Lymington - Memories of the early fifties and a young boys dream......
By John B Dickinson
The prelude to my interest and time “messing about” in boats in the idyllic surrounds around the small village and hamlets of Lymington and Boldre actually started some 3 years earlier. Please let me introduce you to this time of my life when I started my interest in boats. Very early in 1948 and some miles East from Lymington, on the Gosport side of Portsmouth Harbour, I lived for a year aboard our large steel yacht amidst the hustle and bustle of the post war Royal Naval base and dockyard of Portsmouth. Briefly, my father, in conjunction with a partner, bought a 170 foot clipper bow, steel steam yacht, the S.S. Zaza from the Royal Navy after the end of WW2.

When we moved aboard to live she was moored just off the Camper & Nicholson’s slipway in Gosport, a few yards north of the Ferry pontoon. We had planned to convert her to diesel and during our year long residence we cut off her old funnel to a more rakish one and more in keeping with that of a diesel driven yacht. The plan was to sail her out to New Zealand, via the Panama Canal, with some fare paying passengers. I was just 10 years old at the time and living aboard a boat with the Battleship
“Duke of York” as a background was absolute heaven. To start with, moored along our starboard side was a boat owned by Frank Whittle – the inventor of the jet engine and later to become “Sir Frank”. He was experimenting to convert his jet engine to a turbine for marine use in this boat.
John B Dickinson - photographs
The S.S.Zaza in centre (dark hull) with HMS Vanguard in background. 1940s postcard
Click picture for another photograph
  Later we had an ex-German MTB moored alongside which attracted the attention of the Naval police and customs. This vessel was complete with ready to fire torpedo tubes and in full Naval rig with a top speed well in excess of anything the Royal Navy had. After an initial run down to the Mediterranean Sea, and where she drifted out of the harbour on a midnight ebb tide, gunned her engines and was gone before the authorities knew what was happening. On her later return it was alleged that she had been gun running and smuggling and an armed Naval guard was put aboard while those allegations were proven.
During the year I was befriended by one of C & N’s work boatmen, Bert, who taught me to handle the tide and swell in the harbour to ferry the workmen to their various ships. Bert would be up forward to help the men with their tools and gear while I used the forward and reverse gears and throttle to hold the boat, bow-on to the companionways or in some cases to the Jacobs (rope) Ladder which they had to climb up. On a calm day, very easy. On a windy or day of high swells, much more difficult. Keeping the bow from slipping under the companionway and tipping everyone into the water was a feat not entrusted to every ten year old! In a short while the workmen came to totally trust my ability to read the weather and tides and deliver them safely to their nominated ship. I was extremely proud of my self.So this was my introduction to a boyhood life on the water!
NOW TO MY DREAM BOYHOOD . . . . . In 1951 we were living in Binfield, Berkshire when Dad received a letter from my Uncle Drew who lived aboard his motor cruiser “Jeannie” on the Lymington River. The letter said that the owner of an Air Sea Rescue launch number 2512, moored two boats down river from him was leaving England to live in, I think, South Africa, and that his boat was available for rental at the grand sum of 10 shillings a week, if he knew of anyone who was so disposed!

Having been bombed out of one home in Leamington Spa and been on the “circuit” so to speak most of my life – this seemed to me to be just another wonderful period to experience. My father was a building, civil and structural engineer and worked all during the Second World War overseeing the construction and building of aerodrome’s around the country. Hence our constant moves – as one was completed, we moved onto another, always living a short distance from where Dad was working. Obviously with much of Britain gutted by the bombing raids finding somewhere to live was always a problem, so this offer with such a wonderful rental was indeed one we jumped at.

So, early in the year 1951 we moved onto “2512” as she was known. In actual fact she was named “M.V. Maria”, but nobody seemed to know that! She was a Thornycroft 67 foot long
Air Sea Rescue Launch, armaments and engines removed and with very pleasing lines which almost shouted “Speed”. A hard chine design and built of double diagonal mahogany planking with a canvas membrane sandwiched between.

