It was 25 years ago - June 9th 1997 - that the newly-formed Nancy Blackett Trust took over ownership of the Nancy Blackett, the yacht that inspired Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s novel We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. She appears in the book as the Goblin, and was described by Ransome as ‘the best little boat I ever had’.
She had been put up for sale about a year previously, following a ‘last-chance’ restoration in the late 1980s after being discovered derelict in Scarborough Harbour. An appeal to Ransome fans had raised the £25,000 asking price just within the deadline set by her owner and the Nancy Blackett Trust had been set up by the end of May, with all the 400 donors as the original members.
Nancy Blackett was built by Hillyards, Littlehampton in 1931, and bought by Arthur Ransome in 1935 when he and his Russian wife Evegnia moved to Suffolk from the Lake District in search of some sea-sailing. He named the boat, a Hillyard 7-tonner built in 1931, after the ‘Amazon Pirate’ heroine of his Swallows and Amazons books (she was previously Electron, and before that, Spindrift). He sailed her back to Pin Mill in Suffolk, and within a short time she had given him the inspiration for perhaps his best book, We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, in which she appears as the Goblin. So, in addition to a famous owner, she has literary significance.
By the 1980s, however, she had fallen on hard times; the most recent of five subsequent owners was unable to maintain her and she had become a near-derelict wreck in Scarborough Harbour. There she was discovered by Mike Rines, who lived on the Orwell, and, although initially unaware of her literary heritage, considered her a pretty boat that didn’t deserve to die. He brought her back to the Orwell, and with the aid of a single shipwright, set about a thorough restoration. By 1989 she was sufficiently restored to display at the East Coast Boat Show, where she attracted considerable publicity and helped to inspire the launch of the Arthur Ransome Society.
Mike, however, had gone considerably over-budget in his restoration and needed to sell Nancy. The buyer was another Ransome fan, Colin Winter, who made further improvements, including a self-draining cockpit, before he too was obliged to put her up for sale, in 1996.
It was at this stage that members of the Arthur Ransome Society, and others, decided to open an appeal to raise funds to buy her and secure her future. The appeal was successful in raising the purchase price (£25,000) plus a generous surplus for maintenance, and the Trust was set up, and Nancy Blackett purchased in June 1997.
The Trust was founded with the aim of ensuring the preservation of Nancy Blackett and using her to provide sailing opportunities for anyone interested, as well as encouraging an interest in sailing among young people in particular and promoting Arthur Ransome’s contribution to the heritage of the East Coast around the Orwell and Stour Rivers and the Walton Backwaters.
Over the last 25 years, she has become a familiar sight on the River Orwell, scene of the opening of We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, and countless members have enjoyed sailing her, as well as helping to maintain her. New members are still joining – the annual subscription is a modest £25. Last year, she celebrated her 90th birthday.
The Trust will be celebrating the 25th anniversary by taking part in Felixstowe Book Festival’s ‘Suffolk and the Sea’ Day on Saturday 25th June 2022.
The Nancy Blackett Trust’s own session, appropriately titled ‘You Too Can Go to Sea’ is at 3.30pm on Saturday 25th.Region East