THE historic ship Kathleen and May could be sailing away from Bideford. The UK s last remaining three masted wooden topsail schooner has been in the town since local businessman Steve Clarke sailed her up the Torridge 12 years ago in the hope that she wou

THE historic ship Kathleen and May could be sailing away from Bideford.

The UK's last remaining three masted wooden topsail schooner has been in the town since local businessman Steve Clarke sailed her up the Torridge 12 years ago in the hope that she would become the catalyst of a maritime attraction for the town.

But despite spending around £2 million to restore and maintain the vessel, efforts to find her a permanent dock and develop a maritime centre around her have failed.

Now she has been head hunted for Merseyside next spring, to take part in the Liverpool Boat Show, which is making a bid to take over from London's International Boat Show. She will also provide sailing trips for enthusiasts for a month leading up to and another month following the show.

"They want the Kathleen and May as a centrepiece," said Steve.

"There is also the possibility that they may want to buy her. If this is the case, it is possible she could go from Bideford for ever.

"It would be a massive loss to me and to the town. But there is nothing hard and fast yet. There is still time."

He had originally brought the Kathleen and May to Bideford in the hope she would become the centrepiece of a local tourist attraction. He was president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time and this would have been a chamber project, he said.

He had spent around £2 million on the vessel over the past 12 years, but the local authorities had been unable to find a way to make this happen, he said. Now, with long term health problems, Steve feels it is too big a responsibility to pass on to his family business in the present economic climate.

The 110-year-old vessel, is one of the famous tall ships listed in the Core Collection on the UK National Historic Ships Register, alongside such vessels as the Cutty Sark and HMS Victory.

She featured in the 1970s hit TV series The Onedin Line.