To my tender eyes, she looked wonderful. There was no name on her, just a huge 2512 on her port bow, but our postal address was officially “MV Maria, c/o Poste Restante, (Post Office!) Lymington.” This bought together two young boys living next to each other, one on an ex-ASR launch the other on an ex-MTB named “Linnette”.
The other boy was
Michael (Ian) Byard, my friend of now some 63 years who’s lives have for a great part run parallel and still our friendship, although now at opposite ends of the globe, continues. We did lose contact for a number of years – like 30 or so! – but since re-connecting some 12 years ago, have stayed very much in touch, thanks to the modern medium of email and internet. We have visited and stayed with each other on several occasions.
John B Dickinson - photographs
Upper Lymington River from a postcard, showing the Rail Bridge and our boats just above on left: - Barge, “2512” “Linnette” and Drew’s “Jeannie” bow on to bank. 1950s postcard
M.V. “Maria” or
Air Sea Rescue Launch 2512
John B Dickinson - photographs
Our Berths were in a quiet spot at the rear of the Lymington Slipway in an area alongside the garages of The “Skylark Coach” company which was later re-named “Excelsior Coaches”. This company was run by the Moody family and their office was right at the top of the High Street (St.Thomas Street) on the corner of Belmore Road. I became very good friends with the son, David, who I found on a return visit years later, had taken over the running of the business. Like me, he was interested in photography and back in 1953 I taught him to process his own films.

In our day, the great fish and chip shop on Quay Hill was a magnet for us kids (and everyone else, I think!). On a visit back in 1962 I found that the proprietor of this establishment had moved up in the world and become the licensee of the Thomas Trip pub (formally the Anglesea) at the very top of St.Thomas Street – almost opposite the old Wellworthy factory. I stayed a couple of nights there and caught up with the happenings over the intervening years.

Almost from the day we arrived in Lymington, Michael and I were sort of “thrown together” for want of a better description, by the fact that we not only lived next door to each other but, being the only young boys that actually lived ON the river, we seemed to be ostracized by the rest of the young set of this wonderful little township. Michael had already lived here for a number of years and was quite well established with his own little dinghy, which he had named “Brat”, in which he rowed and sailed in complete satisfaction.

On my arrival, of course, he wanted to show me the river and haunts he already knew, but without my own means of getting about meant that for a while I either had to ride along with him or wait for my own little dinghy. In fact he had already salvaged an old flat bottomed “shooting flat” I think it was called, and was about 7 or 8 foot long. This was laid-up on the river bank near to our boats. Being the businessman he was, he offered to sell it to me! So for the princely sum of 2 pounds, it became mine! It took several weeks to complete restoring it and adding a fore deck and raising the transom a little as it only had about 6 inches of freeboard. I feared that with the slightest swell or reverse rowing the water would cascade over it and sink, with me in it! Eventually I finished it and with a complete inside and out paint job it was ready for its launch. I purchased a new set of oars for I think, 3 pounds, and rowlocks and I was off!
  This aerial photograph was taken 5 years after John left for Australia. The “Linnette” (Michael's boat) is shown on the right, but John's boat is no longer there, as it burnt to the waterline later in 1954 after he had left! 
  Interestingly, both Michael’s dinghy and mine had cut-outs in the transom which enabled us to teach ourselves to “scull” using just one oar to propel the boats, a feat not many people either knew about or were accomplished at performing. The river itself was very tidal, with a fairly high and low tide which was particularly noticeable up beyond the railway bridge where we were moored. At high tide we sat beautifully in about six foot of calm (mostly!) water. However, at low tide we sat fairly un-elegantly on the most awful black oozing mud!

From the rail bridge up to the old tollgate at low tide, there was only a very narrow channel of water on the Walhampton side of the river, which meant that we always had to be aware of the tides if we were down stream – otherwise there was no way of getting back to our boats! As we were to discover, during Neap or Spring tides the river would rise well over the normal high tide mark and often spill right over the bank, meaning that our boats would be floating above the surrounding land and making the angle of our gangways almost impossible to access. As kids we took it in our stride, but poor old Mum found the going very demanding!

Summer was a joy, but with the onset of winter things became so much more difficult. The gangway would have ice forming on it, our water tank (which was on deck) froze solid – and it was my job to un-freeze it! So cold were some winters that the river itself would freeze over – and remember this is a tidal river!!

John B Dickinson - photographs   John B Dickinson - photographs   John B Dickinson - photographs
2512 bow on – in ice!   2512, Linnette, Jeanie & Jonnie Johnson’s yacht beyond that – all ice bound!   Our deck looking forward under snow!
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