LAUGHING WATER II (Thames Launch, 1912)

Location: Debdale Wharf Marina, Grand Union Canal, Leicestershire


Built in 1912 by Bill Horsham at the Raymill Motor Co. boatyard at Boulter’s Lock, Maidenhead, and with a long and interesting history, Laughing Water II is an elegant 49’ Thames saloon launch built of mahogany on oak frames, with an unusual ‘beaver’ stern and narrow beam of 7’ 2”.  She now has a small (20 hp) diesel engine. 

She was built for Waldorf and Nancy Astor (Britain's first woman MP) who lived nearby at Cliveden House.  Her original propulsion is not known but might have been steam or even an electric motor.  In the 1930’s, the Astors imported and installed a powerful Gray Marine 6-cylinder petrol engine from the US (now held at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port).  Subsequently, Laughing Water II was modified and changed ownership on several occasions.  Mr Walter Scott bought her from the Astors and sold her in the mid-1950’s to Mr George Wilson (who went on to found Dawncraft Cruisers).  At that time, a second (forward) cabin was added, creating a centre cockpit cruiser.  The next owner, Mr Jack Tomkins, became Deputy Chairman of the Upper Avon Navigation Trust and Laughing Water II was the first boat to navigate the restored Southern Stratford Canal in 1964.  

In 1974 she was purchased by Mr Paul Wallace who took her to Preston Brook on the Trent & Mersey Canal where Ray Woodland, the present owner's father, found her, in a rather dilapidated condition, and bought her in 1976.  After a substantial programme of restoration, she was relaunched in 1987 and subsequently travelled across much of the UK canal and river network until the early 2000’s.  Andy Woodland, the present owner, inherited her in 2006 following the death of his father and transported her to Cox’s Boatyard at Barton Turf in Norfolk, where extensive restoration of the hull and rebuilding of the cabin and roof structure were undertaken to safeguard her for the future.  She was moved in 2021 to Debdale Wharf Marina near Leicester.  Laughing Water II is registered with the Thames Vintage Boat Club (Reg. TVET072), and is eligible for the Historic Boat discount off the CRT Licence Fee.


As is common with historic wooden boats, Laughing Water II has been subject over the years to several programmes of renovation and refurbishment including replacement of various lengths of mahogany hull planking, replacement (generally by duplication) of various cracked oak ribs, a complete rebuild of the unusual stern, and modification or rebuilding of the cabin and roof structure.  In each case, the materials and methods employed have been authentically traditional, most recently at Cox’s Boatyard in Norfolk, who are specialist restorers of historic wooden boats.  Their work was mainly focused on safeguarding of the hull and cabin structure and, to facilitate this, the interior of the cabin was gutted and therefore she requires a complete internal refit.  

Her 16’ cabin can accommodate 2 berths, a galley and a washroom for extended inland cruising, or she could be fitted out as a luxurious day launch (as when she was originally built) or even as a small-scale trip boat.  Laughing Water II has been kept in the water since 2020, during which time the floorboards have been renewed throughout, and new front and rear cockpit covers have been made and fitted.  She has a shorepower connection to a 12V battery which powers two automatic bilge pumps which easily deal with the inevitable slight seepage through the seams.  The Gray Marine engine, although restored, was replaced in 1988 by a smaller (and much more suitable for use on inland waters) 20hp Vetus diesel engine, which has only run for less than 1700 hours.  The starter motor was replaced in 2012 when the engine was started and ran, but the fuel tank/supply, electrics and cooling water supply/exhaust were subsequently removed.  Overhaul of the engine (or replacement by an electric motor or even a small steam engine) would therefore be necessary.  Since the engine is decommissioned and there are no other systems (eg. gas) currently on board, LWII is regarded as BSS Exempt by CRT.  A new Vetus hydraulic steering mechanism is installed. 

Contact the owner:

After nearly 50 years in the family, the current owner (who now lives in North Yorkshire) is keen to transfer this historically important boat to a new custodian.  He is open to offers which recognise the considerable expenditure on professional restoration works over the past 15 years or so.  Please email to be put in touch with the owner, and for further details about the vessel's history, construction and condition (including numerous photos).


Laughing Water II Zone Heart of England