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Tilman

C

catalac08

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Apology if this has been done before but I have a climbing friend interested in Tilman's last trip and he has asked me to try and ascertain a few things still not clear to him even after extensive reading, as I have said to him that there were people on this forum who had detailed and personal knowledge of Bill Tilman and his sailing/mountaineering exploits:-

1 The En Avant (excuse spelling) vessel-what type and size of boat was this and had it just been converted for the purpose of the trip to Smith Island?
2 Any ideas on how this expedition was funded?
3 Had the other crew experience of ocean crossings previously?
3 Tilmans Greenland trips were well documented and his liking for pilot cutters but what about other sailing trips-did he have crew or was he solo and did he always sail pilot cutters?
thanks in anticipation
keith
 

doug748

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I have no inside knowledge but another post has prompted me to reread a bit recently:

1) En Avant was a wartime tugboat hull constructed by slave labour. She was a semi-wreck and had been sunk more than once, Richardson himself fitted a Deutz marine engine, large battery banks and a welded keel. She had good stability but low freeboard. There have been differing views of the boat, Colin Putt wrote: "En Avant proved to be a good sea boat and the crew turned up trumps" elsewhere she was described as a "sorry sight" and was thought to be unsuitable for the trip. Conditions on board would have been stark.
2) I suspect the trip was funded by Richardson's own resources perhaps with contributions from the crew. He bought the boat for £750 and was given the engine. He was keen on Tilman's concept of small, low cost, expeditions. His Mother's writings (which I have not seen) would no doubt flesh this out.
3) There were seven on the trip: Tilman, Richardson, Coatman, Toombs, Williams (contacted by advert), Johnson (old school friend) and Dittamore (American Climber).
I guess some of the three brought in by advert would be sailors.

From: The Last Hero Bill Tilman - Madge
HW Tilman The Eight Sailing/Mountain-Exploration Books - Introduction Putt
 

Mark-1

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1 The En Avant (excuse spelling) vessel-what type and size of boat was this and had it just been converted for the purpose of the trip to Smith Island?
2 Any ideas on how this expedition was funded?
3 Had the other crew experience of ocean crossings previously?
4 Tilmans Greenland trips were well documented and his liking for pilot cutters but what about other sailing trips-did he have crew or was he solo and did he always sail pilot cutters?

1) According to "Summary of Information Relating to the Possible Loss of Ev Avant" by the Royal Inst of Navigation she ws a steel Tug, built in Groningen in 1942. Ricahrdson bought it in 1976 and converted it himself for sail specifically for 'adventuring'. All Simon did was to weld a box section keel on so there is some speculation that it dropped off. She was a Gaff Rigged Cutter, without bowsprit. Length: 18m, Beam 3m, Draught 2.5m aft, 1.75m forward, strengthened with 15mm steel plate at water level. She had a 13m (above deck) steel mast.

She had a counterblanaced rudder with a servo tab on the trailing edge to provide a simple autohelm.

2) I don't recall but I found out this week that the crew were asked to contribute £1000 each.

3) Of the Crew, Johnson was Merchant Navy and experienced navigator. Tilman had done a ton of sailing but was pushing 80. Obviously Simon Richardson himself had done a fair bit. No idea about the others.

4) His first trip was on a Pilot Cutter, and all his boats were pilot cutters. I've never heard of him doing any sailing beyond that which he documented which is all in Pilot Cutters. Maybe he did.

I have a copy of "The Quest for Simon Richardson" by Dorothy Richardson. If your buddy is interested in the last trip it's well worth getting hold of a copy. It includes a report by David Lewis and Colin Putt & another report by the Royal Institute of Navigation.

Of course it doesn't answer the most interesting question, "What happened?".
 
C

catalac08

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Many thank Doug747 and Mark-1
That is lots of very useful information which should give my friend a few sources of info that he has not already sourced. His belief about him solo sailing puzzles me as I have the understanding (maybe mistakenly) that pilot cutters being very heavy boats and presumably gaff rigged would be too heavy for single handed sailing, particularly raising sails.
thanks
keith
 

Wansworth

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Many thank Doug747 and Mark-1
That is lots of very useful information which should give my friend a few sources of info that he has not already sourced. His belief about him solo sailing puzzles me as I have the understanding (maybe mistakenly) that pilot cutters being very heavy boats and presumably gaff rigged would be too heavy for single handed sailing, particularly raising sails.
thanks
keith
I always thought that the Pilot cutters where managed by two/three men.There was a patented reefing gear on the boom and the men where fit! They would probably not be economical to run with a big crew.The same as the Thames Barges mainly a cre of two men and a boy,different rig of course but developed over time for eas of handling bya small crew.
 

westernman

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Many thank Doug747 and Mark-1
That is lots of very useful information which should give my friend a few sources of info that he has not already sourced. His belief about him solo sailing puzzles me as I have the understanding (maybe mistakenly) that pilot cutters being very heavy boats and presumably gaff rigged would be too heavy for single handed sailing, particularly raising sails.
thanks
keith
I have a big gaff pilot cutter, 52ft LOD and 34 tonnes.

