. Drummer Boy sank within two minutes the owner Ray Maltby going down with her but fortunately freeing himself and surfacing near a life raft with the rest of the crew on it.
In a seemingly bizarre way Telegraph seemed to have avenged the death of her owner some 52 years earlier.
Telegraph was held entirely to blame for the accident –the crew were reportedly sorting the catch with the tiller lashed and not keeping a proper look out- Eric Stringer being underinsured lost Telegraph, Freda and Nora (BN 154) (another smack) and Arlanza a cockle boat. Telegraph was apparently given to Raymond Maltby and his partner Raymond Sargent on the 7th of February 1969 to replace Drummer Boy, which they had jointly owned.
Raymond Sargent was apparently so unnerved by the incident that he did not wish to go to sea any more and Ray Maltby found Telegraph too large to work on his own so he sold her to John Marshall on the 31st of March 1969 who himself only kept her a few months selling her to David W. Howard of Kings Lynn and Telegraph was reregistered as LN 122 on the 14 / 11 / 69 a neat move that only entailed painting out the back of the “B”in the portmark.
In Kings Lynn the original double barrel anchor windlass was removed an offset wheelhouse built to starboard and the copper removed from the fish hold but Telegraph continued to fish for shrimps with a beam trawl continuing in this guise until being decommissioned .
David Howard sold Telegraph to Peter A. Anderson on the 15 / 3/ 1972 and he in turn sold her to J.B. & D.( Fisherman) on the 28 / 9 / 1973 .
The last entry in the register states “ Sold and not re-registered “4 / 12 / 1975
Telegraph lay semi-derelict in Fisher fleet Kings Lynn until she was purchased by Roger Warr an architect who lived in Feltham, Middlesex, he had her towed first to Wells-next-to-the-Sea Norfolk then to Harwich and finally to Woodbridge in Suffolk where she lay half sinking. Robert Simper recorded in “Sea Breezes” that she had been sold for restoration.
Telegraph lay off Whistock’s yard by the tide mill until they hauled her out. Roger Warr then completely stripped the hull of all fittings, removing the 180h.p. AEC diesel, then all the rails and cappings, most of the stern over half the deck and all the hatches and coamings every vestige of internal accommodation and finally the stem whereupon he gave up!
Telegraph then languished for about two years ashore and Whistock’s were desperate to rid themselves of this eyesore and even considered skinning her in polythene and dumping her down the river Deben. They finally offered her to the American air force as a bombing target at their ranges in Wainfleet Haven in the Wash. The Americans replied “Sure you get it there, we’ll bomb it”!
In August 1979 Tollesbury shipwright Colin Swindale was at Whistock’s yard and found her, green with mould and with caulking hanging out in great loops, he was immediately attracted to both her powerful shape and fine underwater lines despite her woeful condition. When he learnt that the yard had quoted the owner £2500 to break her up and that this would happen by September he decided to stick his neck out and save her because it seemed that “nobody else was going to do anything positive”…..
He purchased the hulk from Roger Warr through the yard for £1 “and other considerations”-namely that she was removed from the yard one way or another either as firewood or a whole boat within 6 weeks and that she left the Deben river never to return the yard being terrified of any potential liability and they told Colin Swindale that “She was not their kind of boat”.
Despite Eric Stringers warnings to him about Telegraph “bringing him trouble”. Colin worked 14 hours a day 7 days a week totally respiking, recaulking and stopping the hull which used over 70 kilos of red lead putty, six weeks and one day later Telegraph was relaunched. Much to the onlookers surprise including Colin’s she did not leak or even weep when she regained the water The next month was spent making her fit to tow to Tollesbury in Essex where Colin lived and in late October she arrived there for the start of a four year rebuild.
Eventually Telegraph was slipped at Maylandsea, Essex in late July 1982 and the stern was rebuilt which entailed a new stern post, stern timbers, quarter knees, rudder trunk, arch board, replanking the port and starboard Quarters and a new pitch pine rudder some 14ft (4.27m.)Long and 3ft (.91m.)wide to be fitted and at the same time at the other end a new Oak stem and apron were fitted and some minor replanking forward.
After leaving the slipway Telegraph was towed back to Maldon in October 1982 and work continued, on deck over 800ft run of 4”x2” Oregon pine decking was laid in the holes that the previous owner had cut out with a chainsaw, two new deck beams, 16 bulwark stanchions, new bulwarks, new port and starboard Oak bitt heads were fitted and a totally refurbished windlass, rebuilt from an original windlass found in a ditch at the back of a semi-derelict boatyard in Boston which came from one of Telegraph’s near sisters.
