An ongoing historical timeline of Arthur Ransome’s Nancy Blackett:
Built at Hillyards boatyard in Littlehampton, Sussex, for Seymour Tuely. First registered as a British Ship, under her original name Spindrift, on 30th March 1931, she was subsequently sold back to Hillyards, and then on to Paget Bowyer, who renamed her Electron and kept her in Poole Harbour.
“Her actual [original] launch date is lost in the mists of time and Hillyard’s notoriously non-existent record-keeping” – Peter Willis, co-founder and President of the Nancy Blackett Trust.
Bought by Arthur Ransome for £525 and renamed Nancy Blackett. Ransome sails her back, via Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, to seek shelter from a full gale, to Pin Mill.
Sailed by Ransome to Vlissingen (Flushing) as research for his new book, inspired by Nancy Blackett, “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea”, in which she will appear as the Goblin.
Ransome sails Nancy Blackett to Portsmouth and back. “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” is published.
Ransome sells Nancy Blackett, having ordered his next boat, Selina King.
Mike Rines completes his purchase of Nancy Blackett, having discovered her in near-derelict condition in Scarborough Harbour, and returns her to the River Orwell (Fox’s yard) for restoration.
Nancy Blackett is sufficiently restored to display at the East Coast Boat Show; a celebration dinner is held at the Butt & Oyster, Pin Mill.
Nancy Blackett is launched, again for the East Coast Boat Show. In 1991, Mike puts her up for sale, and she is bought by Colin Winter.
The ‘Great Race’, organised by Eastern TARS – Nancy, crewed by Peter Roche, Martin Lewis and others, v. Peter Duck, under her owner Greg Palmer, down the Orwell, into the Stour and back to Woolverstone. Peter Duck wins.
Nancy Blackett is again for sale, at £30,000. Peter Willis contacts selected Arthur Ransome Society members, suggesting a possible purchase. There is an overall favourable response and some donations, and advice along the lines of “Don’t!”. Following the Arthur Ransome Society’s AGM that year, they decline to adopt the project. It is decided that the Nancy Blackett Trust be set up as a separate organisation to, if possible, buy Nancy and then manage her. The Nancy Blackett Appeal is born at a meeting aboard Nancy Blackett herself, while she is laid up in the pouring rain at the Southwold Harbour boatyard of Harbour Marine. A steering committee is established, comprising Doug Faunt (of the USA), Martin Lewis (of Pin Mill, yachtsman and a Ransome fan who, as a boy, had met the great man), Paul Crisp, and Peter Willis.
Colin Winter sets a five-week deadline, and reduces the price to £25,000. A full-scale appeal is launched and amazingly, enough donations roll in.
The Nancy Blackett Trust Limited is formally established.
The purchase of Nancy Blackett is completed.
Nancy Blackett is displayed at the Sail Ipswich festival, her first outing under the ‘flag’ of the Nancy Blackett Trust. Terry Absolom borrows scaffolding poles, a tarpaulin and a Transit van so that a stand can be set up as well. The BBC then films her for “Bookworm” programme. Later that summer Nancy Blackett visits Chatham for another maritime festival.
Nancy Blackett sails to Falmouth, where Jim Brading and Uncle Bob once took the Goblin, and the Swallows learnt to sail. We meet Roger Sturge, unknowingly destined to be a future Chairman of the Trust. On the way back, Nancy Blackett attends the first Portsmouth International Festival of the Sea (IFOS), and is visited by over 800 people.
Nancy Blackett is reunited with Ransome’s dinghy Coch y-Bonddhu (his own sailing dinghy which he used as a tender) for ‘Swamazons’, the Old Gaffers’ Round the Island race in the Walton Backwaters, and then at the second Ipswich maritime festival, but we mourn the death of our original Patron, Brigit Sanders, née Altounyan, the Bridget of the Swallows. We decide to commemorate her in the Brigit Sanders Memorial Fund to help and encourage young sailors.
The Trust presents the OGA’s Swamazons event with the Nancy Blackett Trophy, carved out of a piece of Nancy Blackett’s former mast. Nancy Blackett attends the third Maritime Ipswich. Ellen MacArthur agrees to become our new Patron. Roger Sturge and Bill Wallace-King join the Board. We mourn the passing of one of our most loyal, enthusiastic and useful members, Martin Lewis.
