During the Edwardian period yachting was still a pursuit of the wealthy, who often employed professional Essex fishermen to skipper and crew their yachts for the summer regattas around the British coast. One such skipper was Captain Fred Stokes, of Tollesbury on the River Blackwater, who was skipper of the 52 ft Herreschoff yacht SONYA, owned by the Falmouth-based yachtswoman Mrs Turner Farley. With his share of the prize money won in regattas Fred Stokes was able to commission the building of MY ALICE from Charles Kidby in Brightlingsea in 1907. She is now one of only two Kidby built boats still afloat, and would probably also have been designed by him.
She was a ‘stowboater’, intended to fish for sprats, and would have anchored, dropped a net and waited for the tide to fill it with shoals of sprats. Hauls were sometimes as large as 15 tons and, with the catch in the hold, MY ALICE would race back to port to obtain the highest price. According to John Leather, writing in ‘Classic Boat’ in 1997, she was probably the last Essex smack built in the intermediate size between the small estuary smacks and the larger deepwater smacks, and had no engine – at a time when motors were beginning to be installed. Leather wrote of her: ‘MY ALICE had all the sailing characteristics of 20 years before, with a hull well formed for windward work and a well-rounded forefoot, which helped avoid damage to stowboat gear when spratting. Her counter is narrow compared to many smacks of that size, which were slightly broader aft to assist when boarding a trawl or stowboat net.’ As a racing skipper Fred Stokes wanted a fast smack, and MY ALICE apparently lived up to his hopes. By 1946 MY ALICE had a smaller rig and a Lister diesel engine, and was engaged in fish trawling and spratting in winter, and shrimping in summer. By the early 1980s the counter had been cut off and she was fully motorised, with a wheelhouse, derricks and a winch on deck for her employment as an oyster dredger at Paglesham. In 1987 MY ALICE was run down by a motor vessel on the River Roach, and was raised to be laid up at Peldon, near West Mersea.
In 1993 she was bought by Jim Dines and taken to Maldon for an almost complete rebuild by shipwright Brian Kennell at his Downs Road boatyard. Progress on the project was determined by funds, and took eight years to complete. Much of the new structure was in opepe, but the new frames and deck beams were of oak - with a few of the original frames retained, and the planking was larch. The elegant counter was re-instated. The deck was made of two layers of 18mm thick marine ply covered in fibre-glass to provide a watertight layer. The original deck layout was restored, with small hatches and open deck space. MY ALICE (CK 348) has had the original scuttle hatch refitted, between the main hold hatch and the aft accommodation hatch – this was used to shoot the catch into when at sea so as not to expose the boat to the danger of having the main hatch opened and capable of being breached by rough weather. No engine was fitted and she has a pair of 18 ft sweeps for rowing. In 2001 she was re-rigged, with sails from James Lawrence of Brightlingsea and spars of Douglas fir, and sailed again in the Blackwater match. In 2011 she had new sails and a new engine.
Source: Paul Brown, Historic Sail, The History Press.
Classic Boat (Dec, 2002) Alice in Wonderland
Classic Boat (June, 1997) A tale of 2 Smacks
Sailing Today (December, 2012) Essex Girl
Built by Charles Kidby in Brightlingsea for Captain Fred Stokes
Counter was cut off and vessel was fully motorised, with a wheelhouse, derricks and winch on deck
Fitted with a smaller rig and a Lister diesel engine
Vessel run down by a motor vessel on the River Roach, and then raised but laid up at Peldon, near West Mersea
Purchased by Jim Dines, refloated and taken to Maldon
Completely rebuilt at Downs Road Boatyard
Bought by new owner and based at Brightlingsea
Took part in the Avenue of Sail as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant
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