My Alice CK348 48ft Kidby built

‘My Alice’ is owned by Carole and Stephen Heppell, raced with family, colleagues and long standing friends. She is based on the Heritage Pontoon in Brightlingsea Harbour about 300 yards from where she was built in 1907. She often winters at the St Katharine Docks next to the Tower of London, but can mostly be seen racing on the East Coast, South Coast and, for the odd regatta, in mainland Europe.

‘My Alice’ is one of the UK’s National Historic Fleet. She is just on 70′ feet overall. Downwind she is just on 70′ wide! Masthead is about 75′ up. She’s a little over 11.5 feet in beam, weighing in at 20 tons plus rig. She is number 132 of Classic Boat magazine’s world’s top 250 boats.

Charles Kidby had a good reputation for building very sound smacks and yachts. The lines of ‘My Alice’ reflect the design of someone who built both yachts and smacks. She has a very elegant counter and plenty of ‘bite’ to windward in her underwater sections. Her racing skipper owner was probably an influence too. ‘My Alice’ was built for, and owned by Captain Fred Stokes of Tollesbury on the River Blackwater. At the turn of the century the big expensive “gentlemens’ yachts” that raced on the English South Coast were largely crewed by professional sailors from Brightlingsea, Wivenhoe, Rowhedge and Tollesbury on the English East Coast (a bit like all the grand prix yachts full of Kiwis today).

Fred spent his summers racing as a rather successful skipper. As you are only supposed to catch oysters when there is an R in the month in the northern hemisphere, racing in May, June, July and August fitted rather well. In 1905 Mrs Turner Farley had commissioned a racing yacht, ‘Sonja’, in the 52′ rating class and she had gone to Nathanael Herreschoff with the commission.

Not surprisingly, with Fred skippering and Nat’s design, ‘Sonja’ had a string of successful regattas around the UK, between 1905 and 1908 (read this report of one). She won hundreds of pounds of prize money and Fred’s share would have been maybe as much as £100 per season. This prize money, and the pro-skipper wage of around £3 per week gave Captain Fred Stokes enough money to have his own boat, ‘My Alice’, commissioned at the Kidby yard. She was apparently his pride and joy.

Although smacks by 1907 were contemplating and fitting engines, ‘My Alice’ owes more to the racing yacht shapes of the previous decade. Fred knew what he wanted, a race boat and a smack! Writing in Classic Boat back in June 1997 John Leather commented:

But ‘My Alice’ had all the sailing characteristics of 20 years before, with a hull well formed for windward work, and a well rounded forefoot, which helped avoid damage to stowboat gear when spratting. Her counter is narrow compared to many smacks of that size which were slightly broader aft to assist when boarding a trawl or stowboat net.

So she was the best of two worlds, fishing and racing and looking at the lines of Nat’s race boats, you can see where the influence in the Kidby’s yard came from. The Kidby yard closed in 1939.

John Leather remembers ‘My Alice’ motoring into Brightlingsea in 1946 under her big Lister diesel engine, shrimping and spratting in summer and winter, but still spared the indignity of a wheelhouse or a wheel. Money was tight. 

In 1987 ‘My Alice’ was damaged by a commercial ship in the Roach and briefly sunk. She was brought ashore, and then to John Milgate’s yard at Pelham where she sat (no doubt dreaming of her earlier days of work and regattas and fun).

And she might have finished her days there, but for the arrival of Jim Dines in 1993. Jim took her back to his yard in Maldon with its traditional and classic rigging service. Jim assembled a team around Brian Kennell, Sean White and others and set to work on an extensive, expensive and deserved rebuild of ‘My Alice’. She needed to be completely replanked, one plank at a time, copying or saving what was there; her keels, sternpost, deadwoods, keelson and stem were all rebuilt in massive West African opepe. Her sawn oak frames were all restored or replaced, also in sawn oak. A new deck was fitted using two layers of 3/4″ ply, glass covered. A compromise but it held her all together. 

The original deck layout was restored, with small hatches and large open deck space. ‘My Alice’ has had the original scuttle hatch refitted, between the main hold hatch and the aft accommodation hatch. This was used to shoot the catch into when at sea so as not to expose the boat to the danger of having the main hatch opened and capable of being breached by rough weather.

Jim managed to track down the original sail drawings for her topsail (from Gowens on Mersea) and using photographs was able to be fairly accurate about the proportions of her rig. Her main mast was replaced (it had rotted at the foot) and her topmast was replaced too (it was broken in the Colne Match). Their size needed revisiting with a little extra now added on her mast and gaff getting the scale right too. She certainly balances very well, fingertip steering, with her 22′ of Douglas fir bowsprit out in front.

The rebuilding of ‘My Alice’ took Jim’s team fully nine years of hard work. When Classic Boat magazine revisited her for the Maldon Regatta of 2002 Jim would only say it had all cost more than £120,000 because that was when he stopped counting . . . at about half way.

Today of course ‘My Alice’ is back home in Brightlingsea. One of the current crew [2019] is the great great great grandson of Charles Kidby and her interior has been refitted by folk including the great great grandson! Her racing crew is around 11 people, she is a big powerful smack.

My Alice CK348 & Maria CK21 photo by Tim Bees
MY ALICE CK348.