Another cup-of-tea and another story about the Gamecock from 85 year-old Bill. He has been protecting and sailing her since the 1960’s, making a new suite of sails in his bedroom, patching holes in the hull with wood salvaged from local builders and avoiding harbour fees by mooring of-shore...
The Gamecock is a 43 foot oyster yawl built in 1906/7 by the Collar brothers at their yard on Whitstable beach. The proud owner was Albert Stroud, father of seven children by two marriages. The family earned their living dredging for native oysters and the Gamecock joined approximately seventy similar vessels working in the Swale.
Like many of the fishermen, Bill saved money by repairing his own boat and storing his sails in the hold. So when the Gamecock was accidentally staved in by another craft, he repaired the hull by adding a second skin. This has now been removed by a team of volunteers and the rotten planks replaced under the guidance of a shipwright. When the 40 foot mast was being lifted out prior to pulling the Gamecock up the slipway to carry out the repairs, it snapped at deck level where surface water had penetrated.
Keeping large, heavy sails beneath deck may have saved money on storage but it also restricted the flow of air. The sails became damp with surface water finding its way down and consequently the underside of the deck has rot.
Bill also attempted to improve the performance of his craft by modifying the stern which has left it weakened, so this also needs to be reconstructed when she is next out of the water. At the same time, the propeller shaft and engine will be replaced with a smaller rotary engine to create room for bunks and improve safety.
In 2014 an ad hoc group of about twenty individuals, including Bill, gathered to consider the lack of focus on Whitstable’s connections with the sea - past, present and future. The outcome was a decision to purchase the Gamecock from Bill and establish a charity. Nine months later a company, a charity and a bank account had been registered, and Bill paid. A marine survey confirmed that the Gamecock could be restored to full working order.
For the first eighteen months the newly-formed Board had a ‘patch-and-mend’ approach to the boat which, indeed, is how it had been maintained since the 1960’s. However, a series of near-accidents while sailing and a growth in activities led the Board to exercise collective leadership.
Today the Board has a clear reconstruction policy for the boat (as defined by NHS-UK), and Board members lead four semi-autonomous Task groups, each with a clear function: restoring local historical vessels, establishing an annual maritime festival, planning a maritime discovery centre, and designing an interactive coastal trail. Strategy, finance, and marketing remain central functions.
Everyone involved in the charity is a volunteer. They currently bring experience in boat-building, seamanship, architecture, marine ecology, education, IT, retailing and business. Whitstable Maritime has been recognised by the DCLG as a Coastal Community Team and the Gamecock is registered as a National Historic Ship (see Statement of Significance).
Work with local community and organisations
The Gamecock is more than a flagship; it is both a link with Whitstable’s past and a sea-going platform for activities such as sail training, teamwork and environmentally sustainable oyster dredging. She will be a key feature of the coastal trail along with pre-World War One film, an off-shore mooring, and a nineteenth-century warehouse that was formerly the headquarters of the oystermen. She will also participate in ‘Old Gaffer’ races during the maritime festival which now attracts a range of historical craft and 10,000 visitors. While the shipwright’s tools, plans and skills will be prominent exhibits in the maritime centre, as will photographic and documentary evidence of the former boat yards.