Boat builders go back to the future

Mar 16, 2013 Comments Off on Boat builders go back to the future by

A business consultant whose ancestor sailed with Charles Darwin before taking over the Lancashire coastguard has recreated the North West’s traditional salmon fishing boats.

Martin Dooley has set up as a boat builder – the trade once practised by his great-great-grandfather –  with his friend Andy Lee-McGurk.

And from their premises in Pool Hey lane, Scarisbrick, they are making a modern version of the whammel fishing boats that a century ago were a common sight on the River Lune and across Morecambe Bay, and until recently were still being used.

The pair, who run Character Boats, will be returning to the All Wales Boat Show with  their latest version of the long-keel, clinker-style boats –  the 17ft-long Weekender.

The event, May 30 – 1st June, will be held at Conwy Quay marinas, with visitors ferried down the River Conwy from Conwy harbour. There will be a range of craft on show, plus the chance to try out some of the equipment on sale, along with a variety of events and entertainment.

Davina said: “We are delighted that Character Boats are returning to the All-Wales Boat Show with a bigger space for 2014.

“They are doing a fantastic job in reviving the spirit of the traditional whammel fishing boats and I am sure that they will cause quite a stir at the show.”

Martin said: “The Weekender was developed from the working salmon fishing boats of the early 1900s, large numbers of these fished Morecambe Bay off the North West Coast and they were also raced by enthusiastic crews under their regatta rig.

“Our versions can easily be loaded onto a trailer, and are suitable for estuary sailing. It’s a distinctive traditional craft with glass fibre hull and cockpit mouldings fitted out in hand crafted hardwoods, with a traditional rig of distinctive tan sails.

“The long shallow keel and offers stability and good sailing performance, allowing them to sail well in shallow waters. Their protective stainless steel keel banding enables them to be launched from, and sailed on to, a beach without damage. The ballast in the keel gives them better stability than a similar sized dinghy so there is no need to sit out over the side when sailing.

“The commercial background of the craft with their seaworthy hulls and full built in buoyancy has left a legacy of safety and sailing efficiency, allowing the experienced skipper to accommodate varying skill levels with the crew,” added Martin.

The 56-year-old comes from a long line of links with the sea. “My great-great-grandfather, John Johns, was an able seaman aboard The Beagle with Charles Darwin – I’ve got his sea-chest. He went on to captain a ship in the Royal Navy during the Opium Wars with China and he later came back to the UK when  was put in charge of the coastguard, along this coast and down to Hoylake and Rhyl.

“And his father was also a boat-builder, in Devon and Cornwall, though I’ve not yet found out much about him. I’ve been sailing since I was five, boats are really in my blood. I own my own boat as well, Tao, a 26ft wooden sailing boat, which is moored at Beaumaris, Anglesey. That’s my escape from life.”

Martin, who lives  Aughton with his occupational therapist wife Mary and their three children, and  is also a consultant advising small and medium sized companies on how to succeed, while dad-of-three Andy, 48, works with homeless young people and  lives in Crosby with his wife Karen, a youth worker.

Martin added: “As I am a consultant with the Government’s Manufacturing Advisory Service I am flexible when I work, and Andy works evening and weekends, as we build the boats to order. It’s a small business but the model works very well, as we have other interests to keep us afloat.

“We looking forward to exhibiting our Weekender at the All Wales Boat Show, as it’s a chance to meet a whole range people and explain to them at first hand the background to the boat, and its benefits, out of the water.

“Plus I am looking forward to seeing all the other boats on show, and sampling some of the Welsh produce.”

Andy also has a link to his nautical heritage – the tools that he uses at Character Boats were left to him by his maternal grandfather Len Brown, a carpenter on sailing ships around the world.

Andy, 48 said: “He worked for the Blue Funnel Line and was on board the ships, rather than working in the yards. He was away much of the time, as an on-board wood worker. I was only eight when he died, but he left me his wood working tools.”

His dad  John, from Belfast, was also a seafarer, working as a cook and chief steward on bulk carriers sailing to and from Australia.

Andy previously worked with the Ocean Youth Club in Merseyside, taking youngsters on sailing trips and was an instructor on the Drake Fellowship’s Spirit of Liverpool ship. He was also a  sailing instructor with Sefton Youth Services.

Davina added: “The boat show is a celebratory festival of all water-based activities promises to dazzle with the very best in boating, with an amazing array of watersports and incredible outdoor activities plus wonderful leisure opportunities.

“There will be yachts fit for millionaires, the tallest ship ever to have sailed into the harbour at Conwy, hand-crafted traditional boats such as coracles, plus the chance to try your hand at everything from paddle-boarding and sail boats to diving.

“For landlubbers, there are stunning luxury cars to admire,  mouth-watering food and wine  from Wales to sample and mock-rock faces to tackle. You can also take a ride across the River Conwy, from one marina to another or stroll along the coastal path between the two, to get a view of the historic waterfronts and the line-up of boats – with plenty on offer to buy.”

For more details on the All Wales Boat Show please call 0845 123 5438, email or visit


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