Amy Howson – Society History – 1980’s

1980 – The York adventure and stepping the mast

Leaving South Ferriby on the early flood at 0530, June 1, AMY HOWSON had commenced another busy season of  Open Days, Charters and Fund-raising visits. She reached Torksey by 1100 and, taking her time on the Fossdyke Navigation, berthed at Lincoln at 1545 hours. Once again John Frank of South Ferriby was aboard and gave the crew a lot of information about the Trent and Fossdyke in the days of commercial sail.

The Lincoln Water Festival took place over the following weekend, June 7 and 8, attendance and receipts were down on previous years. Les Reid and Rodney Clapson paid a visit to Joe Smith, former owner of the Lincoln Keel JUNO who, like John Frank, could clearly recall many years of working sailing craft on the Humber and Trent.

To make full use of their BWB monthly licence, AMY left Lincoln at 1515 on Tuesday June 10, penning through Torksey by 1815 and on to Newark where Les Reid had arranged an Open Day at Newark Town Wharf to coincide with Market Day.

The following Saturday AMY travelled to Nottingham for their Water Spectacular, which unfortunately being mainly land based was not very well attended, with only minimum activity on the river. On Sunday night, June 15, she returned to Newark for a second Open Day on Market Day, this time on a pleasant berth next to the Castle.

Two charter trips were made between major visits, on July 11 AMY carried 12 passengers from Brandy Wharf to the Humber Bridge and back and, on July 24 she repeated the trip with two lots of passengers from Feyzin (Barton’s twin-town in France).

AMY HOWSON’s main fund-raising event of the year was a visit to York, this took a great deal of planning as crew members need to work for a living from time to time. On July 26 she penned out of Ferriby at 1513 and rounded up at Selby at 1900 to lay up overnight. Setting off next morning at 0630 they had a good run to Naburn and arrived in York at 1000 hours. The Yorkshire Evening Press allowed the use of their wharf to give AMY a safe berth until the actual event began.

The following weekend AMY was moved  down to Skeldergate Bridge where her resident crew for the Open Week, Cyril and Floss Harrison, looked after the many visitors. Before leaving Ferriby, the members made a great effort to complete the mast, ordering the minimum amount of rigging from Halls Barton Ropery to enable the mast to be stepped and the foresail set. This certainly paid dividends at York where the visitors were very impressed by the sight of AMY’s mast and sail, the first Sloop to be seen their for many years.

On Saturday August 23 AMY left York at 0800, while passing Goole the mast was raised and the foresail set for the first time in Swinefleet Rack at 1345, she met the flood at Whitgift at 1500 and penned into Ferriby at 1720 hours, after carrying the foresail as far as Winteringham Haven.

Two successful open days were held at South Ferriby over the August Bank Holiday, with the mast and foresail again proving to be a great attraction.

At 0930 on August 30 with mast down for the trip up the Ancholme, AMY HOWSON received an enthusiastic welcome at Brandy Wharf once again. With a continual flow of visitors, this enjoyable Regatta Weekend with its water sports, river-based treasure hunt, and barbeque conjures up visions of the old canal water sports events held by keelmen many years ago.

AMY travelled approximately 410 miles in the season and, despite of long absences from her mooring at South Ferriby, still managed to make steady progress with restoration work, the most obvious being with the mast. The boom and gaff are in progress, timber for leeboards has been obtained from New Holland shipyard and Rodney, Cyril and Dave made these up to measurements taken from a surviving leeboard from Barton shipyard. The wood was sawn by Eric using his portable rack bench saw, and the convex iron for the boards was rescued from VIGILANT after she was finally laid up at Farndon, and donated by Les. A fresh water tank has been fitted in the hold, passenger galley and toilet facilities are being provided and a new propeller fitted to match the engine. Dave Robinson joined the sloop committee, giving invaluable help with turning up a new propeller shaft, and becoming an enthusiastic crew member.

1981 – Humber Bridge opens with a Sloop under sail

The early spring was taken up with work on the gaff, boom and rigging with all trip bookings and the visit to Lincoln Water Festival being abandoned in favour of a determined effort to get AMY under sail during the season.

Amy had been booked for a filming trip for the BBC programme “The Past Afloat” by Anthony Burton on Saturday May 30 but, due to last minute hold-ups getting her under sail, she had to be content to carry the camera crew and let COMRADE bask in the full glory of the TV cameras.

