Historic schooner could be ‘gone for good’

10:00 23 January 2013

Popular schooner: The Kathleen & May was a regular feature of Bideford

Popular schooner: The Kathleen & May was a regular feature of Bideford's waterfront for many years.

Archant

A temporary export bar has been placed on the Kathleen and May after consortium applies to move her overseas.

BIDEFORD’S iconic schooner, the Kathleen and May, could be ‘gone for good’ when a temporary bar on her export ends next month.

The bar was put in place by Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, after a consortium based in the British Virgin Islands applied for a licence to export her.

The Kathleen and May, the sole surviving wooden three-masted topsail schooner, has been on sale for several years and was valued at £2million.

Owner Steve Clarke OBE, a Bideford councillor and businessman, said: “Last March we had a serious expression of interest from Asia that triggered off a massive interrogation from the Arts Council due to the Kathleen and May being in the core collection of the National Historic Ships.

“A committee of 15 people lead by the Secretary of State’s representative met in September and they announced that the Kathleen and May was indeed a ‘National Treasure’ and as such should be retained in Britain for future generations.

“I’d love her to come back to Bideford but I tried for many years to keep her there and the town council were having none of it.

“If no expression of interest is made to raise the funds to buy her by the time the export bar is lifted, then she could be gone for good.”

A decision on the export licence application has been deferred until February 19, but could be extended until June 19 should a serious intention to raise the £2million and keep her in the country be raised.

Martin Hazell, chairman of the South West Maritime History Society, feared if the Kathleen and May was sold to warmer climates it would destroy her.

“If she goes abroad, because of her wooden build the marine organisms in the warmer water would very quickly destroy her,” he said.

“When Steve retired he offered this vessel free to the port of Bideford hoping that it could be used by the community as a sustainable maritime heritage project using local skills and freely given time.

“However a blinkered town council continued to charge unacceptably high mooring fees of £25,000 per annum.

“Thus the vessel was forced to leave Bideford and seek a permanent home elsewhere, a decision much regretted because of all her friends and supporters there.”

In February 2003, the Duke of Edinburgh wrote to Mr Clarke to express his concern over the schooner’s doubtful future.

He said: “She represents such an important part of our national maritime history as well as being a reminder of Bideford’s long involvement in ship-building and sea-borne trade.”

The Kathleen and May spent her working life carrying a variety of cargo in the home trade, until she was sold out of trade in 1961 and purchased by the maritime trust.

In 1985, after the Historic Ship Collection she was part of was dispersed, she fell into disrepair until Mr Clarke restored her to full working order.

In 2011, the Kathleen and May was relocated to Liverpool and last year featured in the Queen’s diamond jubilee parade of sail, taking pride of place opposite Her Majesty’s golden barge.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the schooner should contact the secretary of the reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest on 0845 300 6200.

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