The day intrepid Norfolk sailor Frank Dye was remembered in Wells for his generosity
18:50 21 October 2012
Among small-boat sailors, reluctant landlubber Frank Dye was renowned for his derring-do.
The Norfolk businessman, who died in 2010 aged 82, was even lauded as being “unmistakably the best and bravest dinghy sailor of our time”.
To Wells folk, he went on to become a local hero thanks to a bequest that has since given a young family the chance to stay in their town at a rent they can afford.
And today, his widow Margaret - no mean sailor herself - was guest of honour at a special event to mark his gift of their former cottage in Jolly Sailor Yard to the Homes for Wells charity.
Jeremy Norman, cruising secretary of the UK Wayfarers’ Association, travelled from Shoreham in West Sussex to unveil a plaque commemorating Frank’s generosity and paid tribute to his extraordinary seagoing exploits.
Earlier, celebrations had begun at noon on the waterfront opposite Wells Sailing Club with a sail-past of Wayfarer dinghies by members of the 1st Blofield and Brundall Sea Scouts.
Through Homes for Wells, the cosy three-bedroom cottage - known to the Dyes as Wanderers - has been renovated (with the help of £10,000 from Frank) and been home since last spring to Iain Mccallum, Shelley Hewitt and their children Ruby, aged seven, and Hamish, who was born after they moved in.
Iain works for Ray West Builders, grew up just along the lane and said there was no way his family could afford to buy a house in Wells at today’s prices. “It’s great to be where we are now. Three-bedroom places are hard to find anyway, and we’ve got the baby now so the extra space is good,” he added.
Frank Dye, born at Watton in 1928, left Hamond’s Grammar School, Swaffham, and joined the family firm - the Ford motor dealership founded by his father and one of Norfolk’s best-known business names in the post-war decades.
He took up sailing in his 30s, bought his first Wayfarer and met Margaret at the Earls Court Boat Show.
His voyages, especially in a 15ft 10in wooden Wayfarer called Wanderer, became legendary.
On an 11-day, 650-mile crossing from Scotland to Iceland, with a makeshift cockpit tent for shelter, he and a fellow sailor survived all manner of ordeals before reaching Iceland.
And on another sea crossing, from Scotland to Aalesund, Norway, he and his one-man crew endured a succession of capsizes and a broken mast as a storm lashed their craft.
Margaret, now in her early 80s and desperately missing the sea air, now that she lives in a flat in Norwich, walks with a mobility aid these days but displayed the doughty nature that had guided her during her own sailing adventures by insisting on walking from the club to the unveiling ceremony several hundred yards away.
Pausing to admire one of the craft on display for the day, she said: “Isn’t that a wonderful sight? Seeing the boats and seeing the sails is lovely.
“But many times I have curled up in sails like those because I was so cold!”
What would Frank have made of the celebration in his honour? “He would have been very silent and sat very quietly and wondered what all the fuss was about,” she said. “He was an incredibly modest man.”
Homes for Wells is an industrial and provident society set up by Wells Area Partnership in 2006 to provide more affordable accommodation for key workers and other local people with a proven connection to the town. It receives no government help and relies solely on fundraising, grants and its supporters to achieve its aims.
Only days ago, it was given the green light by Norfolk County Council to buy the former Wells Field Study Centre and convert it into housing for key workers and locals.
Homes for Wells treasurer Jim Fergusson told the gathering today that there would be substantial conversion costs involved and another money-raising appeal would be launched soon.