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"Master Hand"

Books frequently borrowed from the library when I was a schoolboy included the excellent volumes by Edgar J March. Years later I acquired my own copies of “Sailing Drifters”, “Sailing Trawlers” and “Spritsail Barges of the Thames and Medway”.

These authoritative volumes included extensive line drawings and plans of many of the vessels described. Many years ago I built a sailing model of the Yarmouth lugger “Gypsy Queen”. More recently, having completed the shipyard diorama “Dandy Score” I was looking for a project. March’s “Sailing Trawlers” beckoned!

One vessel described and illustrated in great detail is the Lowestoft sailing trawler “Master Hand” built 1920 in Rye. March was able to measure up and take detailed notes on this vessel while she was being converted for power in the 1950s.

Full drawings are contained in the book, and many models have been built. These drawings are not published as a set, and “Sailing Trawlers” is well out-of-print; I feel it is a tragedy that these and the other drawings in March’s books are not available to modelmakers.


In 2020 I was contacted by Simon Adams of Southampton, who was in possession of a part-built scale model of the barque “Penang”. The model had been started by his father in about 1935, but had never been completed. Like myself, Simon is an ex- seafarer, sailing as Engineer in the Royal Mail line in the 1960s, around the same time as I was sailing as Cadet in Ellerman line.

Simon asked me if I would be interested in completing the model for him. I agreed, and arrangements were put in hand to meet up in Suffolk to hand the model over. Then the coronavirus second wave descended, and arrangements were dashed. Finally, on 1st June Simon was able to visit me in Oulton Broad, and I caught my first glimpse of the vessel.

The barque “Penang” was built in 1905 by Rickmers in Bremerhaven to their own account. Her original name was “Albert Rickmers”. She was steel-hulled, 2,039 tons gross, 3,250 dwt, and 266 ft length. She was representative of the final generation of ocean-going sailing cargo carrier. Barque-rigged, masts and spars of steel construction, with a donkey-boiler driving steam winch. Bluff lines show no pretence to speed, being built to carry capacity bulk cargoes.

In 1910 she was sold to F Laeisz for their ‘P Line’, and carried cargoes of phosphates from South America. She was renamed “Penang”. After the Great War she changed hands twice before being sold to shipowner Gustav Erikson, of Mariehamm, Finland. Eriksson maintained a considerable fleet of sailing ships during the inter-war years, and traded them very successfully at a time when deep-water sail was fast becoming a thing of the past.

“Penang” traded until 1940 when she was torpedoed by submarine U-140 on December 8th. There were no survivors.

The model as received was a very substantial hull of bread-and-butter construction, about 33″ in length. No deck fitment or rigging was in place, although many of the spars and other fittings were collected in a box. No work had taken place on the model for years. It was a daunting challenge. Of interest was some fascinating correspondence between Simon’s father and Harold A Underhill, dating from 1935, regarding details of the ship.

Drawings of the barque are available, from the Underhill collection, published by Brown, Son and Ferguson. Copies were acquired, and my venerable copy of “Masting and Rigging the Clipper Ship and Ocean Carrier”, by Underhill, was unearthed. The magnitude of the task was beginning to dawn on me! Where to start?

I decided to make a start on the main deck. The deck itself and bulwarks were in place, but no bulwark fitments. Bulwark stanchions and pinrails were fitted, together with chainplates, carefully located relative to the mast positions.

Construction continues. I will update this account as and when further shipyard progress allows!

Update - September, 2021

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