Sails: are they as robust as they look?

Sails…aren’t they tough as old boots, used to rain, wind and sun, designed to withstand unbelievably strong forces? Yes, they are – but it is because of the rugged life that they’ve led in Windermere weather that we have to take special care of them now if we want to extend their lifespan well beyond their original makers’ expectations.

Fine craftsmanship on Dawn's 1934 2nd foresail
Fine craftsmanship on Dawn’s 1934 2nd foresail – and evidence of wear

Our oldest sail in the collection belongs to 1934 17ft Windermere yacht Dawn. It dates from the year of her launch and still has its original sailbag. Other absolute beauties also survive from the 1930s – all made by prestigious sailmakers Ratsey and Lapthorn of Cowes.

Ratsey and Lapthorn stamp on Dawn's 2nd foresail 1934
The Ratsey and Lapthorn stamp on Dawn’s 1934 2nd foresail

Now we are taking a museum approach to their preservation, bearing in mind their greatly increased fragility due to years of exposure to light, moisture and dirt.  We called on accredited textile conservator Michelle Harper to advise us, knowing that she’s worked on HMS Victory’s sails, so is used to challenges on a grand scale. Michelle ran a sail surface cleaning workshop in our space at Brockhole Visitor Centre and kept a very close eye on us while we laboured under her tuition. We were really pleased with the results which will help us move on with a ‘deeper’ clean of more of the sails in the collection but struck just the right balance between removing more recent soiling while keeping evidence of historic use.

Training from Michelle in how to use a smoke sponge to remove surface dirt
Carefully supervised training from Michelle in how to use a smoke sponge to remove surface dirt
A successful tissue paper sausage can be a dangerous weapon...
We also practised the best packing methods for sails and sail bags. A successful tissue paper sausage can be a dangerous weapon…

We used ‘smoke sponges’ and old fashioned elbow grease rather than water, but will also be sending Dawn’s classy 1949 sails away to Michelle for tests in preparation for a specialist conservation wet clean. The 1949 set will then be on display in our new exhibition space in rotation with the 1930s set to avoid excessive light exposure.

Michelle and Dorothy working on Dawn's 2nd foresail from 1934
Conservator Michelle and Volunteer Dorothy working on Dawn’s 2nd foresail from 1934 in the display space at Brockhole

Right now, our newly trained staff and volunteer team can’t wait to try out new skills and clean the rest of the sail collection. It may be rewarding, but cleaning with the smoke sponge is also really hard physical work, so we’re not even going to try to calculate the total sail area that still needs our attention!

Astrid working on one of Dawn's 1930s sailbags
Volunteer Astrid working methodically on Dawn’s 1949 sailbag

More progress with SL Osprey

Lifting SL Osprey's Sissons of Gloucester compound engine into position
Lifting SL Osprey’s Sissons of Gloucester compound engine into position

It was an exciting moment for everyone on the Windermere Jetty conservation team as Sissons engine no 591 was lifted into position in SL Osprey, after careful restoration for operational use by our staff and volunteers.

This beautiful little compound launch engine has always been one for showing off. It was considered such an important example of design and efficiency that it was exhibited at the Wolverhampton Arts and Industry exhibition – and then at the V&A in 1902. It’s no surprise that it soon found its way to Windermere, where vessel owners wanted only the very best to complement their elegantly built vessels.

This engine powered Mrs Ainsworth’s steam launch Water Viper until the Second World War, when, like so many others, it was replaced by a petrol engine. Fortunately it was saved by a private collector and in due course returned to Windermere and to the Windermere Jetty collection.

How lovely to think that, by the time the museum reopens, 1902 SL Osprey will be gliding across Windermere with the help of this historic little engine and bringing the same pleasure to visitors that it did to its private owners over a century ago.

The persistence, consideration and time that goes into a project like the restoration of SL Osprey cannot be estimated in hours alone. We owe a big thank you to all our volunteers and supporters who have helped us get to this point.

Adrian Stone and Matt Foot fitting the engine into position
Adrian Stone and Matt Foot fitting the engine into position
Engine and boiler in position
Engine and boiler in position


Saturdays with a Splash!

Boy with Boat


On Saturday 14th and Saturday 21st March, the team from Windermere Jetty were at Brockhole exploring forces, engineering, the environment and habitats to celebrate British Science Week 

This week long festival celebrates STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics. The British Science Association encourages a range of different organisations across Britain to get involved and provide activities for families and schools. We decided to give it a go!

Through different activities over the two days, we explored the environment around Brockhole and delved into the science behind our wonderful collection of boats. We made boats, played with cargo (one pence coins) to see if tin foil boats would float, went pond dipping, recorded our adventures and played with wild words.

A lot of fun was had, and although they might not have realised it because they were having such a great time, our visitors learnt more about science. We’re quite crafty like that! These events also gave us the chance to try out ideas for activities that we will be able to run at Windermere Jetty when the new museum opens. So you see, we learnt something too.

Thank you to everybody who dropped in to see us over the two days, it was lovely to meet you all. Also a big thank you to the team at Brockhole, Seb from Cumbria Wildlife Trust for his pond dipping skills and Ian Douglas for his Wild Words.

Look out for more activities and events at Brockhole with the Windermere Jetty team.