Two people can very easily get the sails up on a gaff pilot cutter. It takes a fair bit of energy, but the loads are never heavy. I have also done it single handed on occasion.

I can't think of anything which could not be single handed (apart from parking stern to in the marina). It is much more convenient when hoisting or lowering the jib, topsail etc, to be two people - one on the halyard, and one to feed the sail or to pull/control the sail down onto the deck.
 

doug748

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....... His belief about him solo sailing puzzles....
keith
Yes, I can't recall anything about him sailing single handed.

I have just looked at the opening chapters of Mischief in Patagonia. He speaks of buying a 14ft dinghy, two trips to Ireland with a chum in a Four Ton yacht, and a trip from England to the Med as crew.
This latter trip was probably with Robert Somerset (military man and offshore racer) in Iolaire. In the books Somerset is referred to as The Master in matters of sailing and navigation.
 

DownWest

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There was one forumite who did two trips with Tilman. He stopped posting here after some nasty stuff against him in the lounge. I will ask him if he cares to comment.
A
 

Alfie168

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Rod Coatman (his initials were R.D. so we called him Rod...can't actually remember if his actual name was Roderick or not) was a school friend of mine and a thoroughly likeable guy.We were in the same house and we were both 3rd XV stalwarts. I hadn't seen him since school but I was greatly shocked to hear he had died on this trip. I believe he was the ships photographer, though I have never read any account of the trip.

Tim
 
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penfold

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As I understand it the pilot cutters were rigged to be handleable by a man and a boy, as more crew was uneconomic. Obviously when the pilot was onboard they had 3, but only part of the time.
 

Mark-1

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Rod Coatman (his initials were R.D. so we called him Rod...can't actually remember if his actual name was Roderick or not) was a school friend of mine and a thoroughly likeable guy.We were in the same house and we were both 3rd XV stalwarts. I hadn't seen him since school but I was greatly shocked to hear he had died on this trip. I believe he was the ships photographer, though I have never read any account of the trip.

Tim
Yes. He was a Roderick. Tell us a story of him.

What position did he play? What music did he like?
 
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Alfie168

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Rod migrated to our House at school as he had fallen out bigtime with the housemaster in his original house for reasons I have either forgotten or never knew. This made him instantly popular as a rebel (which he wasn't really) as it was exceedingly unusual for this to happen. He fitted in from day one as we knew him already and he was made very welcome. He was not tall, but had a shock of dark ginger hair and a big smile and a slight tendency to mischief without being a pain. He was an enthusiastic sort of guy and was what I can only describe as a quiet extrovert, if thats not too contradictory. He was fairly bright IIRC, and certainly had a bright personality.

We were mighty glad to have him in the house rugby XV as we were not a strong outfit, and as I mentioned he and I were in the School 3rd XV where we had more fun with a lot less skill than the 1st or 2nds. I think Rod played fly half or scrum half..it was that sort of position, and he was fairly quick and efficient at getting the ball out to us backs. I don't recall music being a big part of his life, but that might be memory playing tricks and he may have played a wind instrument..but I forget frankly as it 39 years ago now....Ouch.

I've been pondering if I have a house photo with him in, and I think the answer is no. I certainly have no personal photos, which is a shame. It was a bad time as another of my contemporaries in our house died in an avalanche whilst skiing at about the same time.

Tim
 

DownWest

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There are unlikely to be accounts of a voyage were the boat disappeared after leaving the Falklands..
And I don't think Tilman was much involved in the trips organisation, more a passanger.
a
 

Alfie168

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I believe there have been accounts of the trip up to the point of their departure from the Falklands. Their disappearance off the map subsequently with no communication does suggest a very quick catastrophy about which there has been speculation, but there can be no actual account without a survivor or a witness can there.

Bad business though.

Tim
 

westernman

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As I understand it the pilot cutters were rigged to be handleable by a man and a boy, as more crew was uneconomic. Obviously when the pilot was onboard they had 3, but only part of the time.
According to my understanding, the pilot never took any part in crewing his boat.
 