Nancy Blackett’s 70th birthday is celebrated with a dinner at the Butt & Oyster, Pin Mill. The AGM includes the showing of some recently discovered home-movie footage of Nancy Blackett in her pre-Nancy days as Electron, sailing in Poole Harbour and the English Channel with her previous owner. Ellen MacArthur visits Nancy Blackett at the Yarmouth Old Gaffers weekend. Coch y-bonddhu returns to compete for the Nancy Blackett Trophy (but comes last). Nancy Blackett again takes part in IFOS, and we first hear ‘her’ shanty, “Secret Water”. Following the transfer of her winter lay-up to Robertson’s Yard at Woodbridge, Mike Illingworth diagnoses and cures the crick in Nancy Blackett’s mast by reference to the rigging shown in Arthur Ransome’s own drawings for the Goblin, with masthead backstays.
2002: Holland at last!
Skippered by Bryan Bonser, Nancy Blackett makes it to Vlissingen (Flushing) and into the pages of “The Times”, as well as the local Dutch paper. That year’s AGM, held at the Cruising Association in Limehouse, saw the appointment of the Trust’s first Vice-Presidents: Mike Rines, Josephine Russell, Terry Absolom, and Bill Oatey.
2003: Holland again – this time with children
Organised and skippered by Bill Wallace-King, with his daughter Sabrina (14), her friend Susie (15), and mate Ken Randall. After making it to Flushing, and then the Old Gaffers’ rally at Steenbergen, engine troubles delay the return voyage, and a relief crew has to be sent out.
Nancy Blackett’s first organised school party – while studying “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea”, two dozen pupils from Thetford Grammar School enjoy two-hour sails on Nancy Blackett, alternating with walks along the coast path to Pin Mill. The trips have now become an annual event. Nancy Blackett is given a new staysail, following the observation that the existing one seems rather small, and a new jib, as a donation in memory of member Mike Burton. A donation to the Trust includes a first-edition “Secret Water” containing a postcard from Arthur Ransome with the intriguing hint – “it seems to me that eight are about enough” – that he might have intended that book to end the series.
The Trafalgar bicentenary – Nancy Blackett takes part in the Fleet Review in the Solent, saluting the Queen, and then visits Portsmouth for the third and final International Festival of the Sea. She also visits her birthplace at Littlehampton, and heads down channel as far as Plymouth. Her first full survey since purchase by the Trust reveals her to be in good condition.
Nancy Blackett’s 75th birthday – and the 70th anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s own voyage to Vlissingen in her. It is appropriate to retrace the same route, this time with Peter Willis, Roger Sturge, John Smith and Bob Hull, who arranges a commemorative exhibition in Vlissingen’s library. We also meet a local resident, Jan van Schaik, who offers to translate “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” – and does. Nancy Blackett receives a new mainsail and school trips double in number. Sadly, soon after we return we receive the news that Terry Absolom, one of the Trust’s co-founders, has lost his long struggle with motor neurone disease.
The 10th anniversary of the Nancy Blackett Trust – celebrated by giving Nancy Blackett a new engine. The old engine was heavy and noisy and, we discovered, had been shaking the boat to pieces – several cracked ribs were found when we lifted it out. A lighter, quieter, and more powerful Nanni diesel is bought and installed. The year’s tempestuous weather makes a trip to the Solent in time for the Arthur Ransome Society’s AGM challenging, and scuppers later plans for trips to over Holland.
2008: Falmouth again!
After several failed attempts in previous years, Nancy Blackett finally undertakes an epic voyage during the Spring and Summer as far west as Falmouth, to coincide with a “Swallows and Amazons” exhibition and the Arthur Ransome Society’s IAGM at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. The Ipswich-based Eastern Angles went on tour with a theatrical adaptation of “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea”. In September, “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” was included by bestselling children’s author Phillip Pullman in his list of 40 favourite books as part of a promotion by Waterstones booksellers.
Nancy Blackett is “one of the 10 most important boats” representing Britain’s maritime heritage, according to “Country Life” magazine. The Nancy Blackett Trust’s AGM was held at Pin Mill Sailing Club, and an abridged version of “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” was released on CD, read by Gabriel Woolf. Nancy Blackett attended the first ever Classic Rally of the Thames Festival in September, featured in “The Times”.
2010: Rescuing a Swallow, and the Round the Island Race
Nancy Blackett assisted with the successful bidding of a consortium of “Swallows and Amazons” fans to purchase and restore the Swallow dinghy that was used in the 1974 “Swallows and Amazons” film. Roger Wardale’s book “Nancy Blackett – Under Sail with Arthur Ransome”, the indirect inspiration for the Nancy Blackett Trust, was republished after being out of print for over a decade. Nancy Blackett visited the Solent and finished 8th in class in the Round the Island Race. In the company of 1,700 other boats she comes close to last, but beats three pilot cutters, which can’t be bad. Later in the summer she was grounded on a mudbank in the River Alde, and featured in the “Financial Times”. A new Arthur Ransome biography, “Arthur Ransome: Master Storyteller: Writing the Swallows and Amazon Books”, was published in the Autumn.
