History of H. Attrill & Sons
The boat building firm was formed in 1947 by two brothers, Mike and Gordon Attrill. Prior to this date a Mr. Hardy, who was a prisoner of war with his friend Mr. Bevan, gave them an order to build a dinghy. This was built in the Golf Professional work shop of the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club. (This is mentioned because to date the direct families of both Gentlemen remain friends and clients of the Attrill family)
The brothers had plans to start their own business as soon as Gordon was demobbed from the Navy.
Gordon spent most of the war on Fleet Sweepers with a long period in Russia, while Mike was retained building Fairmile MLS at Woodnutts Boatyard. They were both trained as boat-builders at Woodnutts under Captain Westmacott. (Designer of X-boats, Sunbeams, Victory and other famous keel-boats).
The firm's name H. Attrill & Sons (Isle of Wight) Ltd. was after their father, Henry. Part of the firm was the ferry to Bembridge, which had been in the family for many years. For a few years they rented a piece of land from the Priory Estate, and later on bought the Freehold. On this Freehold were two house-boats, paying rent to the Southern Railway. The railway agreed, after a survey, to sell the land to the brothers, which gave them their present area together with Rights to Bembridge Harbour. Both areas of land were sand-dunes with no roadway. The adjacent house had a roadway through the centre of the golf course. There was a rough road to the Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club, so they laid chalk all over their area.
Their very first order was from a fisherman in Poole. Designed by Eric French, the boat was to be 28' long and of heavy build, . As they did not have a shed at the time, they decided to buy a Nissen hut which had been advertised. They put down a cement floor, laid off the lines of the boat, and made a keel mould and cast the lead keel on the beach.
The next problem was to cut the timber.
Another two Nissen huts were bought and, again, cement was laid by hand. They purchased a three wheel saw as they had no power. The lower wheel had a handle, so while one person turned the saw, the other cut the planks. All drilling was done by hand. The boat was powered by diesel, and had good sailing qualities. It was reported the owner paid for the boat on one night's sprat fishing. It was named after his wife, 'GERTRUDE'.
Having changed its name three times the boat is now a yacht called 'ELLA BELLA' and is presently in Spain.
In 1947 with the Ferry being part of the business, they decided to build a Motor Ferry. This was an 18'. open launch, powered by an 8hp. Stuart Turner engine. The launch's name was 'GOLDEN DAWN'. (She is now a yachts tender).
Several dinghies were made for the Ryde Rowing Club, and a fleet of sailing dinghies were made for the Ventnor Sailing Club. The boats are still around the Solent area.
From the late forties into the early fifties many dinghies, scows and canoes were produced, and two 21' Clinker sailing boats designed by Alf Feltham's were built. One was owned by Earl Fitzwilliam.
During this time the next large yacht was built for Col. Johnstone and was designed by a local designer, Harry Jacobs. The third brother, Douglas, became its Skipper, and with the name 'FLYING SPUR' it was perhaps their proudest yacht. The keel was of lead and cast on the beach. The interior was panelled in oak and she had a teak laid deck. It was a fine sailing craft, and is now owned by an American.
Head room in a Nissen hut was a problem. Luckily 'FLYING SPUR' was built in the summer which enabled them to remove the corrugated iron roof and work under the sky. By this time they had power, which was from an old Lister petrol paraffin engine and dynamo through old car batteries. Some years later they managed to get onto the mains by guaranteeing a large power usage, which meant using all the current they could to get up to the Electric Light Companies minimum requirement.
Harry Jacobs also designed for the yard two very special yachts, one 'BETSINDA' was about 22' long, and a very fast day-sailer, and 'M-RENEE' who was 30' long. She was designed with a very shallow draft and centre-board as she was to be sailed on the River Thames.
In 1950 they bought an ex-naval gig, converted and powered her to undertake the job of laying moorings and marks. This was a new innovation to the area and she was named 'FROLIC'.
In 1953 the yard converted an old admiralty 72' M.L. which was in an appalling state. The ship was gutted and refitted to the owner's design. Alterations were completed successfully. On the owner's arrival at his home in Venezuela, which he had reached via Italy, he sent a message saying that he did not have to put a spanner to the ship at all. Her name was 'BARRACUDA'.
Passenger work with the Holiday Camps was a summer job, and, with this in mind they built a 41'. Motor-Launch to Commander Peter Thornycroft's design. He was at that time on a ship in Portsmouth and they wanted a craft similar to his fathers boat 'KING DUCK'. They named the vessel 'HENRY ROSE' after their parents. Little did they realise that the building of this vessel was a turning point in yacht construction. A Mr. Patrick de Laslo for whom they had been fitting out small launches, asked if he could borrow 'HENRY ROSE' to use as a mould to make a fibre-glass plug. As he wanted a slightly different shape, the brothers suggested that that he got Com. Thornycroft to design a vessel from which they would produce a female mould. It took a lot of convincing, but in the end Mr. de Laslo gave them the go ahead.
