A new charty which is keeping a craft (and crafts) alive

To some people they are just a simple means of travelling on the water.

But to many wooden boats are beautifully constructed works of art, each with a story to tell, that are synonymous with an ancient craft at risk of dying out. A passion for wooden boats and a desire to keep that craft alive have inspired four people from north Norfolk to set up a charity called Rescue Wooden Boats this week.

The charity aims to acquire, restore, maintain and use heritage maritime wooden craft.

The founders, brothers David and George Hewitt, aged 49 and 58, from Blakeney, who are boat builders, craftsmen and wooden working boat owners and wooden boat owners and enthusiasts Graeme Peart, 59, from Saxlingham and Wendy Pritchard, from Burnham Norton also hope to provide an education into the history of wooden boats and the craft involved in building and restoring them.

Miss Pritchard said: 'I have just loved wooden boats since I had my first holiday on a 40ft Hillyard schooner when I was 16. Since then I've been around boat yards looking at and admiring wooden boats.

'The problem is there are fewer and fewer wooden boats these days because people just can't afford to look after them and there is a big question mark over their future.

'We want to keep hold of some of these boats and the stories and crafts associated with them.

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'We also plan to lease them out to people because we believe that wooden boats should be used and not just left in museums.'

The restoration work is to be carried out at a boat yard off Greenway, Stiffkey, near Wells.

The charity's first project is a landmark one, restoring the Lucy Lavers lifeboat, originally from Aldeburgh, Suffolk, whose first service was in the Dunkirk rescue operation in the Second World War.

Lucy Lavers was completed in 1940 as the number two lifeboat for Aldeburgh and was based there for 19 years.

The boat then joined the relief fleet and served in Wells and Sheringham.

Rescue Wooden Boats aims to restore Lucy Lavers to her former glory and get the boat back out on the water.

It is estimated that this will cost about �50,000 and take several years.

The charity has also been given a crab boat, called Black Beauty by Wells fisherman Andy Frary.

David Hewitt's five-year pursuit of the Lucy Lavers, which is on the National Historic Ships register, helped to spark the founding of Rescue Wooden Boats.

He said: 'She is a boat with a lot of character and history and I wanted to know where she was and if she was in trouble.

'I had heard that she was no longer in existence but eventually tracked her down about a year ago in Keyhaven, Hampshire, through the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust.'

Much of the restoration work will be filmed to capture the progress and skills and crafts involved.

Local fishermen and lifeboat men, some of whom have served on Lucy Lavers, are being filmed telling stories about the history of the boat.

The films will be posted on the charity's website and, it is hoped, will also be taken into schools.

David Hewitt said: 'The education is a big part of what we're doing and it will also have a knock on effect as we will be using local businesses.'

Miss Pritchard said: 'We hope the charity will grow, will last long beyond our life times and attract interest from other parts of the country.

'We already have some children involved who we hope will be the trustees of the future.'

People are being invited to become 'Friends' of Rescue Wooden Boats by making annual donations.

The donations will fund the restoration work and Friends will be updated on the charity's progress, have opportunities to take part in planned visits to the boat yard, eventually have trips on the restored boats and become involved in various other ways as volunteers.

For more information, write to 14 Norton Street, Burnham Norton, King's Lynn, Norfolk, PE31 8DR, visit www.recuewoodenboats.com, e mail info@rescuewoodenboats.com or call 07920 760238.