A brief History of the 'May Queen' or 'what am I getting myself into now'.
‘May Queen’ was built in 1910 by a yard in Porthleven, Cornwall.
Although the yard closed during the Great War an o/s map from 1908 shows that
there was only one yard in Porthleven. We also know that a Bristol Channel Pilot
Cutter called ‘Olga’ was built at J. Bowden’s in Porthleven in 1909, we know this
because she is a floating exhibit at Swansea Museum and is one of the ‘core craft’
of the NRHV, so she is well documented, it would therefore be reasonable to
assume that ‘May Queen’ was built by the same builder.
Although built as a ‘polperro gaffer’ a type of fishing boat similar in style to the
‘looe lugger’ she was never used as a fishing boat, probably built on ‘spec’ mainly to
keep the yard staff occupied during quite periods, she was first used as an open
ferry in Falmouth Harbour in around 1910/11.
Between the wars she was operated as a tripping boat on the Percuil River based at
During the Second World War she was laid up on the beach.
Shortly after the war she was used as a working boat for various duties by a
waterman, Mr Eggins from Constantine near Falmouth.
At some point during this period she was fitted with her first engine – A 1928 Ailsa
Craig 4 cyl petrol.
In June 1951 she was purchased by a Mr Allbright of Newlyn, who was to keep her
During this period she was used for extensive
cruising to France, mainly as a motor boat.
Mr Allbright had her registered on the British
Registry in Falmouth no: 307519 in July 1965.
It was at this point that her name was
changed for registration purposes to the
French for May Queen ‘Reine De Mai’ as there
was already a May Queen on the register.
At this time she was kept on the Helford River.
In 1955 he took his first cross channel trip to
Morlaix then along the French North Coast
returning to Cornwall in July via St Peter Port,
On the 29th August 1955 she sank at her
She was pulled under on an exceptionally high
tide as the mooring was too short.
In July 1956 she cruised back to France again
none the worst for her experience.
In the following years she was extensively cruised to France and Spain without
1970 she was caught out in a hurricane of cap Ferret.
On the 14th August 1972 she was towed into port by the Lizard Lifeboat because
of engine failure and a flat calm for three days.
In the autumn of 1979 she was sold to a Mr Horton and Mr Turner. Who undertook
a complete refit and changed her accommodation and rig to what it is today.
She was then based in Plymouth. Subsequently sold in 1995, when she was sailed
to London and again sold. At this point her name was changed back to her original
She was then sailed up to Walton-on-the-Naze, in Essex where her hull and frames
were examined, she was completely re-fastened and extensively overhauled.
In 2006 she was purchased by myself, and a thorough inspection carried out. It was
found that the gear box had seized due to water ingress.
I also decided to bench test the engine.
The engine was removed and consequent
examination concluded that it was not
economical to replace the gear box, also
the engine was only producing about 60%
(9hp) off its rated (15hp) power and would
never really be as good as it had been, and
so the hunt for a new engine started.
While the engine was being removed I
accidentally pushed my finger through the
fuel tank, so that would have to be replaced as well, a new 90 ltr fuel tank was
ordered and built out of the finest stainless steel available for the price.
Meanwhile I began a complete overhaul of the electrical and navigation equipment,
'May Queen' had a GPS and a depth sounder, plus an AIS Radar already fitted when
purchased, also two car stereo's and several electric cabin lights. To make the job
easy I just ripped the whole lot out, and started again.
After a few months searching on e-bay I had managed to acquire a fixed VHF and
Navtex, combined depth and log, GPS repeater and digital compass (I like my
gadgets). A new switch panel was installed along with a 1500 Gph bilge pump. I
had also sorted out a new (reconditioned) engine, a Yanmar 3GM, 22hp which gave
me a little in reserve should I need it, she also needed a new prop. and prop. shaft.
Include fitting and new battery and that just about wiped out the budget,
everything else would have to be done by myself.
|A Brief history of the Polperro Gaffer
The Great Gale of 1891 destroyed the fishing fleets of many of the smaller Cornish
villages. The old boats were generally clinker-planked and lug-rigged.
The new boats built after the Gale with government intervention and support were
to a new design, carvel planked and with the "modern" gaff rig, boats we now
know as typically West Country with straight stem and transom sterns though the
lines varied from port to port.
The little fishing port of Polperro, 5 miles west of Looe had a fleet of small sailing
fishing boats known as Polperro Gaffers. Their principal catch was the pilchard but
this was a late summer catch and the rest of the year they set long lines, and seine
Most were built in Looe, around 26' with a deep 6' draft, a gaff rig on a pole mast
stepped on the keel and they dried out on legs in Polperro's drying harbour.
The Plymouth Hooker was very similar and the only surviving sailing fishing boats
still working, the Falmouth Oyster Boats are almost the same in hull design.
The Polperro Gaffer and the Plymouth Hooker were essentially open boats with a
fore deck back to the mast, a small aft deck and narrow side decks or waterways.
The "cock-pit" was divided into the fish hold where the catch was carried and the
net hold where the long seine nets were carried with a wooden roller athwartships
to feed the net in and out.
It was not uncommon for the boats to have a couple of berths in the fore peak
The rig was deliberately low as it had to be handled by a small crew in all weathers
and they would lie to the nets with mainsail set. However the sail area could be
extended by setting a large topsail on a yard making these boats remarkably fast in
races on high days and holidays.
These boats have excellent sea-keeping capability as witnessed by Dr Peter Pye who
with his wife sailed his Polperro Gaffer Moonraker round the world in the 1950's.
'May Queen' in the 60's probably on
the Helford River
MQ in the 90's
possibly in Chatham
|2012 'Buy A Plank' campaign.
This is a new campaign for 2012, in an attempt to help with the cost of buying the timber for
the new deck and hull planking, viewers of this website will be able to 'Buy a Plank'
We are asking everyone who views this site to donate a minimum £1.00 via the PayPal donate
buttons, if anyone is interested in donating more than a pound, a whole
plank cost's around £10.00 and we need about 70 of them.
We will also be starting the video diary in the next month, when i can work out how to upload.
|2012 News Update
Nothing really happened in 2011, she is still out of the water, and I basically spent a year
trying to decide what to do. So far in 2012 I have been in contact with the surveyor, David
Cox, and he has agreed to go and look her over, do a complete survey, so that I can work
with the shipwright to create a schedule of works so we can get things moving this year as
she is rapidly deteriorating, and I do not want to have to do any remedial work.
I will update this page further when I have the surveyors report in my hand.