In 1954 the mould was constructed and taken to Langstone Harbour by boat, and then to part of a factory at Fratton. This part was called Halmatic, a now famous G.R.P. moulder. It was a great success. The glass-fibre hull was towed back to Bembridge Harbour by HENRY ROSE and fitted out at the yard. She was called 'PERPETUA'.
Brother Douglas became its skipper and took her to Denmark where the Duke of Edinburgh had a trip in her. The 'PERPETUA' had the largest G.R.P. hull in the world at that time.
The great success of the Attrill mould resulted in a larger order of a 63'. mould. This became the vessel 'BEBE GRANDE' which was owned by a South African, Jack Gerber. The vessel was completed by Tough of Teddington. A stretched version was also built later.
Due to the increase in trade with the ferry, boats on the beach and the demand for trips to view the liners, it was decided to build another ferry boat to assist in transferring passengers from a holiday camp near Priory Bay onto the 'HENRY ROSE'. This ferry boat was called 'WHITE ROSE', which is still in commission to this day.
Many interesting jobs have come to the yard:
One was when the late Sir Alex Rose brought 'LIVELY LADY' to the yard for major alterations to enable him to compete in the 1964 single handed Trans Atlantic race. This work entailed a new rig, sail plan, dog-house, bow-sprit etc.
Another was for the late Dr. Bill Howell, whose catamaran 'GOLDEN COCKEREL' capsized off St Catherines, and was salvaged by a ship and the yard. She was repaired by the yard, and also competed in the 'OSTAR' single-handed Trans Atlantic race several times. She was kept by Bill Howell at the yard, cruising and racing for many years until she was sold. Bill Howell remained a good friend and client for the rest of his life.
In 1958 the most advanced and last ferry the Attrill family were to run to Bembridge was built to Bill Waight's design. She was 30' long, with a ramp for ease of entry and exit for foot passengers. She was run for many years during the holiday season untill the early 90's when prohibitive regulations made the service unviable. She was later sold, refitted to a high standard, and is used as a private pleasure craft.
Most of the vessels produced in the yard were of timber construction, but some like 'TAFRAIL' a 38' Camper & Nicholson sailing yacht were based on a GRP hull. She was built in 1963 and won many race prizes.
Time has proved however, that timber constructed craft will last for many years, such as the 'Sunbeam'. These were a class of keel racing yachts designed by Captain Westmacott of 'Woodnutts' in 1923 and many are of that age. The yard was commissioned to build 3 of these, 'PENNY', 'HONEY' and 'LUCY'. Since the late 70's, and with the long held experience of the Attrill brothers of building 'Sunbeams' at Woodnutts, the yard was appointed as the official 'Sunbeam' builder.
The twin screw 41' Motor-yacht 'DELFINO' was built in 1966.
Another example of timber craft being made to last is of the vessel 'ZITHER', built in 1968, 35' long and to a Reg Freeman design. She was recently salvaged from the bottom of the sea in the West Indies by a fisherman, and he has requested drawing plans to bring her up to her original fine standard.
During the late 60's the sons of Mike Attrill, Tony and Chris joined the firm as apprentices, and are now Directors of the company. Since the early various craft have been refitted or altered, craft like 'F.T.' a Kelsall foam sandwich trimaran for David Palmer (another single handed transatlantic sailor), whose main beams were changed from alloy to G.R.P. Fast planing power craft up to 40' have been built as well as small displacement craft of around 22' in GRP. In the early 80's a 28' ketch was constructed for a Mr. John Pinder. She was named 'MAJACS' after his childrens initials. Much work was also carried out to his converted Pinnace 'PINDARIC' a 46' launch from H.M.S. Warspite. Also two work craft were constructed for the yard, one in steel 23' long, for use as a harbour launch, named 'SHEILA', the other a timber constructed 42' long bouy handling vessel 'FROLIC II'.
During this time many improvements were carried out, a jetty and pontoon were added, a large slipway was built and much of the yard was converted. Purpose built cradles for ease of movement were also invested in.
The work vessel 'FROLIC' was used for many interesting jobs. One was from the ship group of E.E.L. a subsidiary of 'British Hovercraft Corporation'. They tested various ship designs in model form using 'FROLIC' as a mother ship. Some of the models were 30' long and diesel engine powered. The group also rented part of the yard complex for storage of their equipment. Another was the transport of men and materials to the Nab Tower when it was converted from being manned to an automatic light house.
