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'EVA' GOES TO CLASSIC BOAT MUSEUM
27 July 2017

In the summer of 2017 the Mant family decided to offer their 100 year old dinghy 'Eva' to the growing Classic Boat Museum at Cowes.  It is a rather sad loss for Emsworth, but she has returned to where she was built, will be kept in the dry and will be seen and admired my many visitors to the museum which is now being established in West Cowes.  She was delivered on a rather damp July day into the custody of Mark McNeil and Rosemary Joy and we understand she is now their oldest boat!

The article which follows appeared in Yachts and Yachting in February 2000.

James Mant

 
The Restoration of Eva –
the original Emsworth One Design
by Strahan Soames
 
 
A 100 year old sailing dinghy is rare enough, but one which has survived three generations of the same family - that has to be a pretty unique story. So let us introduce the Mant family of Emsworth in Hampshire, England and their 16 foot dinghy the 'Eva'. She is now owned by John Mant, who inherited her from his father, Fred Mant. Fred in turn inherited her from his father, James Richard Mant, who had the boat built over the winter of 1895/6 at East Cowes in the Isle Of Wight.
 
'Eva' is the only surviving boat of a class of six one design, half-decked dinghies that were then built for some substantial businessmen of Emsworth, James Richard Mant being the town's principal butcher. These worthies then formed an Emsworth sailing club ('Eva' has the initials E.S.C cut into her transom), but it eventually died, and has no direct link with either of the two flourishing clubs of modern Emsworth.
 
The boat was called 'Eva' after the eldest daughter of the first owner, and it is cheerful to relate that 'Eva's daughter Jean, who now lives in Canada, has been following with interest the restoration of the boat called after her mother.
 
So let us meet the present owner of 'Eva', John Mant, the grandson of the original owner. John Mant, born in 1932, returned to Emsworth three years ago and has built a house where his father used to live on a pleasant site overlooking the Mill Pond and the harbour.
 
John is a lifelong sailing addict, who was sailing before he was born. The unusual feat happened in the summer of 1932, when he was inside his mother as she sailed in 'Eva'. John's first recollection in life is sitting in the bottom of 'Eva' and chewing on a salty rope; and you could say that he has enjoyed chewing on salty rope ever since. John and his wife Audrey have three sons, James, Neil and Philip, who are also avid sailors. John inherited 'Eva' when his father, Fred, died in 1992; his father inherited her from his father in 1921. When John became the owner of the boat she had been in a garage for some years, but was well tucked up; she had last been in the water in 1987. When he handed 'Eva' on he thought that she was probably beyond repair, but nevertheless hoped that John would be fired to restore her.
 
John decided to attempt the restoration simply because the boat was a family heirloom. He says realistically: 'The boat had no value to anyone else, and probably still hasn't. John and Audrey had been to Cowes Maritime Museum and ferreted out some copies of sailing magazines from 1895 and 1896, and Audrey found a report saying that Mr R.S. Hills of Sylvia Yard, East Cowes was just completing the planking of six boats for the Emsworth Sailing Club which tied down the firm which both designed and built the boats.
 
They also discovered the lines plan and the a sail plan of the boats. John saying: 'I was amazed to be able to be able to get a lines plan and a sail plan after 99 years.' John is not however reproducing the sail plan exactly: 'We are not giving her quite as much sail. The original working area was 210 sq ft, but on the new sail plan I've cut it down to 160. One thing which the boat has now which isn't original is the centreboard: she now has a light alloy plate in place of the original cast iron one, which weighed some 2cwt. 'This weight explains how they could carry such a big sail area, though interestingly the original sail plan shows the boat without a bowsprit. I assume that was added some time between the date of building and my photograph of 1906 ... I still have that bowsprit and it's going back on the boat, as I think she looks better with it.'
 
