Elvin was built in 1937 at Clapson’s boatyard at Barton on Humber as a gentleman’s motor yacht and sold by Hyland’s cruisers of Wakefield in 1937 to her first owner Mr E L Vincent (Hence Elvin) who kept her at Lowestoft .
30 th May 1940 Lt Commander Archie Buchanan (Rtd), Mr Gilbert
Hackforth-Jones (Writer who had served with Winston Churchill’s
battalion in First World War & then on submarines),”Skipper”
Noble (A Lowestoft longshoreman) and a retired fisherman from
Aberdeen prepared her for a voyage to Ramsgate. They had no charts
and sailed with 2 other similar craft. After the war Archie Buchanan
wrote a short account of the trip and these are his words “Skipper
Noble took the boat to Ramsgate without any charts, just memory
to go on. He seemed to be able to judge by the look of the water
where the banks and the deeps were and if there was enough water
to cross a bank. We arrived at Ramsgate about 4pm on the 31 st
and Noble went ashore to report to the senior naval officer. To
Noble’s amazement and fury we were ordered back to Lowestoft
and when he asked about charts he was told “You got here
without charts-you can go back without them!”
On arrival back at Oulton broad I went ashore and rang up my wife Ruth at the farm. She said that she just had a telephone call to say that we were to return to Ramsgate. I asked her to bring my rifle and some other things down with her. We drew charts and provisions for 48hrs and had fuel for 36 hrs.Ruth brought the rifle and then dashed off to get some Beecham’s pills which she dropped into the cockpit as we went under the bridge at Mutford Locks on our way from Oulton broad to the sea at Lowestoft.
On arrival at Ramsgate about 10 am on 1 st June I went ashore with Noble to report to the SNO and we were ordered to go alongside the South Wall-I had the distinct impression that this was where the boats that were not going to be used were sent. I got into a conversation with a sub-Lt Coates RNVR who told me that his naval motor cutter had broken down and the crew had refused to do another trip in her so I suggested he come with Elvin. I collected a spare battery and 4 rifles and ammunition from store-the latter somewhat unlawfully. As I was walking away I heard the Lt Commander in charge protest to the storeman “Surely you are not issuing rifles to civilians!”In the late afternoon Coates came along and told us that there was an operation taking place that night so we took him on board. We were fairly well jammed in by other boats, until a kindly trawler skipper gave a kick ahead on his engines to take the lot clear and let us out. We went alongside the East wall where boats were being given their orders. Coates went ashore to report but the commander in charge was very reluctant to let us go-“Civilian crew, too slow, Red Ensign and so on”. Eventually we just took matters into our own hands, letting go fore and aft: as we moved out there came a shout from the petty officer up top and the commander turned away in apparent disgust. A shower of first aid kits were thrown into our cockpit and we were on our way. We had no idea what the operation was or what we were supposed to do. With our boat darkened we just followed the general flow of traffic across and then steered straight for the fires of Dunkirk .
This was the morning of the 2 nd June.
We lay off the entrance until first light. We could hear the gunfire to the eastward and saw a great pall of smoke over the town and flashes of explosions in the inner harbour. As soon as we could see, we went alongside the east mole (pier) where a column of soldiers was drawn up. An officer called out “Combien de soldat?” and as I could not remember the French for twenty-five, I replied trente. But before we could take on the thirty that had been detailed by the officer, sub LT Coates said that we were full down below so the rest went on the deck.
Alongside the pier, there was a small open motor boat with an RNR sub in charge and a whaler in tow. He seemed to me as if he was taking on a bit more than he could handle. I nipped over to him and asked him what he was going to do with his lot and he told me he was going to put them on a ship outside the harbour and come back for more. This seemed a good idea, so we decided to do the same.
The destroyer had gone when we got outside the
harbour, so we chased after some French minesweepers to westward,
hoping to put our soldiers on board and go back for more but they
were unwilling to take them so we decided to set course back to
Ramsgate. We had no idea where the swept channel was, but as we
drew only three feet six inches and it was not low water we didn’t
think that there was much danger from mines. This conclusion was
fortified by memories of the Dover patrol in 1917 when it used
to be said that British mines were so safe, they never went off.
I think a large lump of wood would have been far more dangerous.”
This is the end of Archie Buchanan’s statement. *
Elvin had taken off twenty-five French troops from the 28 th French infantry regiment and eight British troops. They headed back to Ramsgate rather top heavy with thirty-eight people on board and landed their rescued troops on the north-east wall at Ramsgate.
