Excerpt from Roger Fothergill's letter to Roger Wardale, 1991
British Virgin Islands
October 22 1991
... At the age of 15 or 16, I can;t be quite certain – it's a long time ago – I owned a canoe on Windermere; thinking nothing in those days of cycling 10 miles from my home in the morning, then 10 miles back again in the evening after spending the day on the lake! I came to hear that a sailing dinghy was for sale at Walker's Boatyard, just north of the Ferry Nab. On going to inspect her I learnt from Ernie Walker, son of the famous George Walker, a local character, that she was owned by Mr. Arthur Ransome and was called Swallow. This made me prick my ears up because I had read Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale, still had them in fact (and have since read them and others of his to my children). On seeing the little vessel all doubts were removed as she still had the ballast box in her bottom amidships which was something of a unique feature. I became her proud owner for the sum of 14 pounds sterling.
I never thought that Swallow would acquire the aura of a vintage possession because you will doubtless be horrified to learn that I made some alterations to her! They were not very extensive however and definitely improved her performance. I have never yet come into the possession of a sailing vessel, be she large or small, but I considered that I could improve her rig, and it all started with Swallow. She came to me exactly as described in Ransome's books, being rigged with a standing lug mainsail and nothing else, but I soon found out that she carried enough weather helm to be capable of being improved in balance by the addition of a jib. It was tacked down to a short iron bumpkin which projected beyond her bow by about 9 inches. The other alteration was to have the lead pigs of ballast that she carried in a box, cast into a single piece and secured into a ballast keel that I had fitted, about 12 inches deep at her stern, rising to about 6 inches near her bow. She made very much less leeway afterwards. If I am now accused of vandalism, even desecration, I fear I am guilty as charged. All I can say is that I know my job too, and I greatly improved her performance.
I owned her for several years, but not all on Windermere. My horizons were expanding and I longed to get to salt water. The lake was altogether too confining, although incomparably more beautiful than the tidal flats of the Kent estuary at the head of Morecambe Bay where I finally based her. The latter place had one overriding advantage in my eyes, simply that the muddy water that swirled in on the flood tide was the same piece of water that broke in spray on the coral reefs of the Pacific Atolls; all that was needed was the courage to set sail.
Well, I never reached the Pacific in Swallow! Based at Arnside at the extreme tip of Morecambe Bay, I cruised around whenever the tide was in, to Grange-over-Sands, Flookborough, Sandside, Silverdale and once even distant (to me) Morecambe itself. Sleeping under an awning spread over the boom and cooking on a Primus stove – Heaven!
I became apprenticed to a shipping firm and layed her up at the boatbuilders at Arnside run by the Crossfield family and asked them to sell her for me, which they did, some time in 1939 before war broke out.
I have never heard any more about her...
This extract of the letter to Roger Wardale from Roger Fothergill in 1991 was prepared by Roger Wardale. It appears on All Things Ransome with permission of Mr. Wardale.
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