Vintage lovers must make a visit to the Classic Boat Museum in East Cowes where the collection of boats will transport you back to the days of messing about on the river or glamming it up on the Riviera, the austerity of wartime Britain and breaking records in the 1950s and 60s.
Housed in an enormous ex industrial space near the seafront, the museum has a wide and varied collection of interesting exhibits to wander around at your leisure. Just up the road at the Gallery you can peruse the history of boat building, sailing and some of the best maritime photographic collections in the world.
One of the favourite exhibits in the museum is a Gentleman’s traditional river launch, Flying Spray, donated by the founder of the museum, Morris Wilmott. Built at Teddington for cruising on the Thames, she still attends regattas here and on the continent in the summer months.
Another eyecatching exhibit is Lady Penelope, a pink speedboat that was once the plaything of Sir Bernard and Lady Docker. Built of wood and encased in pink resin, the duo’s antics in this Chis Craft Silver Arrow enlivened the atmosphere of the austere post war 50s.
Boats built for speed are very eyecatching such as Jazz the beautiful wooden hydroplane built in 1912 that looks just like a shiny wooden bullet and Lyndora, a single seat hydroplane built in 1947 that resembles a large wooden squid.
During WWII local boat designer Uffa Fox came up with the idea of an airborne lifeboat that could be deployed by parachute if the plane had to ditch into the sea. One of his fully restored Airborne Lifeboats is in the museum, fully kitted out for survival at sea, and is the only one left in this condition in the UK.
In the far corner of the cavernous building is the bright orange Britannia I, the first boat to be rowed single handed across the Atlantic by John Fairfax in 1969 and also designed by Uffa Fox. Closely following the design of the Airborne Lifeboat, but built mainly of glass fibre, Britannia I is in almost the exact state it was in when John Fairfax landed in Florida after 180 days.
Other boats that Uffa designed are on show including Coweslip, the Flying Fifteen that was given to the Queen and Prince Phillip as a wedding present, although it was Uffa and the Prince who used to sail in it most often.
Also on show is a military canoe used by the special forces in WWII – this one is painted green as she was used in Malaya in the 1950s. Similar wooden versions of this canoe were used by the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ during the famous raid on Bordeaux.
Looking a bit worse for wear is a collapsible lifeboat built by Salters of Oxford in the 1890s, which was left folded for over 100 years in the back of a boatshed until it was lent to the museum in 2007. Carefully opened up over several months and the swing frames placed correctly, apparently the Titanic would have had similar lifeboats on board.
These are just a handful of the boats you can see at the museum, which has lots more to see and their stories to read. An upper Thames rowing skiff, complete with picnic hamper, a coracle, a Polynesian fishing boat and lots of beautifully kept and restored wooden boats. There’s even a Bembridge Redwing with a propeller instead of a sail – apparently owner Lord Brabazon was banned from sailing her at Bembridge Sailing Club!