Final adjustments were made to sails and rigging in time for the afternoon tide on Sunday June 14 when AMY HOWSON made her first venture onto the Humber under full sail since 1939. A series of short boards up to the stone heap encouraged the crew to stop the engine and sail back thirty one years after SPRITE, the last trading sloop, was unrigged. In their enthusiasm they managed to get stuck on Reads Island, earning a caustic comment from John Frank, though, like all his criticisms, delivered with a smile.

The Society’s tenth anniversary dinner was held aboard P S LINCOLN CASTLE at Hessle on June 19. Guest of honour was Frank G G Carr along with Captain Patrick Boylan, Captain John Frank and Mr Alan Gillyon. Our Chairman read out a royal telegram from HRH Prince Philip who conveyed his congratulations to all our members followed by the news that AMY HOWSON had sailed for the first time that week.

On Friday July 17 at 0920 with eight passengers and a crew of five, AMY left Ferriby for the Humber Bridge anchorage where she lay alongside COMRADE until 1100 hours. Setting main and foresail at 1110, AMY became the first vessel to sail under the bridge after the official opening ceremony by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip, thus achieving the target set by the Sloop Committee almost five years ago. This was a memorable occasion with John Frank on board, and Fred Schofield alongside with COMRADE.

On Saturday she joined in a race to North Holme buoy with the Hull Sailing Club, although the wind fell away and she had to motor back to Ferriby, AMY HOWSON was awarded the Gaff-rig Cup. The following day, Sunday July 19, an Open Day was held at South Ferriby with BBC TV’s Richard Baker opening a new exhibition and signing autographs with COMRADE giving support.

With the impending canal closure at Stanley Ferry Aqueduct AMY set off for Wakefield on Saturday July 25, reaching Ferrybridge lock at 1730 where she laid alongside two modern oil tankers overnight. Next day the journey was completed and Open Days were held at Wakefield on August 8 and 9. The crew were interested to see SARA, one of the last Billy Boys, unfortunately looking very neglected.

Amy Howson and Comrade at the IWA National Rally at Leeds

Amy Howson and Comrade at the IWA National Rally at Leeds

From Monday August 12 to Saturday August 22 AMY HOWSON laid at Leeds, taking part in the IWA National Rally of Boats along with COMRADE on August 15 and 16. Both ships had new exhibitions on board AMY’s entitled ‘Historic Ships’ illustrating current preservation projects around Britain and COMRADE’s called ‘Maritime Knitting’ centred around the traditional gansey. Stopping at Knottingley overnight on the return journey the crew took the opportunity to look at COMRADE on the slipway and discuss ideas for the following sailing season.

AMY’s regular visit to the Brandy Wharf Regatta took place on September 5 followed by, on September 18, her main event of the season. York Independent Film Unit chartered the ship, which involved applying for an exemption certificate to allow her to carry more than the permitted twelve passengers while filming in York.

On Sunday September 20 there was a full dress rehearsal at Marygate landing, which caused great excitement amongst the tourists. During the remainder of the week her crew realised that AMY HOWSON was a natural film star. With full sail set, under the watchful eyes of the crews of several commercial craft, she sailed between Skeldergate Bridge and Ouse Bridge rounding up time after time until the camera crew and directors were happy with the results. The skipper and crew of RECKLAW, who were discharging sand on Queens Staithe, were watching intently. So AMY’s crew went round to talk to the skipper during their lunch break, dressed in medieval knitted costumes with torn knees he laughed and said “The job doesn’t look to be paying too well, does it.” It may not have paid too well, but not many people get the chance to do that sort of sailing in places like the centre of York!

On Sunday September 27 AMY had to leave the film unit and York behind for an unforgettable run down the Ouse helped by seven feet of floodwater. The film, ‘Boat of Fools’, is based on a modern interpretation of the painting by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1494) and produced for distribution through Art Centres.

With the sailing season over, the leeboards were lifted ashore on October 9 so that AMY could be put on the slip at New Holland shipyard where some doubling plates were welded onto the bilge, and then Cyril and Rodney water jetted the bottom, coated it, and themselves, with epoxy tar which had been donated by Croda.

1982 – The Bridlington adventure

After a long, icy winter at her berth in South Ferriby, AMY HOWSON only required minor alterations to bring her back into commission in April. Polyester sails are much more efficient than the old flax sails used to be, and it was found that the drive given by a full sized mainsail was giving her a lot of weather helm. This was cured by taking one cloth off the mainsail leach, and she was then found to handle much better, being well balanced, easier to tack, and allowing us to keep the mast vertical in the traditional way rather than raked forward.