The core of work has shifted in the main to maintenance and storage of vessels. Craft like the 46' Camper & Nicholson sailing yacht 'NORVANTES' has had her bottom sheathed in copper as well as being stored and worked upon for a number of years. The 46' catamaran 'LAROHA' was upgraded for world cruising. Her owner Prof. Hugh Stephenson subsequently taking her to the Pacific via the 'Straits of Magellan' and also into Arctic waters.
The classic 39' centreboard sloop 'WHOOPER' built at 'Woodnutts' in 1938 to a Laurent Giles design has been completely restored for her owner. The 41' sloop 'WHIRLAWAY' has been re-decked and had extensive work carried out.
A large mobile workshop has been built, enabling jobs requiring temperature and humidity control to be carried out. Yachts such as the 43' Sparkman & Stephens timber 'FIREBRAND' have been 'West Epoxy' treated, spray painted and varnished to a high standard inside this shop as well as major reconstruction of her cockpit and a new rudder and skeg in carbon fibre to co-owner Ed -Dubois' design.
Projects in the pipeline include a replica of the old ferry launch 'WHITE ROSE' to be built in modern materials and a replica of Henry Attrill's gaff rig sloop 'SHEILA'.
Samples of various vessels built since 1947
Small Dinghies, etc
- 6' - 12' spruce dinghies for Ryde Sailing & Rowing Club
- 3' - 12' sailing dinghies for Ventnor Sailing Club
- Numerous sailing dinghies, rowing boats and canoes.
- 1947 - 'GERTRUDE' 28' fishing vessel - Eric French
Small Motor Launches
- 1954 - 6 off 20' plywood fast planing craft 'MOONRAKER' type designed by Fred Cooper
- 1954/55 - 6 off Halmatic motor launches for United Africa Co.
- 1978/79 - 6 off ML22 Displacement launches - Alan Hill
- 1971 - 'DELTA SIGMA 1' - 40' - Cox & Haswell
- 1974 - 'DELTA SIGMA 11' - 36' - Fairey Marine
- 1954 - 'PERPETUA' - 46' - P. Thornycroft
- 1958 - 'LAELIA' - 52' - R. Freeman
- 1966 - 'DELFINO'
1968 - Sunbeams
- 'PENNY' - 27' - Alf Westmacot
- 'HONEY' - 27' - Alf Westmacot
- 'LUCY' - 27' - Alf Westmacot
- 1953 - 47' - P. Thornycroft
- 1954 - 56' - Burgess Cendal
- 1955 - 14' - Fred Cooper
- 1950 - 'NATANA' - 70' - Steel Vessel
- 1953 - 'BARRACUDA' - 72' - Wood warship to yacht
- 1958 - 'APHRA' - 100' - Baltic Trader
- 1964 - 'ALORA' - 60' - Dagless
- 1975 - 'SNIPE' - 27' - Aux. Sailing vessel
Workboats Built for Own Business
- 1947 - 'GOLDEN DAWN' - 1st Motor Ferry Boat - 18' - Attrill
- 1950 - 'WHITE ROSE' - 2nd Motor Ferry Boat - 25' - Attrill
- 1958 - 'BEMBRIDGE' - 3rd Motor Ferry Boat - 30' - Bill Waight
- 1953 - 'HENRY ROSE I' - Passenger Launch - 47' - Com. P. Thornycroft
- 1960 - 'HENRY ROSE II' - Passenger Launch - 60' - Reg Freeman
- 1918/50 - 'FROLIC' - Conversion to workboat - 40' - Naval - Attrill
- 1981 - 'SHEILA' - Steel workboat - 22' - Bill Waight
- 1950 - 'FLYING SPUR' - 38' - Harry Jacobs
- 1952 - 'TARKA' - 21' - Alf Feltham
- 1953 - 'TARKA II' - 21' - Alf Feltham
- 1953 - 'BELSINDA' - 25' - Harry Jacobs
- 1954 - 'M-RENEE' - 29' - Harry Jacobs
- 1961 - 'SHERIDAN' - 37' - Robert Clarke
- 1961 - 'SARIS MARIS' - 35' - Illingworth & Primrose
- 1962 - 'BRAGANZA' - 33' - Illingworth & Primrose
- 1962 - 'RED JACKET' - 32' - Illingworth & Primrose
- 1962 - 'CLAYMORE' - 36' - Illingworth & Primrose
- 1963 - ''TAFRAIL' - 38' - Camper Nicholson
- 1967 - 'MIDLAND MERLE' - 27' - Illingworth & Primrose
- 1968 - 'ZITHER' - 35' - Reg Freeman
- 1980 - 'MAJACS' - 28' - Bill Waight
Where We Are Located
Bembridge Harbour is on the eastern end of the Isle of Wight, just a short sail from many Solent harbours with Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester all within a 10 mile radius. Tide times are the same as Portsmouth.