Mark-1

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Rod migrated to our House at school as he had fallen out bigtime with the housemaster in his original house for reasons I have either forgotten or never knew. This made him instantly popular as a rebel (which he wasn't really) as it was exceedingly unusual for this to happen. He fitted in from day one as we knew him already and he was made very welcome. He was not tall, but had a shock of dark ginger hair and a big smile and a slight tendency to mischief without being a pain. He was an enthusiastic sort of guy and was what I can only describe as a quiet extrovert, if thats not too contradictory. He was fairly bright IIRC, and certainly had a bright personality.

We were mighty glad to have him in the house rugby XV as we were not a strong outfit, and as I mentioned he and I were in the School 3rd XV where we had more fun with a lot less skill than the 1st or 2nds. I think Rod played fly half or scrum half..it was that sort of position, and he was fairly quick and efficient at getting the ball out to us backs. I don't recall music being a big part of his life, but that might be memory playing tricks and he may have played a wind instrument..but I forget frankly as it 39 years ago now....Ouch.

I've been pondering if I have a house photo with him in, and I think the answer is no. I certainly have no personal photos, which is a shame. It was a bad time as another of my contemporaries in our house died in an avalanche whilst skiing at about the same time.

Tim
Thanks Tim that's exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for. I just had a skim read through The Quest for Simon Richardson and Dorothy Richardson seems to have taken a shine to him. There's a reasonable B&W photo and a little bit of Bio.

I believe there have been accounts of the trip up to the point of their departure from the Falklands.
Yes, there were quite detailed letters written about the first leg of the trip to Rio. After that silence.

PS: I say above that Simon asked for £1000 contributions. That's Bob Comley's verbal recollection while he was in mid talk and could easily have been a slip of the tongue. Dorothy Richardson mentions contributios and says "I think it was £400 but I am not sure". Dorothy says it was specifically for food.

PPS: It's about time someone "published" "The Quest for Simon Richardson" online in PDF form. It's clear Dorothy published it as a memorial to her son rather than to generate cash and I doubt the current copyright holder would object.
 

Kukri

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I knew Simon slightly from turning out at Lymington to offer HWT a hand with fitting out. I took an immediate liking to him and it was no secret that HWT strongly approved of him.

The boat was in origin a small harbour tug, and had been owned by Mullers of Ternuezen, iirc, she one of many sisters named "En Avant..." with a number. I think she may have been "En Avant 23".

Simon asked me to go along, which I was quite keen to do, but I did not have the £1,000 (my recollection of the amount is the same as Bob's) that he needed as stake money from each crew member. It was a perfectly reasonable request, but I was making £1,500 p.a. as an articled clerk at the time.

Two more climbers were going to join them at Stanley. Simon had the logistics well planned.He had even taken the precaution of getting support from HRH Prince Philip, iirc.

If Colin Putt said the boat was OK, that was, and still is, good enough for me.

The boat made Rio with no trouble, iirc, and my two pennyworth on what happened would be a collision with a ship; it happens all the time. A few weeks ago, a ship that I manage ran over and sank a 23 metre steel fishing boat, killing 11, without anyone on the ship being aware of it. We only knew of it a day later. In those days lights were feeble, if carried at all (Tilman never bothered with them when the boat was off soundings) and ships tended to switch off the radar when off soundings to make the CRT screens last longer. The passage took them past the mouth of the Plate, which is a reasonably busy place.
 
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Searush

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Thanks for the input Minn, I am amazed by your statement that a 23m steel boat was sunk by a ship which didn't even notice the collision. I have no experience of such matters whatsoever & accept what you say, but can't understand that nothing would be heard or felt by any crew members. Or is it that the "disturbance" was simply ignored?
 

Kukri

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109,000 tons at 19 knots in a moderate seaway at 0215 am isn't going to notice the odd 70 tons, 250 metres ahead of the airconditioned wheelhouse, when the OOW has his head in the ARPA altering course for big stuff, the lookout is being as much use as the average big ship lookout and everyone else has their heads down.

About the time of the loss of the "En Avant", I helped to investigate the collision between the Lowestoft tug "Barkis" and the small Greek bulker (ex Combern Longstaff) "Jupiter", of about 3,200dwt. The tug was on the coaster's starboard bow, just passing the heaving line to connect when she suddenly rolled under the bow, capsized and sank, killing her crew of three. It was assumed to have been interaction and an M notice was issued. Nobody on the coaster felt a thing, yet she was not much bigger than the tug, and this was two miles off Lowestoft pier heads on a fine summer's day.
 
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