A full programme of charter trips included the Winterton Probus Society, Inland Waterways Association, Industrial Archaeology Classes, North West Boat Museum and Humberside County Council staff. Film and TV charters were booked by York Film, York Independent Film, BBC TV and Radio Humberside, who broadcast a 30 minute programme on August 29 recorded mainly on board AMY HOWSON earlier in the summer.

As a part of Civic Week celebrations in Hull an ‘Edwardian Sunday’ was held on July 4, when AMY HOWSON joined COMRADE, the Hull sailing trawler WILLIAM McCANN and VENTURE in Humber Dock Marina, making the spectacle of four sailing vessels a sight to be remembered.

As a pre-cursor to the main event of year four of AMY HOWSON’s crew made a road trip to Bridlington to look at the different berths proposed and finally decided on the one outside the Harbour Master’s Office. She left South Ferriby at 1330 on Friday July 30 for what was without doubt the longest and most difficult sail of her life. Crewing with Sailing Master Rodney Clapson were Arthur Atkinson, Eric Burton, Cyril Harrison, Jonquil Hood, Les Reid, Dave Robinson, A Roper, Richard Twining, Catherine Wilson and Bill Wilson.

High water at Hull was 1503 and motoring past New Holland the sails were set at Skitter Ness reaching East Chequer float at 2030 with the last of the ebb. As soon as AMY turned onto the next tack the crew realised that the previous four days of north-easterly winds had produced the inevitable onshore rollers and these had the effect of stopping her dead every time she sailed into a trough. The skipper reluctantly decided to motor-sail to make any headway. A series of long and short tacks found them just south of Hornsea by daylight and, with increasing wind and rain, to Bridlington by 1030, 21 hours after leaving South Ferriby.

After mooring at her berth the crew dispersed leaving Cyril and Floss Harrison, Les and Dave to run the fund-raising part of the trip. Most of the income of £1471 was raised by admission fees on the gangway tempting about 7000 people to board the ship over the two week stay. On August 14 the ideal south-westerly wind was blowing while awaiting the tide, but unfortunately, an hour before sailing it backed to the south-east leaving AMY on a routine of long and short tacks again. On reaching Dimlington High Ground it veered to the south-west once again and gave a pleasant trip into the Humber and up to Paull, where she met COMRADE and sailed in her company while BBC TV filmed the return.

Although the Bridlington trip had been very successful from a fund-raising point of view the general conclusion of the crew was that AMY HOWSON’s bluff bow and short run aft was not suited to sailing at sea. They had enjoyed the experience even though it had been very hard work.

1983 – A year of change

The retirement of Fred Schofield as Sailing Master of COMRADE in March was followed by the announcement that, due to business pressures, Rodney Clapson would have to step down as Sailing Master of AMY HOWSON and Chairman of the Sloop Committee. Cyril Harrison has taken charge of AMY, whilst it was agreed that the Sloop Committee would meet less frequently and formally than before. Then, in September, our founder and Hon. Secretary, Cedric Lodge, was offered a senior post in London and would also have to leave us.

On March 31 AMY and her crew were involved in the opening ceremony of the new bridge over the River Ancholme at South Ferriby. The dual carriageway lift bridge replaced the old single carriageway bridge to considerably reduce traffic congestion. AMY HOWSON was the first vessel under the new bridge, ironically 48 years after she had been in collision with the original cast iron bridge which resulted in a previous replacement (see Amy Howson – Working History).

April saw both AMY and COMRADE at New Holland for hull inspection. AMY required only minor work to her hull but other works, including a new steel well deck with proper seating, meant that trips could not commence until late June. However, since then, a dozen passenger trips were completed with a variety of groups including Sheffield school children, archaeologists, Thames Barge enthusiasts and Doctors. Also, a full weekend trip using both ships for a large group who came with Bill Greenhalgh of BEECLIFFE.

By shifting ballast and altering the rig, Cyril and his crew have improved AMY’s handling under sail. John Frank advised them to make adjustments one by one and monitor the results.

1984 – Mast relocation and BBC film work

Stalwart AMY crew member and Ship’s Husband Dave Robinson was elected to succeed Cedric Lodge as Hon Secretary of the Society.

