A Boat for Life

One old boat: her people and epic adventures :- The story of ex-lifeboat 'Deneys Reitz'.

The star of the stories: portraits of “Deneys Reitz”

BEFORE: Deneys Reitz as a lifeboat
BEFORE: As a lifeboat

AFTER: Deneys Reitz as a motor yacht
AFTER: A long-distance cruising motor yacht


Lifeboat “Deneys Reitz” was commissioned in 1954. She was almost the last of the line of wooden Watson class lifeboats. The design of the boat is traditional - she is a round-hulled double-skinned displacement craft with a top speed of about 9 knots, but a comfortable cruising speed of 8. In fact, the fuel consumption curve prepared by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in 1970 and still in the engine room indicates that consumption increases four-fold between 8 and 9 knots! She was re-engined in 1970, to give her more power and pulling grunt, but not speed. Her 27 inch propellers give her a surprising pull - she drove a whole pontoon full of large yachts in Poland when it came adrift from the harbour wall. In her early days, she had an open cockpit towards the stern, a legacy of the days when her class were sailing boats. The engines were controlled by the mechanic, who sat in a well at the feet of the Cox, working the throttles and gears. Cox and engineer needed to communicate clearly, especially in close quarter work in bad conditions. God knows how they did it! (Shouting??).

A small cabin aft of the helm position contained a VHF radio and DF equipment and latterly a radar tube with a hood to shield the screen from light. But the cabin roof was too low to stand under, so the crew sat on wooden benches along the sides.

By 1960, the open cockpit had been enclosed, but all other arrangements remained the same. Deneys Reitz carried some 180 (now 600) gallons of diesel, giving her a range of about 200 miles. Because of the slowness of these lifeboats, it was imperative to have stations arranged fairly closely together round the coast. Some might say it was also a good idea to founder slowly!


This is the life story (so far) of a wooden lifeboat, and the people who created her, loved her and depended on her. She is a pretty butch old girl. If she was a real female, she would be a great candidate for the scrum in womens' rugby. She is 14.25 meters long, quite broad in the beam at 3.9 meters; weighs 22 tons, and can be quite aggressive when waves get above themselves.

In her time she has been a lifeboat at Fowey on the South West coast of Britain, going out in the worst of weather and saving many lives; a pilot boat at Sheerness on the river Medway, a houseboat on the Falmouth foreshore; the impossible dream of a romantic who wanted to sail round the world - and a near-wreck, sitting on the mud at Canvey Island on the Thames. There she might have ended her days, surrounded by similar derelicts in the Graveyard of Dreams, had it not been for a little ad in 'Exchange and Mart': "Lifeboat for Sale, £10,000", giving the telephone number of Dave, a real Londoner, who wanted to get rid of her.


The ad attracted the attention of Charlotte and Don Young, who were at the time looking for a plastic dinghy to compete in a rowing race. It stirred something in them, for they were contemplating a new life after nearly 40 years of work and rearing families. Adventures featured large in this unfolding vista, growing old interestingly and maybe a little disgracefully in the company of a crew of family and old friends

Charlotte and Don
Charlotte and Don

“We were not willing to stop work altogether - our careers had built banks of experience that others seemed to value. But no way were we going to work full time, so coaching, tutoring and helping organisations to be effective was something we could do on a part-time basis. This left a big open space in our lives - and any sensible person knows that nature abhors a vacuum; so how to fill it?

Intense discussions involving friends and much food and wine were going nowhere; when someone said: ‘You have a boat. You like little adventures along the coast, so why not expand your horizons? I read in the newspaper that a canal has opened connecting the Rhine and the North Sea with the Danube and the Black Sea and Dardanelles. Why not have a go at that?’

“Wow! This was an attention grabber. But our current boat was far too small and lacked the range and space to accommodate stores and people for such a lengthy adventure. But the idea stuck, and we started to explore the logistics of such an escapade.

We didn't have the cash to buy a large modern motor cruiser ((at least 13 metres/40 feet with twin diesels and a range of say, 800 miles), so what about converting an old trawler? That would be an adventure in itself and we could have a boat of real character at far less cost. Or so we thought!

One of the great charms of having a boat that would take us places would be that it could provide a base for other modes of exploring. We could catch buses, take trains, use bikes, walk, hire cars and use all modes of transport to explore new places. We were advised that a mobile 'phone and lap-top computer would enable us to communicate, at least in more developed countries.

So we started to look at maps and read about others' adventures by sea and river. We reviewed central European canals, looked into draughts and the sizes of locks, bridges and the depth of rivers. From this we came to the conclusion that trawlers had very deep draughts and this would preclude us from most of the European canal system, apart from the main arteries - and we wanted to explore the less visited places. So we reached a dead end. What to do?”