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The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships - return to Dunkirk 2020

29 October 2019
The 13.4m Nelson motorboat Boscawen was recently at Cowes Harbour Services Boatyard and we caught up with owner Graham Hitchcock to find out more about the Dunkirk Little Ships and Boscawen’s forthcoming part in the 80th Anniversary Return to Dunkirk next May. 

BOSCAWEN - Nelson 44 Escort Motor Yacht in the slings at Kingston Wharf, Cowes
BOSCAWEN - Nelson 44 Escort Motor Yacht in the slings at Kingston Wharf, Cowes.

Between Thursday, 21st May and Monday, 25th May 2020, writes Graham Hitchcock, a fleet of Dunkirk Little Ships will be making their way from Ramsgate to Dunkirk to commemorate the 80th anniversary of “Operation Dynamo”, as they have done since the first ‘Return to Dunkirk’ was undertaken by 43 boats in 1965. Currently plans are being prepared with the support of the Royal Navy, MCA Dover Coastguard, the Ramsgate Lifeboat, and other participating organisations. 

ELSA II in the foreground and the THAMESA on the left, built in Cowes in 1936
ELSA II in the foreground and the THAMESA on the left, built in Cowes in 1936.

There is a lot to organise between the UK and France (Dunkerque) before next May. The French acknowledge that more than 100,000 of their countrymen were rescued from the beaches, many transported to safety in “Little Ships”. They show their gratitude and respect with a warm welcome in Dunkerque for all the Little Ships, with parades and a number of very dignified commemorative and memorial services. Being there for this commemoration is for many a very moving experience.

LUCY LAVERS - Aldeburgh No.2 Lifeboat built by Groves and Gutteridge, Cowes. First entered service in 1940 just in time to be called to Dunkirk
LUCY LAVERS - Aldeburgh No.2 Lifeboat built by Groves and Gutteridge, Cowes. First entered service in 1940 just in time to be called to Dunkirk.

Boats intending to visit during the commemoration weekend will be independent and are advised to contact the Thames Motor Yacht Club, who are coordinating a support fleet.

Since 1965, the ‘Return to Dunkirk’ has been repeated every five years. In 2020 the organisers, the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS), expect about 50 of these historic vessels to be taking part.

Privately owned boats - with the exception of a few vessels that are operated by “trusts” - they are all over 80 years old and some quite a bit older. The cost of their refurbishment, preservation and maintenance is not insubstantial. They receive no financial assistance from any public body or NGO. They undertake the “Return” at their own expense. The task of taking this many elderly, traditional vessels across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes is by no means insignificant.

MASSEY SHAW - Fireboat. Built by J.S.White’s of Cowes, delivered to the Thames 1935
MASSEY SHAW - Fireboat. Built by J.S.White’s of Cowes, delivered to the Thames 1935.

The ADLS has requested that the Nelson Boat Owners Club (NBOC) provide a volunteer group of five Nelson vessels to escort the Little Ships, supplementing the Royal Navy vessels and the RNLI lifeboat, to help provide support and assistance, including towing and, should it be necessary, to police the area around the fleet to ensure that this valuable fleet complete the crossing as safely as possible.

The NBOC escort vessels will be a Nelson 40, Siren, a renovated pilot boat and four Nelson 44s, Boscawen, Iolare, Katriona of Burnham and Presque; offshore motor boats all with experienced crews.

The 2015 Little Ships gathered together with several of the escort boats in the Bassin du Commerce, Dunkerque
The 2015 Little Ships gathered together with several of the escort boats in the Bassin du Commerce, Dunkerque.

Since first designed by Peter Thornycroft in 1962, T.T. Boat Designs Nelson boats have been recognised worldwide as fast safe, all weather boats. The first real Nelson, a wooden 29ft, Nigella, designed and built for Leopold Baron de Rothschild, was to commute at 18 knots between his home on the Beaulieu River and the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes. Subsequently, GRP Nelsons have been bought by the Royal Navy, including two VIP launches for the Royal Yacht Britannia, and Nelson 40 pilot boats are still used worldwide. Many of these, when taken out of service, have been converted for private use. All private purpose built Nelsons are built to the same strength as the workboats.

Three of the five Nelson escort boats have been pleased to use the Cowes Harbour Services facilities on the River Medina, Seiren, Iolare and most recently Boscawen.

SEIREN - Nelson 40 Escort Ex Pilot Vessel
SEIREN - Nelson 40 Escort Ex Pilot Vessel.

For further Information:
The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships - www.adls.org.uk
The Nelson Boat Owners Club - www.nelsonboatownersclub.co.uk
The Thames Motor Yacht Club - www.tmyc.org.uk

Royal Navy Sailors on the deck of Riis I, which was built in 1920 on the Clyde, salute upon leaving Dunkerque
Royal Navy Sailors on the deck of Riis I, which was built in 1920 on the Clyde, salute upon leaving Dunkerque.

Photographs and text © Graham Hitchcock, Nelson Boat Owners Club (NBOC) 2019

Top photo: BOSCAWEN - Nelson 44 Escort Motor Yacht

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