AMY HOWSON’s major winter project was to reposition the mast. Problems with sailing, particularly staying, had the crew making all kinds of adjustments with varying degrees of success but no proper solution. Winter discussions resolved to move the mast one frame aft and sew another cloth onto the staysail, which should balance the sail effort better. On the evening tide of Sunday May 13 AMY left Barton Haven, crossed and re-crossed the Humber for nearly three hours never once showed signs of hanging or missing stays, the crew were in high spirits.

Other work carried out included the decks and bilge plates being stripped and painted, engine serviced, restoration work to fore and aft cabins, improved facilities in the hold, seat lockers on the well-deck and a new foresail boom.

On May 15 she made the trip from Barton Haven to her summer berth at South Ferriby and on June 3 had her first proper sail since the mast alterations. For the next two trips AMY and COMRADE entertained members of the Thames Barge Sailing Club. Including filming, AMY was out sailing on 26 days.

For a few days at the end of June/beginning of July AMY HOWSON was in the spotlight as Pete Morgan and a BBC camera team filmed the sequel to “A Voyage Between Two Seas” called “The Grain Run”. She had a chance to show her paces sailing down the Trent and Ouse, and brought out many a camera from wheelhouses and crew quarters of passing vessels.

Harold Parnaby of Willerby Camera Club took some very fine film of the Society’s ships “in action” during the season and compiled a production called ‘On Wind and Tide’ which was shown to members at the 1985 AGM.

1985 – Leeds turned into 19th century London for new BBC production

Winter work included welding a steel bulkhead in front of the engine with steel doors either side of the keelson to enclose the engine space. An alternator fitted to the engine to charge batteries with a mesh safety guard around the pulleys and belts. A fan to expel fumes from the engine space through the after head ledge and the aft cabin received a new table plus bits of woodwork to finish it off.

After a busy sailing season, plus a visit to Thorne and Moorends Gala Weekend on July 13-14, AMY was all set for returning to Barton Haven for the winter when the BBC got in touch looking for an old-fashioned ship for a children’s TV series. Cyril and Dave were contracted to take AMY to Leeds for the first two weeks in October to take part in a drama called ‘The December Rose’ and on arrival found they had moored in 19th century London.

When filming started it soon became apparent that there would be plenty to do such as re-locating the ship for different scenes and even running AMY past the camera, for several takes, in period dress. After each “pass” someone shouted, “cut” and this was the cue to go into action on AMY. Cyril would start the engine and stick AMY’s bows across the cut, Dave would tear off the daft hat and top, drop the foresail in a heap and lash it up somehow. Cyril would nip down the side deck as AMY rounded up and they’d both drop the main.

Filming completed, there was a brief pause in Barton Haven, then off to Cooks Shipyard at New Holland where she was hauled up the slipway for a check up. With the bilge plates sound they would require chipping, scraping and a couple of coats of black varnish. However, the plates either side of the stempost and the foredeck were beyond repair which meant a complete rebuild of the bow section to bring the ship back to good condition. With a coat of red lead on her new steelwork and the rest of the ship re-painted she returned to Barton Haven to continue restoration and maintenance.

1986 – In the spotlight on the BBC

Once back in her winter berth at Barton Haven work began on refitting the foc’s’le, replacing and repainting sundry item of gear and preparing for the sailing season.

Following filming in June/July 1984 the BBC series “The Grain Run: A Voyage to the North” aired on Tuesdays from the beginning of March. Presented by Pete Morgan the one to watch, on April 1, was episode three called “Sails along the Trent and Ouse”. Featuring AMY HOWSON raising her sails at Keadby Bridge, short tacking back and forth across the River Trent and sailing up the Ouse to Goole.

After filming last October, the children’s mini-series “The December Rose” began its weekly slot on the BBC from March 12. Leeds had been turned into the shadowy world of London’s Victorian Docklands where a gripping adventure by Leon Garfield unravels a tangled web of deceit, espionage and murder. The BBC production had several well-known cast members including Tony Haygarth , Ian Hogg, Judy Cornwell, Cathy Murphy, Patrick Malahide and Michael Aldridge.

AMY HOWSON appeared in several scenes during the production, mostly as a back-drop to the action, but she is the centre of attention during a slow-pan along the dockside where Dave Robinson and Cyril Harrison can be seen carrying out their duties in period costume.

To obtain better insurance cover AMY was taken over to Beverley for a survey. Ably piloted by Fred Schofield up the River Hull, Cyril and Dave realised why COMRADE was now berthed at South Ferriby during the sailing season after their 14-hour trip from Barton.

