HEADLAND BELLE is one of five open launch passenger ferries known as the HEADLAND FLEET - along with QUEEN, PRINCESS, PAL and MAID - designed by Eric French of Poole, Dorset, and built by E F Elkins of Christchurch Harbour, Dorset, between 1930 and 1935, with BELLE being the first of the five to be built and was known as the Prototype. They were commissioned individually by owner operators to replace a fleet of smaller craft that operated as a cooperative under the name of The United Motor Boat Services – BELLE was specifically ordered by B Elliott.
Measuring 36ft long and 8ft 9in in the beam, the HEADLANDS incorporated a new design technique known as hard chine construction which facilitated a wide beam to length ratio and permitted a high degree of stability, combined with minimal draft due to a flat bottom. They were licensed to carry 50 passengers and 2 crew in three compartments separated by oak thwarts. Built of Oregon Pine on Oak frames and ribs, the HEADLANDS feature an unloaded draft of just 10 inches which increased to just 15 inches when fully loaded. The deadweight was 5½ tonnes. The craft featured Teak for the internal panelling and seats.
Traditional propulsion was chosen with an engine mounted amidships and a shaft coupling the motor to a propeller, most of which was housed in a tunnel built into the craft in the aft section, with its top well above normal external water line. The size of the tunnel meant that only a very small part of the propeller extended below the bottom of the craft. As such a very primitive and early form of water jet evolved which saw water sucked up into the vacuum where the tunnel was above the water line, and then expelled out past a long-balanced rudder. It is the shape of this tunnel that gives the HEADLANDS their distinctive wash and unusual attitude in the water, typified by a tilt downward to the bow as speed builds and the stern climbs to ride the water as the water is forced out of the tunnel.
HEADLAND BELLE features a more streamlined and lower freeboard in the stern section. Originally, she was powered by four-cylinder Kelvin Ricardo petrol/paraffin motors of some 15hp which were very quiet in operation. This lasted into the late 1950s, when she was refitted with a Petter motor. After this, a BMC diesel motor was fitted in the 1970s, which lasted until 2007 when a similar sized Ford diesel motor was fitted. Currently the fleet is powered by BETA low emission units.
During the Second World War, BELLE was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and operated as a tender to the “Stone Frigate” HMS Mastodon (the Naval name for Exbury house), as the HEADLANDS were found to be unsuitable for use at sea due to their propulsion method. Even so, she still sailed as far as Lepe Beach where the invasion fleet was being assembled for D-Day. After the War, BELLE was repurchased by The United Motor Boat Services and was found to have had a large hole in her upper work, which was repaired and before she returned to service in 1947. However, her varnished hulls could not be restored as the copious amounts of Admiralty grey paint had leached into the pine topsides applied over the pre-War varnish, and BELLE was painted French blue.
She remained in the service of The United Motor Boat Services, even as business dwindled and ownership changed. In 1995, the final owner operators, J and R Elliott and R Stride, sold the company and its fleet to her current owners. They went about revitalising the operations, firstly by acquiring and rebuilding the Cafeteria at Tuckton Tea Gardens as an integral part of the boating activities, and later with the alteration of the fixed masts so they can be lowered, permitting the craft to sail upstream under Tuckton Bridge
Currently, HEADLAND BELLE sails with her sisters out of Tuckton daily from Easter until the end of October. Normally, two craft are in service operating a 45-minute departure frequency calling at Wick Ferry, for the Captains Club Hotel Complex and Christchurch Quay before sailing down the Harbour to Mudeford Beach. They are also frequently out on private charter and Evening Bar-b-Cue cruises in conjunction with the Tuckton Tea Gardens.
Built by E F Elkins of Christchurch Harbour, Dorset, for B Elliott, member of The United Motor Boat Services
Returned to The United Motor Boat Services following repairs after having been requisitioned by the Admiralty and used as a tender to the “Stone Frigate” HMS Mastodon (the Naval name for Exbury house)
Sold to current owners along with The United Motor Boat Services and its fleet, which was renamed Bournemouth Boating Services Ltd
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