Paul and Heidi Rainbird who have spent five years restoring the Betsie Jane. Now they've been nominated for Classic Boat's Restoration of the Year Award 2013.


The Betsie Jane on the River Waveney.


Picture: James Bass

Photo gallery: “If he was asked me or the boat, I’d be overboard”

Monday, January 14, 2013
3.07 PM

To many she looked like a dilapidated wreck ready for the scrap heap.

But when Paul Rainbird set his eyes on the flush deck cruiser Betsie Jane it was love.

He had been searching the country for a 1930s cruiser, and when he saw the near-wreck tucked up under a tarpaulin, he knew he’s found his next project.

And after five years and more than 2,500 hours of hard work he has completely transformed the boat and has now been nominated for an award.

Mr Rainbird, 48, has a long history in sailing, having learned with sea cadets and gone on to sail in the Atlantic and deliver yachts in the Caribbean 18 years ago.

But despite having a boat in Loddon, he wanted a flush deck cruiser and finally found one in Ely on Ebay.

“It was under a tarpaulin but I thought it was gorgeous. I went and had a look and it had all the original fittings, and I thought ‘this is a quality boat’,” he said.

“It was getting towards the point of no return and so bad no-one else bid.”

What he had found was a 1938 40ft cruiser that was built as a Solent launch for Lord Ebbisham, by Saunders on the Isle of Wight.

Mr Rainbird, of Gillingham, near Beccles, said: “This era, the 1930s, is the epitome of boating, with such elegance and style. It was built especially to entertain.”

The previous owner, a retired boat builder, had performed the structural work renovation needed but the cruiser, which is a national historic ship, had sat in a field for a decade waiting for an overhaul.

Mr Rainbird brought Betsie Jane to Greenway Marine, in Loddon, in 2007, where the work began.

For three or four days a week he found time around his work - which is teaching at Lowestoft College and building theatre sets for Scenic Projects - to completely transform the boat. This saw him rebuilding the engine, creating the interior, the fibre glass deck and much more.

“I know every single bit of this boat,” he said. “It has been totally consuming but so worth it as I love it. I’ll come and go out even if it’s pouring down with rain.”

While he has been working, his wife Heidi, 44, has watched on with moral support, as he regularly rose at 5am to head to Loddon.

“I have been a boat widow for the last five years,” she said. “I have watched him cry when engines go wrong. He is so passionate about his boat, if he was asked me or the boat, I’d be overboard. He says not, but it is true.”

However now the teacher and hairdresser is able to enjoy the boat too, as together they host a wide range of trips from the Waveney River Centre, in Burgh St Peter, including cruises to Geldeston, Oulton Broad and Breydon Water, as well as special events such as creative writing courses, trips to Oulton Broad for curry, and bird watching.

But even now, Mr Rainbird is not finished as he intends to rebuild the engine once more.

However, his efforts have been nominated for an award after author Richard Johnstone-Bryden put him forward in the Powerboat of the Year category of the Classic Boat Awards 2013.

Mr Rainbird said: “If you are a boat geek, classic boat is the ultimate award. To be nominated seems amazing.”

The vote visit www.classicboat.co.uk/awards2013/ and for more on their tours visit www.facebook.com/BetsieJaneRiverTours