Wednesday, 28 April 2010


On Friday 6th October 1922 a friendly sailing match took place from Exmouth. The match was between four small sailing dinghies, sixteen to eighteen feet in length. These were the beautiful, classic, gentlemen’s pleasure boats of the period. There were two new Topsham boats, Lorna and Joanna Taylor and two older Exmouth boats, Dona and Primrose. (Strange to tell I came to own this same Lorna in 1969 but that’s another story.) The day was forbidding, squally and rainy, and the course was ambitious. They were to sail from the Docks at Exmouth, pass inside the Fairway Buoy and then to round the Galicia Wreck Buoy off those famous stacks, the Parson and the Clerk, and so return to Exmouth.

William Pym, a pilot, turned up to sail with Mr Lewin in his boat Joanna Taylor, as often he had done before. Captain Thomas Garnsworthy’s boat, Primrose, was an open boat. The others were all halfdeckers. The breeze was so puffy that Captain Garnsworthy was advised not to compete. He, however, said he would put to sea if he, in Primrose, could have William Pym at his side. Mr Lewin lent William Pym to Captain Garnsworthy much as a man might lend a paddle to a friend. Then there was some talk as to whether or not a motor boat should accompany the dinghies but in the event they set off without.

The race started at lunchtime and lasted until teatime. Captain Holman’s boat, Lorna, was the first to finish, then Joanna Taylor, then Dona. The three skippers waited long for Primrose but she did not come home. Bert Hawkins, a fisherman, told later how he had seen four sails. Then there had been a squall. Then he saw only three.

Captain Garnsworthy was no spring chicken. He had been born at Starcross sixty five years before and had retired to become a popular citizen of Exeter and a member of the City Council. William Pym was forty two. He had been a Chief Petty Officer during the Great War and had gained the D.C.M. for services rendered in the Persian Gulf.

Both men were drowned.

The loss of the Primrose was reported in the Exmouth Journal of 7th October 1922

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