Old vessel comes back to life

By Kate MaxwellSHE is like an elderly relative who takes up a lot of space and costs a lot of money.Her devoted carers have sometimes felt like giving up on her, for she dominates their lives and eats up both their time and their savings.

By Kate Maxwell

SHE is like an elderly relative who takes up a lot of space and costs a lot of money.

Her devoted carers have sometimes felt like giving up on her, for she dominates their lives and eats up both their time and their savings.

But the old girl, who goes by the name of Alfred Corry, is about to celebrate her 110th birthday on April 3, which makes her Suffolk's oldest existing lifeboat.

Despite her insatiable demands, every inch of her is being lovingly rebuilt by John Cragie, the grandson of her first coxwain, also called John Cragie.

John Cragie the younger, now retired, was a master mariner, piloting ships along the Thames to London for 25 years, before he and his wife found a derelict old hulk rotting in the mud at Maldon.

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That proved to be the 1893 Southwold No.1 lifeboat Alfred Corry, which had done 25 years' service.

The Cragies bought her, restored the craft and had spent happy years sailing across to the continent and along the coast.

However, in the early 1990s the cost of maintaining the vessel became too much for the Cragies.

A trust was eventually set up and for the past three years Mr Cragie, with childhood friend and fellow seaman Dick Leon, has spent every Wednesday in the former Cromer lifeboat shed on Southwold Harbour restoring the 44ft wooden boat.

It was built for the princely sum of £490, seven shillings and sixpence in 1893 - roughly half what the Cragies paid for the old hulk several decades later.

“She was never motorised, always a sailing lifeboat,” said Mr Cragie, whose grandfather helped with the original design and was awarded two silver medals for his service with her.

“We are not trying to get her seagoing - it would be hard to find 17 men to crew a 110-year-old boat - but to restore her to look as she first did.”

Mrs Cragie, who both loves and hates the boat, which has cost them “tens of thousands” pounds to maintain, added: “She's too precious and in any case there aren't many people left who would know how to sail her.”

The restoration work has carried on without any funding apart from donations made by visitors to the Alfred Corry Museum, the former lifeboat shed where the vessel is housed.

The trust formed to save her benefits from the financial wizardry and wheedling of Dennis Ball, who managed to secure the lifeboat house from Cromer Pier, which enabled work to start on her, and who manages much of the business of fundraising.

The Alfred Corry - named after the man whose legacy financed her construction - was launched 41 times during her 25-year working life.

Launching was a feat in itself. Crewed by 17 men, she had to be dragged down the beach along skids by dozens of strong men.

Floating her, too, was something of a challenge - sometimes the sea chucked her back on the beach several times before the wind caught her sails and sent her to rescue those in peril.

Even returning from an outing was an adventure, waiting for a wave to toss the boat back on shore.

Altogether she saved 47 lives, often sailors who had clung to wreckage and eventually been washed up on sand banks.

Her history, from her post-lifesaving days as Lord Albemarle's glamorous yacht to her sad dereliction as an Essex houseboat, her discovery by John and Doreen Cragie, her later sailing life and her present restoration is all documented at the Alfred Corry Museum, which will be open every day from April 1 except Wednesday.

n The Alfred Corry Museum urgently needs volunteers during the summer to help steward the museum when it is open to the public. Anyone interested in helping should contact 01502 723200.


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