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My Alice was built in the Kidby yard at Brightlingsea in 1907. She is one of only two remaining Kidby smacks. She is registered in Colchester Creek, hence her number CK348.

Charles Kidby had a good reputation for building very sound smacks and yachts. The lines of My Alice reflect the design of someone who built both yachts and smacks - she has a very elegant counter and plenty of "bite" to windward in her underwater sections - but her racing skipper owner was probably an influence too...

My Alice was built for, and owned by Captain Fred Stokes of Tollesbury on the Blackwater. At the turn of the century the big expensive "gentlemens' yachts" that raced on the South Coast were largely crewed by professional sailors from Brightlingsea, Wivenhoe, Rowhedge and Tollesbury on the East coast (a bit like all the grand prix yachts full of Kiwis today). Fred spent his summers (you are only supposed to catch oysters when there is an R in the month in the northern hemisphere - so racing in May, June, July, August fitted rather well) racing as a rather successful skipper. In 1905 Mrs Turner Farley had commissioned a racing yacht, Sonja, in the 52' rating class and she had gone to Nathanael Herreschoff with the commission. Known as the Wizard of Bristol, Nat Herreshoff was an innovative and brilliant designer, sailor, and boatbuilder. Features common on boats today: sail tracks and slides, bulb keels, fin keels, even hollow aluminum masts - were all developed by Herreshoff. He designed and built one of the earliest catamarans seen in the US. He was the superstar designer of his day.

Not surprisingly, with Fred skippering and Nat's design, Sonja had a string of successful regattas around the country, between 1905 and 1908 (read this report of one). She won hundreds of pounds of prize money and Fred's share would have been maybe as much as £100 per season. This prize money, and the pro-skipper wage of around £3 per week gave Captain Fred Stokes enough money to have his own boat, My Alice, commissioned at the Kidby yard. She was apparently his pride and joy, and now is ours' in turn.

Although smacks by 1907 were contemplating and fitting engines, My Alice owes more to the racing yacht shapes of the previous decade. Fred knew what he wanted - a race boat and a smack!. Writing in Classic Boat back in June 1997 John Leather commented:

But My Alice had all the sailing characteristics of 20 years before, with a hull well formed for windward work, and a well rounded forefoot, which helped avoid damage to stowboat gear when spratting. Her counter is narrow compared to many smacks of that size which were slightly broader aft to assist when boarding a trawl or stowboat net.

So she was the best of two worlds, fishing and racing and looking at the lines of Nat's race boats, you can see where the influence in the Kidby's yard came from. The Kidby yard closed in 1939, curiously the same year that our Brightlingsea One Design, C14 Aina, was built.

Soon though, the Essex smacks' futures were going downhill too. Many were chopped as engines were fitted, wheelhouses and wheels were added and rigs minimised or cut down. John Leather remembers My Alice coming into Brightlingsea in 1946 under her big Lister diesel engine, shrimping and spratting in summer and winter, but she was still spared the indignity of a wheelhouse or a wheel. Money was tight.

Norman Childs owned My Alice between 1968 and 1993 - and has just got in touch - so watch this space for more details, but what we do know already was that by the mid 1980s she was back to dredging for oysters - at Burnham-on-Crouch; she had succumbed to a wheelhouse and her beautiful stern had been sawn off for sensible reasons of efficiency. Worse still, in 1987 she was run down by a commercial ship in the Roach and sunk. Eventually, her tired bones were dragged ashore, and then to John Milgate's yard at Pelham where she sat, dreaming of her earlier days of work and regattas and fun.

And she might have finished her days there, but for the arrival of Jim Dines in 1993. Jim took her back to his yard in Maldon with its traditional and classic rigging service. Jim assembled a team around Brian Kennell and set to work on an extensive, expensive, and deserved rebuild of My Alice. She needed to be completely replanked, one plank at a time, copying what was there; her keels, sternpost, deadwoods, keelson and stem were all rebuilt in massive West African opepe. Her sawn oak frames were all restored or replaced, also in sawn oak. A new deck was fitted using 2 layers of 3/4" ply, glass covered.

Jim managed to track down the original sail drawings for her topsail (from Gowens I think) and using photographs was able to be fairly accurate about the proportions of her rig, although the size needed revisiting with a little extra now added on her mast and gaff getting the scale right too. She certainly balances very well with her 22' of douglas fir bowsprit out in front.

The rebuilding of My Alice took fully nine years of hard work. When Classic Boat magazine revisited her for the Maldon Regatta of 2002 Jim would only say it had all cost more than £120,000 because that was when he stopped counting...

Today of course My Alice is back home in Brightlingsea. One of the current crew is the great great great grandson of Charles Kidby and her interior has been refitted by folk including the great great grandson!

There is a lot more detail to add, and photos of the rebuild, but she is safe for another 100 years or more, has all her shape back precisely, is sailing faster and faster, and is cherished. CK348 will be out racing most weekends in the summer...

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015 1:19 PM