The first scheduled trip of the season was to Leeds for the IWA Rally on weekend of June 7 and 8, it was a great success and the proceeds were used to fill the diesel tank at Goole on the way back.

To sort out the insurance several sailing days had to be cancelled at the start of the season and a make-shift programme put together to try fit everybody in. The sailing season was generally good especially since several new crewmembers were gained, a proper engineer, Alan Gardiner, and two genuine Sloopmen: Arthur and Charlie Atkinson (not related).

1987 – Full engine overhaul and full sailing programme

The major winter maintenance job involved Cyril Harrison and Alan Gardiner converting the engine from raw water cooling to heat exchanger cooling. To do this properly the engine was removed from the ship and subjected to a full rebuild by Alan, followed by a repaint and polish up of the bright stuff. Once re-installed work could commence on fitting the exchanger, pumps and pipework, which tested satisfactorily on completion.

At the same time they tested the “fire pump/deck washer” created and installed by Cyril. The pump, in the form of a pressure washer, was located in the engine room, piped up to a union on the deck and connected to a length of high pressure hose complete with nozzle. While Dave Robinson guarded the “live” end, Alan started the little engine, the hosepipe twitched about but nothing came out. Just as Cyril approached from ashore, the bunged nozzle departed from the hose at incredible speed, fortunately without impaling anyone!

For the summer there was a full programme of sailing trips for AMY HOWSON and she was also invited to attend an event at West Stockwith Basin where the Yacht Club held its annual regatta on the weekend of July 4 and 5.

Director of the Maritime Trust, Vice-Admiral Sir Patrick Bayly, was able to visit South Ferriby in July to inspect the Society’s ships. He subsequently wrote to congratulate us on the impressive condition of AMY and COMRADE.

On Monday October 5 skipper Cyril Harrison along with Charlie Atkinson and Alan Gardiner penned out of Ferribly Sluice at 0815 hours for the slip at Cook’s, New Holland. Visibility was poor but Read’s Island could be seen so they continued hugging the South Bank as much as possible to keep land in sight. Using a combination of land and underwater features they edged their way to the south tower of the Humber Bridge turned to starboard to pick up land again until they sighted Barrow Haven Stone Heap where they had to turn to port to find the end of New Holland Pier.

With visibility down to 30 yards Cyril had to use the wind vane to keep on course and once past the pier turned to starboard to head for the shipyard. He edged along hoping not to hit anything hard as by this time he could not see his crew stood forward. A short time passed and they shouted a sighting as AMY touched the bottom. After the fog lifted they were about 15 yards to the west of the slip! Eventually they manoeuvred onto the trolley of the slipway rails and were pulled clear of the water where AMY was cleaned off, surveyed and black varnished in preparation for the next sailing season.

1988 – Old Boathouse turned into Heritage Centre

On March 23 a Society Dinner was held at the Hesslewood Hall Hotel, Hull. A much enjoyed occasion made memorable by Patrick Purvis whose one man show provided shanties, salty songs and anecdotes along with virtuoso performances on the penny whistle and melodion.

Making a welcome break from winter maintenance, members of the Barton Clay Pits Project visited AMY HOWSON at Barton on Easter Monday, April 4. As well as looking after the Clay Pits, an extensive nature reserve, they have set up a Heritage Centre in the Old Boathouse on Waterside Road, the original start point of the Annual Sloop Regatta which took place up to the end of the 1920’s.

A full summer sailing programme was completed by AMY and her crew.

Several Society members, especially Dave Robinson, were involved in the conversion of Upper Whitton Lightship to a Billy Boy, now named AUDREY, for the Sobriety Project at Goole Docks. Sails were fitted in the autumn and, after a thorough shakedown, the vessel was put into service in October.

1989 – Emphasis on sailing programme

As usual, volunteers spent many hours maintaining AMY during the winter; only minor repairs were necessary, much to the Treasurer’s relief!

A full summer sailing programme is becoming the norm for both ships, bringing in much needed funds to help maintain them. Recent invitations to events around the region have reluctantly been turned down more often than not. After weighing up the interest, new support and educational role against the demands on our hard-pressed crews, risks to our ships when left at inland locations and the financial cost, the Society has decided to limit the number of event attendances by AMY HOWSON and COMRADE. Spreading the word and passing on the educational message will continue via talks and lectures given by Society members.

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