All about Cleone

Early history – origins

Cleone is probably one of the oldest yachts in the World, still afloat and sailing. She was built somewhere near Feock on the Restronguet Creek side, on the Fal estuary in Cornwall, and launched in 1860.
She has always been a Gaff-rigged yawl, with a single pole mast, and was built as far as we can tell, along the lines of the local oyster dredger of the age.

Pictured above – the “Zingueneh”, built 1840 at Restronguet. (from EJ March; ‘Inshore Craft of Great Britain’). This boat has a very similar hull shape to Cleone, except for the stern. Oyster dredgers were built with a flat tray-like stern, the better to handle the trawls aboard.

Cleone (seen below) was built as a yacht, and as can be seen, was a long low fast boat. She moved up to the East Coast rivers from Cornwall at some point in her  early life before 1900 and then spent the next 100 years cruising the East Coast.

Cleone, pictured above, sometime in the latter half of the 1940’s, just after WW2.

She even had a mention in Maurice Griffith’s book, “Swatchways and little ships”. In the story about the cutter, ‘Alert’ being trapped in the ice, the following passage was written.

“Do you remember what happened to Sandy Cross’ little old Alert?”
I most certainly did, and shivered. The Alert was a very pretty little counter sterned cutter built as the same time as the Crimean War in 1854, and was to be met all over the East Coast in the company of the Cleone, a long lean black straight stemmed yawl about the same size, a perfect period piece of the 1860’s, usually sailed singlehanded by her batchelor owner, neither yacht having an engine in those days.

Cleone on her mooring, in the late 1940’s at Wrabness on the River Stour. I think the man leaning on the mizzen mast is her owner at the time, a Mr Stanley Kiver. The really observant may notice the 4 wartime radar towers, part of the RAF ‘Chain Home’ IADS in the distance past his right elbow. The dog is anonymous, sadly.

A crowded holiday party aboard (at least 10 people). This seems to be taken at the mouth of the River Deben near Felixtowe Ferry.
She went through a series of owners, and eventually ended up being owned by a Mr H Ballam in 1958. He sailed the boat until 1974, when she was left forlornly in a mud berth at Melton for several years, getting more and more run down. She filled at least twice while in the mud berth, much of her gear was stolen and she became a bit of a play ship for some local children.

Cleone in the late 1960’s -early 1970’s. The state of her deck and gunwhales is less than desireable.


Rescue and re-build.

In 1979, she was bought by Mr Michael wright as a bit of a project. He sailed her very gingerly for a year or so before having her transported to his back garden to begin a thorough re-build. Seen below at Ramsholt on the Deben, persistent trouble with the rudder hangings (as seen here – M Wright and friends digging a hole in the beach to remove the rudder from the trunking) and other age related issues forced Michael to take her back to his garden in Beccles, Suffolk, where he spent the next 10 years restoring her to A1 condition.

Compare Cleone’s hull with that of Zingueneh, at the top of the page, and the similarity is obvious.

After 10 years, in which the deck and all deck furniture was replaced, coachroof, cockpit, and the topsides were raised by two plank widths – essentially as Michael Wright was 6′ 4″ tall, and needed a place to stand up when inside – Cleone was relaunched. Remarkably, apart from her garboard planks and part of her stem, and a lot of doubled frames inside, most of her original timbers were retained. This is why using Pitch Pine planks on Oak frames was so good – a very long lasting boat. Michael also removed as many of the original iron fastenings as he could find, replacing them with silicon bronze and copper fastenings.

She was relaunched in 1992, making her new maiden voyage to attend the Brest Festival, and then moved to the Dart in 1995.

Cleone sailed out of the Dart for 10 years till advancing age forced Michael wright to sell her. She was bought by Mac McDonald in 2006, and sailed out of the Exe till moving back to the Dart in 2016, where she will commence chartering in the spring of 2017.

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