The restoration of 'Eva' took some 15 months. John said he couldn't have done the work without the help and cooperation of his old friend Dick Jacobs. The first part of the restoration was the removal of the deck, which was followed by burning off all of the interior paint. They then fitted six new ribs or 'timbers' and next put in new floor bearers. They then had to make and fit splines in all the bottom planking, the seams being open half an inch in places. Some deck beams and carlings had to be replaced, and then she was re-decked in half inch plywood covered in scrim and epoxy. The boat was then turned over and had all her outside paint burnt off, and the hull was treated with scrim and epoxy. The fittings had then to be replaced, and there only remained the cosmetic painting and varnishing.
 
John said: 'The boat was in remarkably good condition. We found only a little piece of rot behind the mast clamp. We had to make a new mast as my father sold the old one; and as the gaff was no good, a new one of those had to be made too.' Lucas in Portsmouth have supplied new sails: 'They made sails for the boat on a previous occasion - I don't know when, but it was certainly pre-war. The sails have been made to look like the original cotton sails, cream in colour and with narrow panels, but dacron has been used instead. When asked about the cost of the restoration John said that it was not excessive: 'Not very much, in fact, I suppose that for the hull itself some £250 would cover the materials ; the new gaff cost £200, the sails about £500, and I made the mast myself with the materials costing about £30.'
 
Before 'Eva' was re-launched she was put on display at Emsworth Museum. She looked very elegant sitting there in the car park with her new wooden mast stepped, She has beautiful lines, a fetching spoon bow, a gentle sheer, and has the air of a dignified small yacht rather than a sailing dinghy. There are only two clues to her age: the first is the now outmoded horse for the mainsheet on the after decking; and the second is the coaming which runs all the way round the long cockpit, a feature which no doubt was and will still be useful, but which disappeared from modern dinghies. Inside the museum a special exhibition on 'Eva' was mounted, giving her history, displaying various photographs of her over the years and some of the trophies won in her by John's grandfather and father. Eleven trophies were mustered, with the prize trophy undoubtedly a silver cup proudly inscribed: 'Throne, the Royal Toilet Soap Challenge Cup, presented by Edward Cook & Co Ltd, the soap specialists , London E, Bosham Regatta'. Shields on the cup's plinth show that it was won by J.R.Mant in 1905, 1906 and 1907,. Also included in the display was an account taken from The Yachting Weekly, September 5, 1907, of the Emsworth Regatta, in which we read,: 'The course was 15 miles long, and 'Eva' won in first rate style, crossing the line and worming between a swarm of fishing boats that were awaiting their race.'  The unexpectedly cheerful and indeed lavish nature of Edwardian regattas is also on display, as the account finished: 'In the evening an illuminated water carnival took place on the Mill Pond, a spacious sheet of water over half a mile in length. Six thousand fairy lamps and nine tastefully decorated and illuminated boats made a fairy-like spectacle, and was a fitting climax to a very successful day'.
 
'Eva' was launched in 1999, some 103 years after she was built. In her new guise she was first sailed by John and Dick Jacobs off the Emsworth Sailing Club; neither wore lifejackets - there were no such things in 1896 in small boats - and to complete the picture John sported a battered trilby hat of the type worn by his grandfather when sailing. Despite a leak through the centreboard case, which John feels that he should have forseen, he was very happy with the way that 'Eva' handled. He says that she was responsive, that the new sails set well and that he had forgotten how fast she was. The leak will have to be dealt with and John wants to rearrange the mainsheet, but otherwise all was up to expectations.
 
So by exercise of faith and a lot of hard work and boat building skill, John has resurrected a unique and historically important sailing dinghy of charm and character. But 'Eva' will be no museum piece, as she remains very suitable for day sailing in Chichester harbour, for fishing and even for indulging in the occasional race.
 
 
Original article by Strahan Soames (dec'd)
published by kind permission of James Mant

The above article was originally published in Yachts and Yachting in February 2000. Sadly, John Mant died in 2011 when custodianship passed to his eldest son James.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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