That morning had dawned brilliantly clear and at first light, the luftwaffer arrived over the beaches with murderous intent. Forty stukas of the eighth fliegerkorps launched a violent attack on the evacuation fleet. As they turned for home, twenty-eight hurricanes of the RAF arrived and engaged them on a fierce battle. They themselves were then engaged by a flight of Messerschmitt 109 and 110’s.Later that day Captain Tennant who was in charge of the evacuation at Dunkirk sent the message to Admiral Ramsey at Dover “The BEF has been evacuated”
I don’t know what happened to Elvin after Dunkirk , but I do know that by the late 1940’s, she was on a mooring at Tough’s boatyard at Teddington. In the early 1950’s, she was owned by Mr Ronnie Hamilton and his wife Eleanor. She was on a residential mooring and they lived aboard her. I have met a young friend of theirs, Mike Hoare who at the time was working at the empire theatre in Kingston . He later became a chief-superintendant in the met police and was awarded the MBE. He remembers Elvin fondly and trips to Calais on her in the early 1950’s and helping to re-calk her prior to her passage to Portugal . He was thrilled to come up the river with us in September 2010 for lunch at The Minnow pub in Weybridge.
In 1955 she was bought by the Marquis of Pombal, a Portuguese aristocrat who cruised her in the med and around the Portuguese coast, with trips to Monte Carlo , Gibraltar and North Africa . She was then sold to a cement factory owner in Lisbon and then to a landowner in the Algarve . They continued her Lloyds registration for most of her time in Portugal .
In June 2008, she was taken in part exchange by a marina in the Algarve in a very sorry state. On a Sunday evening in late-June, I saw her advertised on the internet ( Dunkirk little ship for sale – Portugal ). My wife, Jane and I flew out on the Wednesday morning and although she obviously needed a lot of work to salvage her, she was floating and she had two very good engines. We took her the short distance to Spain , had lunch and agreed a price. We arranged a lorry to deliver her to Calais at a very reasonable rate in mid-August. John Heath sorted out a yard to accept her and a crane on a Sunday to put her in the water. Son’s Tom and Morgan, Tim Harridge and I went over that day to bring her back across the channel. We got the engines going and took her for a trip round the harbour and then went ashore to eat that evening. It was obviously windy, but we hoped to sail the next day. We phoned Gareth who had driven us over about 11pm that night after a good meal to get a forecast. It was severe gales for the next 48 hours from the south-west. It was only blowing about force 4-5 overnight but 7-8 the next morning. Dover was only 4 hours away, so we decided to at least get across by night and then maybe leave her in Dover .
We set off just before midnight and soon lost one engine. But we were making a good 8 knots with the wind behind us and she felt so comfortable that we decided instead to head to Ramsgate. By 3am Tom and Tim had gone below to get a little sleep, Morgan was at the helm and I could see the lights of the large cardinal mark that marks the entrance to prince’s channel which takes the large ships up the Thames. Rather than put into Ramsgate, as she was proving to be watertight and a very comfortable sea boat, I thought I would go below to look at the charts with a view to turning to Port and up the estuary with Kent on our beam to shelter us a little from the now significant seas and maybe head for Queenborough.
I went below, told Morgan to head straight for the cardinal mark and I got out the tide tables. The tide was perfect to take us straight up the estuary. Elvin was too comfortable because I, like Tom and Tim was soon asleep. Morgan, aged 14 for once, did as he was told and steered straight for the cardinal mark, mesmerised by the light on top of it.
There was an almighty bang as we ploughed straight into the side of the largest cardinal mark you have ever seen. Elvin turned at once to Port, Tom, Tim and I were up within seconds. Amazingly, Elvin was obviously stronger than she looked. We were not taking in water, dawn was breaking, it was very windy and we were heading towards London . That morning, all racing was cancelled at the Merlin Rocket National Championships because of gale force winds but we spent the morning getting the other engine going and continued heading up the estuary to St. Katherine’s dock by Tower Bridge for an over-night stay prior to bringing Elvin up to Hampton the next morning. (She cleared customs into Britain for the first time in over 50 years at Teddington lock)
Since then, she has spent a long time in
Tony Wollard's yard at Otter
Marine on Platts Eyot, Hampton . The hull has been beautifully
restored and we had a great trip to Dunkirk and back in summer
2010 for the 70 th anniversary. The interior should be finished
by the Spring and she will be as smart as and very similar, but
better, than the day she was made.
note, this page needs updating after we met Archie Buchanan's
son John and the Buchanan family when we took Elvin to Ipswich
in May this year. He brought with him an account of Elvin's Dunkirk
story which you will find in full now on the website by clicking
on the "Elvin's Dunkirk" in the top bar.
have also included a list of all Elvin's owners and dates up to
1980 obtained from the Lloyds registeries at Colne Yacht Club
when we stayed at Brightlingsea on the same trip. Please click
2013, contacted by Graham Scott who lived on Elvin as a houseboat,
with his Mum and Dad (Matthew Charlton Scott) and brother Bruce
when his Dad owned Elvin from 1950 to 1953, first at Penton Hook
then at Memorial Lodge, Old Windsor. See copy of identity card
* Quoted from 'Churchills Moat' by Robert Jackson. Airlife Publishing Ltd