It is very important to me to learn as much as I can about Elizmor’s history, not just because it’s fascinating, but also because I now bear the responsibility of helping to keep her alive for the next generations. This sense of guardianship compels me to find out about Elizmor’s story, so, like her previous owners, I can also be sympathetic towards her past and keep her spirit live and kicking (and floating).
In November 2013 I bought Elizmor from Polly & John Syred, who in turn had purchased Elizmor just ten months previously from Michael and Denise Woods.
Michael and Denise had owned Elizmor since 1986, saving her from a gloomy looking future and undertaking the conversion of working boat into family home, whilst living aboard her in Elizmor’s Scottish home of Maidens harbour. (Elizmor was originally built for a Maidens fisherman, Eddie McEwan, who named Elizmor after his wife Morag and daughter Elizabeth.)
As soon as you step aboard Elizmor today, it is obvious how much love and dedication Michael & Denise showed towards her over their decades of ownership. Care, attention, skill and passion has obviously gone in to every decision made around her conversion – not to mention hard work! I have always hoped to meet Michael and Denise in person, to learn as much as I can about Elizmor, to answer the questions I have (how on earth did you get the Rayburn into the boat?), and to show my appreciation for the wonderful work Michael did during the conversion.
Yesterday was a very exciting day as, after exchanging a few emails, I arranged to meet Michael & Denise at their home in Lytham St Anne’s – just a 30 minute drive from where Elizmor sits (floats!) today.
I was warmly welcomed and, obligatory cup of tea in hand, sat down to hear ‘the Elizmor story’ from the two people who dedicated such a huge part of their lives to the most important thing in my life right now – such a wonderful opportunity.
Michael and Denise were living in Scotland and running a family café business in Barrhill, 11 miles from Maidens Harbour, with their three daughters. In 1988 the Maidens harbourmaster Andy Alexander offered them the chance to buy Elizmor for £12,000. Michael was already familiar with the boat – he’d previously built a new wheelhouse for Elizmor whilst she was still a fishing boat. He knew she was a gem and said yes straight away without consulting Denise, and knowing they didn’t have the cash to buy Elizmor outright. They soon came to an agreement with Andy Alexander to pay a deposit, and then further instalments over the next few years as and when they had the cash available. In 1990 they sold their café, used the proceeds to pay off the rest of the money owed on Elizmor, and moved aboard with their youngest daughter Louise. For the next two years they worked full-time on the conversion, staying in Maidens Harbour. The local ‘Carrick Gazzette’ even published a full-page feature on the Woods’ wonderful new life aboard Elizmor – I hope to get a copy of this and will post it up for you.
As well as hearing about their time aboard Elizmor, Michael told me a little of her life as a fishing boat. She originally worked as a ringnetter, fishing for herring, and would have had a crew of seven onboard. In her latter days, Elizmor fished for prawn, with just a crew of two. I had always wondered what her original internal layout would have looked like, and where the crew slept. It was amazing to see photos from before her conversion showing the original fo’c's’le, with teak panelling & bunks built along each side of the hull, and narrow benches inboard either side. This space is now divided into what I call the ‘snug’ and the ‘forepeak’, which is currently stripped back into a workshop. There was originally no access to these crew quarters from inside the rest of the boat – that comprising the fish hold, and the engine room (where Michael reckons there used to be a sea toilet). I asked if the floorboards in today’s snug are original, and Michael said yes – simply amazing, but not surprising; you’d never get those materials in any boat or house built today, and nothing oozes character like a thick plank of wood which has seen many pairs of boots stomping over it and many more to come.
The floorboards in the corridor downstairs – what would have been known as the ‘working alleyway’ – were rescued from a bar fit-out that Michael would have been working on at the time as a joiner. A lot of the conversion was done in this way – with Michael & Denise on a tight budget but incredibly resourceful and eager to do the best they can with what they had available. On many old boats, especially of this age and construction, it’s easy to walk round and spot lots of bodges and ask yourself why on earth the previous owner decided to make certain “improvements”… not with Elizmor.
