The last British wooden triple-masted trading schooner in existence is likely to be lost from the nation’s heritage forever. One of only 60 on the UK’s National Register of Historic Vessels’ Core Collection, the Kathleen & May is sadly for sale. Neighbours on the register include such national treasures as the Cutty Sark and Mary Rose, which indicate its level of importance to British maritime history.

Lizzie & May was built for Captain John Coppack and named after his daughters. She was employed taking cargoes such as cement, coal, pitch and clay anywhere between Oban, Scotland and the Channel islands. Her foc'sle could house four hands, while the captain and mate occupied small cabins leading off the saloon, which also served as a mess room. Her first commercial voyage was under Captain Tom Hughes from Connah's Quay to Rochester with 226 tons of firebricks. She then carried cement to Plymouth, pitch to Cardiff, coal to Falmouth and clay to Weston Point.

In 1908, she was purchased by M J Fleming of Youghal in southern Ireland, renamed Kathleen & May, and placed in the coal trade between the Bristol Channel and Ireland, carrying oats or pit props on the return passages. Under Captain Joe Aherne of Youghal she imported coal from Lydney and from Garston, often carrying oats or pit props on the outward voyage. On St Georges Day 1931, she carried her last cargo under sail alone - 202 tons of coal from Cardiff. In that year she was purchased by Captain Tommy Jewell fitted with an 80HP auxiliary engine and her topmasts were shortened. Tommy Jewel operated the vessel until 1961, after which she had a series of owners until she was, finally, retired from commercial use, in 1967.

In 1970 she was acquired by the Maritime Trust with funds given by the Hong Kong shipowner Sir Yue-Kong Pao. 20 years later she was sold for £80,000 to her present owner, Bideford businessman Steve Clarke, who commissioned a meticulous £2 million restoration to her original 1900 build, with the exception of some up to date conveniences like heads and a 400 hp engine.

 

Now, the battle has been lost to obtain Heritage Lottery and European funding that would guarantee this wonderful vessel remaining in British waters. With tears in his eyes, Steve explains “I have explored every possible avenue to raise enough money to retain and preserve the Kathleen & May for Bideford, its current home. Since I first saw its neglected hull in Gloucester docks back in 1998, the restoration has been a true labour of love. It has taken every penny I could raise, interest on the overdraft alone is now costing me £1000 a week, my health is suffering and I cannot continue. There is no alternative - she must be sold.”

As he spoke of his frustration with the various agencies, which have written many fine letters of support, but which have failed to provide any financial backing whatsoever, Clarke’s passion was evident. He believes that the system is failing and in stark contrast to the enthusiastic support shown by the local communities of both Bideford and her old home in Youghal, Southern Ireland. To add to the pressure, the berth where this beautiful boat has generously been moored for a peppercorn rent will, sadly, no longer be available when site redevelopment commences in the very near future.

Since making people aware that the Kathleen & May is for sale, interest in the schooner has come mainly from Caribbean and US investors. “It would break my heart to see her leave UK shores.” Steve said. 
More images, like those illustrating articles, are in the BYM Photo Gallery
Lizzie & May was built for Captain John Coppack and named after his daughters.
Renamed Kathleen & May, she was placed in the coal trade.
The battle has been lost to obtain Heritage Lottery and European funding that would guarantee this wonderful vessel remaining in British waters.
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