2011: 80th Anniversary, and Sophie Neville
The restored Swallow attended the London International Boat Show. Nancy Blackett celebrated her 80th Anniversary by revisiting Holland and attending Maritime Ipswich. Swallow was officially relaunched at Coniston by Sophie Neville, who played Titty in the 1974 “Swallows and Amazons” film. Julia Jones, author of the acclaimed new post-Ransome children’s novel “The Salt-Stained Book” was at the Nancy Blackett Trust’s AGM, as were Swallow and Sophie Neville. In September, Nancy Blackett was visited by two members of the Japanese Arthur Ransome Club. The Nancy Blackett Trust was a sponsor of Oliver Rofix’s Round Britain Challenge.
2012: Nancy Blackett’s movie debut and more…
A musical production of “Swallows and Amazons” toured the U.K. Nancy Blackett had a wintry relaunch so as to be filmed for her big screen debut in the Sally Potter film “Ginger and Rosa”, which was released in the autumn. In the summer she hosted a visit from pupils of the Kessingland Primary School, thanks to Julia Jones. Nancy Blackett, along with Peter Duck and John Benford’s Kiboko, entertain Year 6 at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. “The World of Arthur Ransome”, the latest book by Christina Hardyment, was published in October. NBT member Doug Faunt was amongst fourteen rescued crew members of the ill-fated replica HMS Bounty. An impressive new painting of Nancy Blackett by noted marine artist Patrick Donovan (ARSMA) was presented to the Nancy Blackett Trust in November.
2013: Two appearances on the BBC, a new Chairman and winter sailing…
“Swallows and Amazons” was a featured subject on an episode of the BBC’s Mastermind. The forthcoming remake of the film “Swallows and Amazons” was announced with a casting call and an intended summer shoot in the Lake District. which was later postponed. Nancy Blackett had an early Easter launch to appear in the BBC’s “Countryfile” on April 14th, and visited Buckler’s Hard for the Arthur Ransome Society’s AGM, a favourite haunt of the Ransomes during their ownership of Lottie Blossom. Nancy Blackett was filmed in September at Pin Mill for a short appearance in David Dimbleby’s BBC TV series “Britain and the Sea”, which was broadcast in December. A new-look website was revealed on 1st November. Peter Willis resigned as Chairman while Roger Sturge was elected in his stead, commemorated afterwards by a Founders’ Feast at the Royal Harwich Yacht Club. For the first time we decide to keep Nancy Blackett in commission over the winter, and a cabin heater is swiftly purchased…
2014: Anniversaries, commemorations and a new President…
In 2014 we celebrated Arthur Ransome’s 130th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of the publication of Secret Water, and we commemorated Christopher Courtauld and Norman Willis. At the Nancy Blackett Trust’s seventeenth Annual General Meeting in July former Chairman Peter Willis was elected as the Trust’s first ever President. Several new Vice-Presidents were also elected. Nancy Blackett went on an Alde Adventure and appeared at Maritime Ipswich. Three ex-Ransome boats sailed together for the first time on the River Orwell. Maritime Woodbridge and a voyage to nowhere in particular rounded off the 2014 season.
2015: Voyages, festivals and charity screenings…
At the start of the year, Nancy Blackett’s movie premiere in Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa” was shown on BBC 2. April saw a sold-out charity screening of “Swallows and Amazons” at the Riverside Theatre in Woodbridge. In June we took Swallow from the movie to Beale Park, while Nancy Blackett went on an epic voyage to the Solent following our July AGM at Shotley. Nancy Blackett was open to the public at a successful Maritime Ipswich in August, while we held a charity screening of “Swallows and Amazons” in September. The season’s end saw the traditional Autumn Cruise follow a Secret Water Adventure in October.
2016: Theatre, radio, sleepovers and rescues…
Nancy Blackett’s fitting-out in April was delayed by mast problems and eventually happened in appalling weather, but included a new spirit cooker. May saw the first of the season’s evening sailing and an appearance on BBC Radio Suffolk, while the cast of the revived Eastern Angles theatre production of “We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea” visited in June, and Christina Hardyment had a sleepover. August saw a visit to Aldeburgh and a photo-shoot at Harwich, while September had high drama with the rescue of a drifting yacht on the Orwell. October concluded with a school visit and the end-of-season lift-out. See the log-book extracts for more details and some photo slideshows.