Registration number 718
Status National Historic Fleet


Function Fishing Vessel
Subfunction Dredger
Location Brightlingsea
Current use Private use
Available to hire Yes
Available for excursions No


Builder Harris Brothers, Rowhedge
Built in 1866
Hull material Wood
Rig Gaff Cutter
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 1
Propulsion Sail
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
10.98 feet (3.35m)
6.00 feet (1.83m)
Length: Overall
47.97 feet (14.63m)


The Colchester smack MARIA (pronounced ‘Mariah’) was built in 1866 by Harris Brothers, at Donyland (renamed Rowhedge in 1912), Essex, for Mr Dunn, of Wivenhoe, and is one of the oldest smacks afloat. Harris mainly built yachts and, reflecting this, MARIA is narrower than later smacks which were more beamy and hence more stable in a blow. She was a first class smack used for oyster dredging and fishing on the east coast. MARIA was also regularly raced in the winter months by owners who all skippered the large racing yachts of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, and was reputed to have been a fast boat.

In about 1880 MARIA was bought by the Levetts of Tollesbury who worked her in inshore fishing for over 60 years. In the Second World War MARIA was sunk after being hit by a trawler and remained submerged for eleven years. She was eventually laid up in a creek where she sank and filled with mud. In 1961 she was bought by Tommy Bolton who raised her and rebuilt the stern, albeit 2ft short, but Bolton was drowned in a yachting accident and MARIA was re-rigged by a new owner as a schooner.

Later she was sold to a Dutch owner and was taken to Holland in 1975 to become a live-aboard at Muiden. MARIA was found there in 1996 and brought back to Kent by lorry. She was refitted as a gaff cutter with new sails and competed in Medway and Swale smack races.

In 2004 a full scale rebuilding of MARIA commenced at Maylandsea, Essex, under the efficient and watchful eye of Rick Cardy. However, due to other work commitments MARIA was moved to St Osyth to complete the planking and the remainder of the hull restoration, which was carried out by shipwrights Alan Williams and Andrew Balfe at Andy Harman’s yard. She was fitted with a powerful windlass forward so that she could be used for the traditional stowboat fishing in winter, during which she is anchored.

MARIA (CK21) was re-launched on 20 May 2007. In 2008 she won the ‘Classic Boat’ magazine Restoration of the Year award. In 2009 she was the winner of the Thames Oyster Run (a smack race).

Source: Historic Sail, Britain's surviving working craft, Paul Brown, the History Press.

Key dates

  • 1866

    Vessel built by Harris Bros., Rowhedge, Essex

  • 1914

    Engine fitted

  • 1913/1914

    Vessel believed to have been sunk after her engine was removed to avoid being requisitioned by the Royal Navy

  • 1918

    After the end of World War One, vessel was raised for continued use as a fishing boat

  • 1945-1956

    Vessel sank again after being hit by a trawler

  • 1950s

    Bought, raised and restored to sailing condition

  • 1962

    Entered in the Old Gaffers Race, River Blackwater

  • 1966/1967

    Sold to owners who towed her from the River Crouch to the Blackwater, but once again the vessel sank, near the Blackwater Sailing Club, Saltcote, Essex.  Two weeks later she eventually made it to Maldon

  • 1975

    Taken to Holland

  • 2004

    Full scale restoration undertaken, initially at Maylandsea and then in St Osyth

  • 2007

    Re-launched at St Osyth boatyard for use as local charter vessel based at Brightlingsea

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