All new metal fittings were made in the style of the original, the style and shape being gleaned from old photographs and the study of three wrecks at Heacham, Norfolk where they had lain since the 1920,s a complete set of sails, spars standing and running rigging were fitted the sail plan being designed using Jane and Eliza’s photograph as the definitive article, The mainsail is about 1200sq,ft.(112sq.m.) the normal working bowsprit jib is 50ft (15.25m.) in the hoist and is 500sq.ft.(46.5sq.m.)the total working sail area being around 2,400 sq. ft.(223sq.m.).
Today Telegraph still sails without an engine
The first sail after the rebuild was her first under pure sail for 64 years in September 1983. Whilst she performed quite well it became apparent that all her sailing ballast must have been removed during the 1946/48 rebuild and a concrete skim of only 2 or 3 tons put in her bilge to keep her clean. Colin hired a lorry and purchased 14 tons of pig iron which he installed over the next few days throughout the bilge leaving some 3 or 4 tons as a small mountain in the middle of the fish hold and Telegraph was able to take part in the Tollesbury Smack race the following weekend
The following year 1984 Colin added a topmast and Telegraph took part in several local events including the Colne match in September. In “Yachts and Yachting” Robert Simper wrote that “A squall hit some of the fleet off the Mersea shore and Telegraph was laid right down”-and so she was with the starboard crosstree end ploughing a furrow through the waves…Fortunately none of the crew were washed over the side one later remarking how intrigued he’d been to see the mainsail forming itself to the shape of the waves….Telegraph righted herself without damage and carried on to the finish line..
Colin Swindale reluctantly had to part with Telegraph in 1986 and she finished up in the hands of someone who wanted to ketch rig her and build a large deckhouse, eventually she finished up lying derelict at Heybridge Basin in Essex for 9 years with all of her spars ashore rotting in the nettles .All the bulwarks and rails as well as some of the hatches and covering boards had been ripped off leaving her open to the weather. Some of her former crew found her half sunk and were horrified at her condition and how she had deteriorated in a few years.
Colin Swindale managed to repurchase her in 1995 and had her towed upriver to Maldon where he replaced all her 2”(50mm.) covering boards in Iroko and fitted new bulwarks and rail cappings throughout plus 14 new stanchions forward and a new 37ft.(11.28m.)hollow spruce boom.
She was sailing again in 1995 visiting Shotley classic boat festival and being featured in “Classic boat” in all being under way 32 times that year.
In 1998 Telegraph visited The International Festival of the Sea at Portsmouth and was boarded by Customs officers off Ramsgate Kent on her return up Channel, whilst in 1999 made what was probably her first “foreign” trip to a festival in Gravelines, France in late May and was the only British vessel to attend.
Later on the 9th of August that same year Telegraph was placed on the elite “Designated List” of the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom this being a list of some 150 vessels considered to be of regional and vernacular importance within the U.K. narrowly missing inclusion on the “Core List” which consists of some 55 Nationally Important Historic Vessels.
In February 2000 Telegraph was slipped at Maldon and eight planks and several frames replaced on the port side with the repaired collision damage forward from the Drummer Boy incident being removed and made good. On the first sail after relaunching Telegraph outwardbound for France was struck by lightning off Bradwell power station in the mouth of the River Blackwater, this gave one of the crew an electric shock ruptured a gas main in the galley causing a gas assisted fire below and blew out some of the new caulking leaving several burn marks down the topsides and several leaks. Telegraph was returned to Maldon and slipped and it was found that many fastenings had been destroyed in the area where the lightening had exited the hull and she was refastened and a new plank fitted on the starboard waterline where it had been damaged.
In June 2001 Telegraph appeared to have been hit while lying to her anchor near the fairway despite having an anchor ball and riding light and her 37ft.boom was broken, fortunately a new one was made just in time for her to attend the 2nd International Festival of the Sea at Portsmouth in late August.
She arrived after a five day passage with a few minutes to spare and was berthed immediately astern of the Victory in No.1 Basin.
The return passage took six days but included two days lying weather bound off Walmer waiting for the wind to veer.
The following week Telegraph won her class in the Tollesbury Smack race and also the seamanship trophy
In 2003 a new 50ft mainmast and 36 ft topmast were fitted along with all new standing and running rigging new blocks and lignum vitae deadeyes and a new 500 sq ft topsail added to the sail wardrobe.
In September of that year Telegraph was the subject of an Anglia television documentary (shown in March 2004) the programme highlighting the differences between an original (Telegraph) and a smaller smack rebuilt for racing, finishing up with an “impromptu”race…
Minor replanking (18 ft.) was carried out on the port bow in the Spring of 2004 to finally tidy up the remnants of the collision damage dating from 1969 when a new section of wale was fitted from the stem towards the shrouds.
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