We looked through a lot of photos Michael and Denise had taken of their time onboard Elizmor, mostly family shots which gave a real sense of warmth and emotion. I couldn’t believe it when Michael flicked through the album to one photo of him with his hair also in dreadlocks – what a coincidence!
One of my burning questions was how on earth did they get the Rayburn inside? It’s probably my favourite thing about Elizmor and is a real character piece, not least because it looks as thought the whole boat was built around it. Well, that’s pretty much true – Denise told me that they had a Rayburn in all of their previous homes, so when Michael saw one sat on a pallet in a yard behind his café, he jumped at the chance to buy it for £50. It had come from a girl’s school in Scotland, and was immaculately looked after as the girls used it for cooking lessons and had to thoroughly clean it each time. It cost Michael another £20 to have the Rayburn delivered to the Elizmor at the end of the quay, and lifted into the boat with a hiab. Michael was in the process of building the wheelhouse at the time, so the deck happened to be open and the Rayburn was lifted in place. The only way to get it out today would be to destroy it into pieces or cut the boat open again. To top it off, I also found out that the massive slab of cement the Rayburn is sitting on was made up with sand from one of the local beaches. I was definitely glad I asked about the Rayburn, such a cool story for such an awesome stove.
There were lots of other interesting snippets and facts that Michael told me – his memory is outstanding, but also goes to show the dedication he had for Elizmor:
- The longest nail pulled out of the boat was 14″ long and 3/4″ thick – WOW!
- The Rayburn chimney is cut from a lamppost from a scrapyard for £11. It’s 1/4″ thick and so heavy that he suspended it in the roof so the Rayburn doesn’t have to take the full weight of it
- Elizmor has 2,200 ft of seams that Michael is very well acquainted with
- Each frame now has about 100 4″ screws after re-fastening her (11,000 new fastenings in total)
- Elizmor originally had an 88hp Kelvin engine but was reengined with her current Gardner 6LX in 1968 to give her more power
- The mahogany steering wheel originally came from a boat which was skippered by the husband of Girvan boatbuilder Alexander Noble’s daughter
- Contrary to my previous information, Elizmor had three fishing numbers, not two – BA163, BA343 and D110
To top it all off, Michael & Denise gave me a copy of a wonderful film (on a video tape!) made by Angus McCrindle, who narrates the story of the northern ringnetters over old cine film taken in 1953 of the boats working their nets. Elizmor features quite prominently in the film, alongside her fishing partner Arctic Moon. The emotion I felt when I saw her come on the screen was quite overwhelming. It simply feels amazing to be part of something with so much history. I’m going to try and get the VHS converted to a digital copy so hopefully I’ll be able to share it here.
Michael & Denise sailed Elizmor down to Preston in 1997, where they lived aboard in the marina for four years, before sharing a lift-out with three other boats in 2001 at a bargain price of £1,000. They continued to live aboard her and maintained her in the boatyard at Preston for 13 years, before selling her to Polly & John Syred in January 2013. Polly and John planned to re-launch Elizmor and take her down south, and spent a lot of time working on her – particularly overhauling the engine – but personal circumstances meant they had to sell her on again later that year. That’s when I bought her – November 2013 – and here we are, five months later.
I might not have owned Elizmor for very long, and I wasn’t even born when Michael and Denise bought her, but I already feel like I have played a noteworthy part in Elizmor’s history by wading through a sea of struggles to get her re-launched and back into her natural habitat after 13 years ashore. I didn’t think it was possible, but after meeting Michael and Denise I feel even more empathy for Elizmor, and hereby promise to carry the burden of a wooden boat guardian and look after Elizmor until the next (happy!) milestone in her life. Actually, I’m just kidding – I’m pretty sure she’s the one who’ll be looking after me.