Portland. We’re not just stone – We Rock!

On Saturday 21 September 2019 Weymouth NWR held their first ever area conference – but you’d never have known it! Their choice of speakers, of location, and the superb organisation led to a great day enjoyed by sixty NWR members and guests.

The day was hosted at the National Sailing Academy on Portland, which overlooks Weymouth’s glorious bay, and is home to Team UK’s Olympic water sports events. On the day this active port saw Gail McGarva’s ‘story boat’ coming in to dock while just down the coastline dozens of excited young people enjoyed sailing lessons and other water-borne activities. 

After a warm welcome and a brief history of the development of the Academy, Gail was our first speaker and immediately established a connection – her mother had been a NWR member in Scotland! Gail described her fascinating training as a boat builder of traditional wooden boats which she discovered after a varied career including teaching sign language! 

Gail spoke about her passion for the wood and the construction process of wooden boatbuilding. We learnt that this varies enormously around the British coastline. Gail shared her experiences of building traditional Shetlands boats, Cornish pilot boats and a Portland Lerret – “by eye” – all the while using traditional tools which she described passionately as part of her wish to preserve the heritage of this craft.

The ‘Story Boat’ is the original Lerret – now upturned – and extended to create an atmospheric “room on wheels” for sharing stories and songs from the fishing communities.Her ‘daughter boats’ are all replicas of the originals but we had the privelege of visiting the original ‘Story Boat’ after a lovely, chatty NWR lunch! Food is always an important part of NWR events(!) and lunch was excellent and ample! There was plenty of time to chat with other members from across entire Southern region.

Portland Museum provided the two afternoon speakers. Firstly, a fascinating and entertaining history of Dr Marie Stopes entitled ‘How a Renowned Paleontologist got distracted by Sex and ended up founding a Museum’. Marie Stopes was born, brought up and later lived in, Portland. While mainly known for her ground-breaking book ‘Married Love’ and for her advocacy of birth control she was also a palaeobotanist who donated many of her finds to the museum.

The final presentation of the day was about the wreck of the East Indiaman, Earl of Abergavenny which “came to grief” in Weymouth Bay in 1805. She was one of the largest East Indiaman ships ever built and was embarking on her fifth voyage to India and China as part of a convoy. Unfortunately, due to pilot error, she grounded on a sandbar just off of Portland and then sank as she made her way into Weymouth. Many lives were lost, including the Captain John Wordsworth. His brother William Wordsworth subsequently wrote poems about the disaster.

Well done and thank you to the Weymouth group, to Pauline Edge (who has recently volunteered as an Area Organiser in the SW and is doing a jolly good job!) and to Josephine Burt (trustee and member of the Ringwood group) for this information/ pictures – we look forward to the next event!