Memories of Phip Bray

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I just remembered some memories I copied onto computer from papers of my Dad’s that I found after he passed away and wondered if you would be interested.  Regards From Sue Twyman

The Millionaires Half Crown

By Phip Bray R.N. Retired

The recent start of the 1981s round the world yacht race, in which many countries are competing, has reminded me of the time, some sixty years ago approximately, when yacht racing was of the greatest interest in my young life. I lived in a small street, Beach Street, almost next door to the yacht building yards of Camper and Nicholson, in the town of Gosport, which lies on the shore of the Solent in Southern England. This famous yacht buiding firm, which is still in business, was the initial builders of the giant “J” class yachts, and those built in this century were designed by the two brothers, Charles and Arthur Nicholson, who in my boyhood, often allowed me into their premises to watch proceedings of yacht building.

These great yachts, built and raced by millionaires, have ceased to exist after 1937, as there have been few rich people who could afford to race them. Most of the big “J”s were some 135ft long and weighed approximately 250tons and used a large amount of sail, in the nature of some 14,000sq feet. The crew were well picked yachties, and one crew would consist of between 30 to 40 men, each well known in yachting circles.

I knew many among the crews, and they also knew me, since, for a few boyhood years, they looked on me as a sort of mascot. The street in which I lived, bordered the large slipway where the yachts were drawn up on cradles, to be re-fitted, or laid up for the winter. The street was so narrow that all the bowsprits of the yachts overhung the street, and the bow of the cutter Nyria, was almost every winter, just 2feet from my mother’s bedroom window.

Next door to my house was a very high three story building, this was the sail loft, and was large enough to stow most of the “J”s sails. During the winter lay off from racing, the sail-makers were busy repairing the sails as necessary. Some of these sails were made of Portugese silk canvas, and were made by the firm of Ratsey and Lapthorn, in their sail-makers building nearby. My older sister was head machinist there and was well versed in yachting news.

During these days, most of my attention was directed to the performance of the big “Js”, such as the Britannia, King George the fifth’s cutter, Sir Thomas Lipton’s four in number Shamrocks, T.O.M., Sopwith’s two Endeavours, and many more, including the Velsheda, Westward, Cambria, and the Whiteheather, all of which were world famous. In my rather exalted position, as a mascot more or less, I was allowed many liberties by the yachties, such as running messages for them to the ships chandlers, minding their boats while they went into the bars for a quick drink, etc. These activities often earned me the odd penny, which was a fortune at that time.

I also became noticed by some of the owners, and sailing Masters, one of whom was Captain Herd, the Kings Sailing Master. If we met on the street, Captain Herd would doff his peaked yachting cap, and place it on my head saying,” You’d better tell the King it’s his turn at the wheel”!

How well I remember my first meeting with the great Sir Thomas Lipton, the man who eventually built five big “Js” with which he hoped to wrest the America’s Cup from the American yachting world, unluckily he was denied this. The man also, who many years before, during the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, baked her a giant cake at his big bakery in Scotland, and the cake, weighing one ton, was transported to London on a large cart drawn by dray horses.

My first sight of this great yachty was through the tears of my eight year old eyes, for the year was 1920, and this sunny July morning, I had been playing with my ball in the street outside of my house. I was crestfallen as my ball was lodged on the third story door of the sail loft, and no amount of my well aimed stones could dislodge it. My tears were due to knowing I would never have enough money to buy another.

Then I saw Captain Herd coming along with a very tall, gaunt looking man, they were both in yachting garb, peaked caps and grey flannels, and the named jerseys, on one of which I saw the name Shamrock. Ashamed, I suppose, I hid my face in the wall, but a hand turned me about, and Captain Herd boomed out, “Why the tears young Philip”? I blubbered about the lost ball, which could just be seen. The tall man, with a squint around the eyes, revealed a smile as he said, “ Och laddie, we’ll soon be having that doon fer ye”. An accompanying yachtie was given the keys to the loft and went to retrieve my ball. The tall man, who by now I had recognized as Sir Thomas Lipton, was then told by Captain Herd that I was their mascot and errand boy. The great man then put a gentle hand on my shoulder, as he said to Captain Herd, “Eeh, give the wee laddie a bob will eeh Herd” ? The so pleasant Herd could only find a half crown in his pocket, and as he gave it to me whispered, “You must give me the change Philip”. And I can remember how cheeky I felt at that moment, and could not resist asking the great man,” How could you get that great big cake in the oven Sir”?

But my mother, who had heard the noise and was at the doorway called out, “Don’t bother the gentleman Philip!” Sir Thomas waved a hand to her, saying something to the effect that I was a real “pickle”. I have to admit that although I was tempted to keep all of the half crown, I did give the change to Captain Herd!

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