Cathia is a converted ships lifeboat owned by Julian and Jeannie, built 1924. She is a typical example of an amateur conversion of a lifeboat. From the 30s to the 50s this was how the ordinary family got on the water. There were even books written on how to convert them. The most notable by Rupert Hart-Davis. We have a copy and Cathia is almost identical.
Back in 2004 Julian received a call from a friend to say there was a boat in Ditton Marina that was about to be burned because there were mooring fees owed on it and it would need a lot of work doing to it for it to be profitable enough for them to sell on. The boat was indeed in a terrible state. It had been used by the previous owner as a ‘bolt hole’ for him to get away from things and he had done nothing to the upkeep of her. The clinker built oak on oak hull however was not leaking and the engine worked so it was brought back to our mooring where Julian brought back to life, with a little help from Jeannie, who also made a new awning, bedding etc. Julian tracked down a 2nd hand Diesel engine, as it was not possible to get insurance for a petrol engine. She was fitted with new stainless steel fuel tanks, heating, plumbing and furnishings, as well as new nav equipment, a re-wire and pumps. She was then taken to South Dock Marina and in the scorching summer the hull was stripped, dried and epoxy coated.
In early summer 2007 she was taken for a test run to Desborough Island. While there two men on another boat recognised Cathia and gave Julian a brief history of the man who had made the initial conversion. Her name was formed by merging the names of his two daughters, Julia and Catherine.
As Cathia is a good, and possibly one of the last examples of these boat conversions she was entered into the 30th Traditional Boat Rally at Henley in July 2007. This was the year of torrential rain and the Thames was rising fast with all the water coming down. It was decided, as is often the case, that it was better to allow the water to flood in the middle Thames rather than flood London. So, the Regatta had barely begun when it was abandoned because the water started to flood the fields. The locks were closed and there was an order making it impossible to move any boats at all. Cathia had to be shored up to prevent her floating onto the field and was then, along with other boats, stranded in Henley for over 3 weeks until the waters subsided and the locks were opened allowing movement.
In 2010, we took Cathia along the Medway River to Tonbridge which involves going out into the Estuary.
In 2012, because of her uniqueness, we were accepted to be part of the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant. This involved a lot of preparation to get her looking good. Jeannie even made a brand new awning. We were part of the Lifeboat section and despite all the torrential rain it was a really exciting experience. The most exciting bit being the moment we passed Tower Bridge and her Majesty waved back at us as we went past. We came back into the shelter of Deptford Creek because we thought there would be enough water as the Thames Barrier had been closed for the event, there wasn’t so we had to wait for the tide to turn and enable us to get back up the creek.
The Ravensbourne River was raging and high winds had blown builders plastic into the creek, which got wrapped around our prop. So with the force of the wind and flow of the river, we were being pushed over onto our side. It was early evening by now and dusk was starting to settle and we would have to remain like that for another 5 hours. Amazingly, a neighbour, who had been living downstream from us, started to wade towards us and offered to help cut the plastic away from the prop. At least then we could float level and wait out the 5 hours more. We arrived back on our berth at 11:30, ran a bath and cracked open a bottle of champagne.
In 2014 we took Cathia to Oxford. It rained quite a bit on that holiday too. We had hoped to take Cathia further up the Thames but were advised that there was so much water coming down the Thames that if we went under the bridge we would not be able to come back again for a long time, so we’re turned around and came back. On our way back we happened to moor on a tiny island and Julia (the one the boat was named after) happened to also moor on the same island. We had a really jolly time exchanging memories of the life of the boat.