"Norseman" (the boat formerly known as...)
by Nick the boatman
(Near London on the Thames)
I'm restoring "Norseman" - name to change before she is relaunched, on request of the previous owner.
Here is an article he wrote in December 2010 about her history, published in the Sussex Yacht Club magazine:
Sussex Yacht Club Magazine
Article December 2010
Norseman sailed out of the SYC for a new life on the Thames on 11th November 2010. She must have been in continuous club membership for longer than just about any other boat at the club. She was owned by Samuel Youles for over 60 years, quite extraordinary for any boat to be owned by one person for that time. Sam was my godfather and subsequently she has been owned by me and our family. I’m not exactly sure when Sam joined the SYC but I suspect it was just after the war, which makes Norseman have around 65 years of SYC service under her belt.
Norseman was built around 1910, most probably at J Samuel White’s yard in Cowes. At least that’s what one old shipwright there remembered when Sam brought her into the Cowes yard of Groves and Gutteridge after hitting the Looe channel marker buoy while demonstrating his automatic pilot. The event was particularly embarrassing as Sam was the co-inventor of the “Pinta” automatic pilot, much beloved trusty workhorse of many yachts in the 50’s and 60s (Perula, Wanderer, Shemara, Miramichi and many others).
Originally built as 45ft naval steam pinnace, and carried on the deck of the Battleship Renown or Repulse, Norseman was decommissioned around 1923 (probably in the ships refit period) and converted into a yacht by a builder in London. It’s not known if she saw any naval action but she came into Sam’s ownership in 1936 and remained in his ownership until his death in the mid 90’s. She didn’t go to Dunkirk, as his favourite boat Sam ensured she stayed out of the water (although his father stayed aboard manning a bren gun to defend Southwick), Sam sent two other boats of his fleet for the evacuation and indeed went himself.
Norseman served as the test bed for the Pinta pilot, first the valve version, then the later transistor type. She cruised occasionally across to France, around the Solent with his wife Joy and was a regular sight at the Trinity House berth in Cowes, as Sam was the commissioner for the Shoreham district. He flew his Trinity House flag at the crosstrees with a great pride, only matched by his pride in the RAF defaced blue ensign he was also allowed to fly following his wartime service. “Now” said Sam one day as we lay off the Trinity House buoy in the Medina, where he had moored us by jumping aboard the buoy in his carpet slippers. “Here’s a man who can sail”, then ,“morning Uffa” as the great Uffa Fox sailed by in a Flying Fifteen Sunday morning race. We lay at the buoy all day, Joy serving the full roast Sunday lunch at the teak saloon table, always laid with china and glass.
Built in traditional naval style of double diagonal teak on oak frames originally, although not a classic by birth, she was converted in an “Edwardian” classic style by a London yacht yard. The original steam engine was removed, replaced first by a Buick and later by a BMC commodore diesel. The topsides were built up in larch and decked in pitch pine. Around 1960 she acquired her familiar wishbone ketch rig. For those who have never handled such a sail arrangement it is a joy, easy to handle, most especially with the early roller reefing that Sam had hand built at the Waterloo street works.
Norseman served many SYC duties over the years; Sam was always ready for a towing or manouvering operation to assist someone, being an outstandingly expert boat handler. “Make sure you pull off a pontoon berth slowly”, he said, “it always makes the boat look longer”. Norseman was often at work in Shoreham raising or lowering moorings, although you had to remember that any operation had to be conducted in near silence, as anything much more than a raise of the hand or a look from foredeck to cockpit was considered by Sam to be a failure in boat handling terms.
Sam liked to wait until the lock was almost full before making his approach, liking to watch the alarmed faces, because Norseman was one of the larger boats at the club and then just drop in behind the closed gate, where no-one else wanted to moor. When transiting the locks he had his own personal secret coachscrews that he wound into the timber work to allow Norseman to lie to a single thin black line, so it would appear that she was magically held in position and, more importantly, it avoided an unseemly line throwing or rushing around. When the lock was down and it was time to leave, Sam was always below, popping up just in time to start the engine as he was so supremely confident in the engineering aboard the boat
Norseman served as SYC committee boat on numerous occasions, for me the most memorable being when the SYC hosted the Hornet Worlds in 197? and memorable mainly because when Sam was firing the guns he shot the race officer with one of the gun wads, causing him to collapse to the deck right on the 5 minute gun.
In Southwick at the time Norseman berthed there were some classy boats. “Regard”, a Brixham trawler converted to a yacht, “Carronade”, and of course Win Adam’s beautiful Fleetwood trawler “Perula”. “Braemar”, originally owned by the man from Foxes glacier mints, later by Reg Legge and another Pinta pilot user lay down the canal. In Lady Bee there was Norman Wisdoms boat, “Alanora” owned by Alan Freeman and “Eileen Schiot” later found to be the oldest know customs cutter. As a boy I used to cruise around these yachts in Sam’s white launch “Arthur Sturmey”, complete with a Stuart Turner inboard. That was what denoted Sam a real engineer; someone who can make a Stuart Turner which starts every time
Norseman lay on the outside berth of Pussy Sweet’s moorings in Southwick up to the early 90’s and older SYC members will remember the familiar bell arranged to sound the bells of the watches ringing out across the water at Southwick. If they don’t remember the bell then they will probably remember the plume of smoke from the coal stove which made Norseman’s saloon just the best place to be on a cold day. Just before the end of his life Norseman was allowed to berth on the main jetty at Southwick as Sam was finding it difficult to get to the boat in the electric launch (also built by chance at J Samuel Whites) and named after his wife Joy.
Norseman’s final voyage with Sam at the helm coincided with one of the only occasions I can recall when the engine refused to start. She must have known she was going up the river to a mud berth !
Sam was my godfather and in 1994 he handed Norseman on to me and my family. Initially she lay unloved due to the enormity of the task but in 1997 working with shipwright Matthew Ruston we took off all the rotten topsides and re-planked in west coated Douglas fir and re-laid the deck in cedar with glass scrim, aware that if the boat was to live she needed to be restored in lower maintenance materials.
In 1999-2000 local Shoreham boat builder Adrian Thompson helped us with the rig and fit out and the engine and machinery was brought back into service by Tim Vary. By 2001 she was seaworthy enough to get to the Festival of the Sea in Portsmouth, her first voyage down to the Solent for about 25 years. Sam would have approved as we had a pilot Ken Wilcox aboard down to the Solent, flying code flag “H”, the pilot aboard flag. Norseman looked fabulous amongst the hundreds of classic boats in the inner basin. However we just could not keep up the momentum with this wooden structure and over the last few years she has slipped back.
Loaded onto a truck by Ben and the expert SYC yard crew, now she has gone to the Thames to a new owner and to a quieter, less tidal life. I’m sure it will suit her and she’ll be there for many years. Tough stuff that naval teak!
It would be great to see this elegant old lady roll into her next century, who knows, perhaps another 60 years of stewardship await the next owner?