Monday, 12 September 2016

MFV James Wickham

This about what happened to a former Irish-built motor fishing vessel, a trawler, that came into service in 1950, earned her living for some years around the Irish Sea, then passed through the hands of a number of private owners.

Why do I know about this boat? Well, I happened to take a series of pictures of the James Wickham as she left Ilfracombe harbour in July 1996. She was then a very smart-looking vessel. Whenever I subsequently looked at my pictures, I wondered what had become of her. I was also mildly interested in her 1996 owners, and thought I may have encountered them again, when in Padstow in March 2015 (See my post Padstow 1 - Rick's Café on 23rd March 2015, towards the end of the post)

The Internet is a wonderful source of information. I've managed to piece together the bare bones of this boat's history. I've also discovered who the present owner is. He's a man named Ron Owttrim, who has recently retired and whose grandfather was the original owner. I hope he won't mind my mentioning him without first asking, but I can't find his contact details, and I am not joining LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter just to acquire them.

He bought the James Wickham at a Ramsgate auction in April 2015, and began a blog about her restoration, which you can find at The blog home page supplies some information about her:

Motor Fishing Vessel

LOA 65ft
LWL 48ft 6in
Beam 15ft 6in
Draught 6ft 1in

A British registered vessel of 43 tonnes, built by John Tyrell & Sons of Arklow Ireland in 1949/50.

The James Wickham is built of larch on oak frames and is rigged with three jibs, gaff main, topsail, staysail, and mizzen sails.

The vessel is powered by a Kelvin K4 diesel engine giving 8 knots, 1000 mile range. There are two hydaulically operated steering positions, one inside the wheelhouse, the other situated outisde on the rear bridge deck and used when the vessel is under sail.

The vessel was originally owned by the Wickham family of Rosslare, Southern Ireland, who fished the boat throughout the Irish Sea and of the west coast of Scotland, for trips of up to 15 days duration throughout the year.

The blog has no further entries. I hope that doesn't indicate insurmountable problems, and an abandonment of the restoration project.

The James Wickham was first registered at Rosslare in 1950 to Raymond Wickham. The registration number was D98 (D means Dublin).

It happened that British Movietone News made a short film of the James Wickham being blessed by a priest, with the crew all present, prior to her very first fishing voyage from Rosslare Harbour in 1950. Here is the link to the YouTube version: The film details are here:

The film reveals rather dangerous-looking, lose-a finger-if-you're-not-careful, open-deck working conditions that must nevertheless have been completely normal at the time. Quite a hard life for the crew, I'm thinking, even though she must have been an up-to-date design for the time. However, her working life was short. Fishing profitably would have become ever more difficult, and by 1961 she was registered in Wales, at Aberystwyth, and must have been sold.

Her second owner was a man named Gerald Lewis of New Quay, who had the boat converted for private leisure use. It was in his ownership that I saw the James Wickham at llfracombe on 7th July 1996. Here she is, in the four pictures I took.  I was standing at the quayside, and as I watched she weighed anchor and moved under engine power out of the harbour.

The dark red-brown colour scheme, embellished with that golden arrow, obviously wouldn't have reflected her original appearance when a working trawler, but nevertheless she looked arresting, and a small crowd was observing her departure. I remember thinking how lucky that lady on the boat was, to be the wife or girlfriend of one of those men, and have the chance to sail in this style!

And yet, this might have been the boat's last summer in Gerald Lewis's hands. By 1998 she was owned by a man named Bob Langford. Then there is a blank in her history. In 2007 she was up for sale again at Brighton. Here she is, at sea...

...and then languishing in the Marina. She was still much as she was in her Welsh-owned days:

The firm handling the marketing, Ancasta, provided some photos of her interior:

As you can see, old-fashioned, rather fussy woodwork everywhere, but for all that a well-equipped boat, although not up to the comfort standard expected by 2007. And I fancy the James Wickham did not sell for the £69,995 then being asked, nor for anything near that amount. She may have fallen cheaply into the hands of further owners who did not have the means nor the will to maintain her properly. By August 2008 she was moored at Ramsgate, looking somewhat forlorn, with her foremast gone and rotten parts protected from the weather by tarpaulins:

There she remained, gradually becoming more faded and decrepit:

There was one final attempt to sell her normally in 2013. The marketing particulars can be viewed at It must have failed. Meanwhile Thanet District Council seized her, or accepted her, presumably for harbour dues not paid. They put her up for auction with Hobbs Parker Marine on 25th April 2015, and this is how Ron Owttrim became her owner.

Hmm. Look at that dodgy planking on the lower port side aft. And, generally, the faded paintwork and sad air of neglect. The auctioneers gave £225 to the RNLI Ramsgate Lifeboat Fund after the sale.

It will be a true labour of love to restore the James Wickham to her former state. It will take a lot of time, and it will be very costly. I do hope Mr Owttrim has the stamina for it, and one must wish him well, but boats consume money and I hope his family-inspired gesture does not prove to be a ruinous mistake. But it would be nice to discover this boat, fully-restored, in some harbour in a future year!

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford