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Original or fake - what is authentic in BETTY CK145?
If a ship like the oyster smack BETTY CK145 - particularly one of wood - has become one hundred years old, the question necessarily posing itself: is it original, replica, rebuild or remains glued together with the help of Epoxy? Since although wood as a building material with its physical properties, its stability and elasticity is ideally suited for the construction of smaller ships, a completely different picture is its durability for long periods of time in comparison to materials like steel or GRP. Virtually all types of wood lose their positive properties over time. In addition, wood is attacked by decay depending on the effects of the weather, UV protection and airing under deck and after some years without sufficient precaution starts to degenerate, in extreme cases however, simply rots away and disintegrates into its components. Nails, screws and the glues, that hold together all the wooden parts are also affected by aging processes and rust or dissolve.
  Shipyard around 1910
To say it right up front, when BETTY was built in 1906, neither the person commissioning the ship nor the shipyard ‘Aldous’ planned for it to sail untill today, of course. The fishermen who ordered their boats at the time saw them purely businesslike as an investment for their trade, completely without the romantic passion we attach to these ships today. Presumably they planned in advance for the time span of one generation, thus for 30 years at most. At that time nobody cared much about what would happen to their ships later. Nevertheless, only high-quality materials were used in the construction of the smacks.
The shipbuilders were proud of their performance and the quality of every single ship which left the slip. For keel, sternpost, deadwood and frames English oak was used; Douglas fir for the mast, boom and spars; and for the planks and deck larch. They were joined with copper nails, brass screws and hardwood wedges. Also the wearing parts, like the standing and the running rigging and the sails were made to qualitatively high standards and with good care lasted for many years.
in the sailloft about 1900
  smacks on the hard of Brightlingsea in 1934
It is handed down, that the oyster dredgers of Essex let their smacks fall dry at least once a year - as a rule at the beginning of the season, thus in early autumn - on the hard (a kind of natural slip) in order to clean the underwater ship, to caulk anew where necessary and to pitch it with tarry paint afterwards. Of course all routine repair work on deck and below deck, as well as of the rigging was carried out besides. Thus they kept their working boats in good condition for decades.
Similarly BETTY must have also been taken good care of, since she worked into the late forties in oyster dredging and as a patrol boat for the oyster company. Whether the new owner, who used the ship - then with built-in engine and without mast and rigging - only for the transport of cockles from the fishing grounds in the Thames Estuary to the market in Leigh-On-Sea, was as caring is unlikely. It is certain that he had no more economic use for the ship by the middle of the 1950s and laid it up in a remote creek, where it certainly would have rotted away, like countless of her contemporaries also.
fishing boats layed up in a creek
  BETTY just before restaurations began in 1965
A fantastic lucky break for BETTY came in the person of the passionate yachtsman and amateur boatbuilder Ray Riley from Wivenhoe who discovered the ship there in 1965. Mr. Riley was in search of an affordable cruising yacht for himself and his family and chose a popular path at that time, to acquire the hull of an old working ship and to transform it into a useful sailing vessel again with many hours of his own labour. In addition, it was unusual luck that Mr. Riley came from the area of Brightlingsea - where BETTY had been built - and had grown up with oyster smacks in his immediate surroundings.
This was probably also the reason, why he decided not to follow the trend of the 1950s and 60s to put a cabin in place of the former loading hatch as big as possible and thereby often box-shaped. The advantage of standing height was paid for by a misshapen coach roof which in this case would have spoiled the whole ship. No already with this first rebuild he decided for a „retro design“ instead, in that he orientated himself by the shapes which had been standard with the new yachts during the prewar years when comfort was not as important as yet and when cruising was still understood more as a sport.
BETTY still without bulwark in Wivenhoe
BETTY on the river Colne around 1968
Today this happy fact makes BETTY a perfect representative of the early English tradition of converting former working boats to leisure yachts.Due to the fact that the ship had probably been neglected for over ten years, a lot had to be repaired or to be renewed with this rebuild and most of the planking, deck beams, stanchions as well as deck and rigging had to be renewed. Because most of the rig existed no longer, a new mast had to be found. It came from the smack „Ethel Alice“ in a typical form of „recycling“. A new main boom and the long jib boom were made out of Douglas fir.
The classic cutter rigging with pole mast was wholy in the tradition of the oyster smacks before the turn of the century. Also the old ‘Kelvin’ diesel could no longer be used, which is why a new ‘Morris Navigator’ engine came into the ship.
Some years later the son of Ray Riley decides for a „modernization“ of the rig and replaces the old pole mast with the typical high, retractable top mast which was typical on on Bawleys and the large racing cutters till the 1930s. Also he adds a set of racing sails and the former working boat had finally become a private yacht. In 1979 BETTY is sold to Hamburg-Finkenwerder for 10,000 pounds. Again a lot has to be restored and repaired: new running rigging is fitted and a new Volvo-Penta diesel engine replaces the old Morris Navigator. At the Behrens shipyard in Hamburg-Finkenwerder stem post, planking and electrical wiring are replaced in 1982.
BETTY on the river Elbe around 1980
Foto: Kai Greiser -
  BETTY on the slipp of the Behrens yard
Because of severe damage during a gale in 1989 the complete restoration of the stern becomes necessary. New deck planking including the deck beams and a new set of sails are added in 1992. Then there is the need of some 240 feet of new planking in 1999, a new rig (standing and running), the complete overhaul of mast and spars including a new bowsprit. After a change in ownership in 2003 the basic overhaul of the engine becomes necessary and because of an average in Holland a new, lighter (because hollow) top mast is due. Besides which I change a few details in the rigging, like the running of the main sheet which is now led by blocks from the traveller at the stern into the cockpit, as was standard on the yachts after the First World War and with new lazyjacks in the main.
The jib gets a rolling foresail fitting in the style of the classic „Wykeham Martin” and on the rudder I install a tiller lock, everything to simplify the sailing with a small crew. Again in Hamburg with the replacement of the old samson post the jib boom is fitted along the Dutch example hinged to save space and thus money in the expensive marinas. One year later, thanks to a second bowsprit traveller and a second jib halyard, the possibility to place a second smaller jib directly behind and in addition to the rolled up big jib is added for strong winds.
working on BETTY at the Behrens yard in Finkenwerder
  BETTY with partly new frames in Tholen, Zeeland
After a heavy grounding in Northern France seven frames and five planks have to be renewed in the midship section at a traditional shipyard in Tholen on Zeeland, with the result, that only the keel, the deadwood, a few frames and two planks are really original of the ship that came of the shipyard in 1906. Nevertheless, BETTY is recognized as an authentic Essex oyster smack and registered by the „Colne Smack Preservation Society“, the authority in all matters of smacks.
I think, it has become clear from the eventful history of the oyster smack BETTY CK145 that under ideal circumstances traditional ships of over hundred years ago will always be a mix of original, replica, reproduction and the repaired... if possible one will try to keep it original, if not, repair, copy, redesign or make something new, as long as it remains in use and gets an MCA licence.

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BETTY smacks cruising the Estuary janholthusen