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Ethelbert the Unready Sailor


Diminutive Ethelbert Holborrow (53) from Bridport had a clear mission in life. He wanted to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic to Bermuda. Yet, he had never been to sea before. A gunsmith by trade, he was only able to get about with the help of crutches.

Despite having no boat building experience, Ethelbert planned to do this in a small sailing vessel that he intended to build himself. For two years he worked on his boat on the beach at Burton Bradstock. His only construction tools were a butcher’s knife, a hammer and a chisel. Local opinion was strongly against the voyage describing it as ‘fool hardy’.

Ethelbert Holborrow set sail from West Bay in July 1914 on his lonely voyage in his homebuilt vessel that he named the Burton. On board the 14 feet long craft were 40 gallons of water and a hundredweight of biscuits.

Five days later he had only travelled some sixty miles. The Burton was sighted by a fishing vessel drifting dangerously close to some rocks off Salcombe. The captain offered to tow Ethelbert into Plymouth but the plucky little gunsmith refused. However, when he was told the proximity of the rocks he relented and was towed into Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour.

In Plymouth he immediately became something of a celebrity with many locals anxious to get a sight of this brave but tiny adventurer and his handmade boat. Ethelbert, however, was most disappointed with the Burton which he considered to be far too slow. He did concede however that with a tarpaulin cover it did not take on water and that he was able to cook in it. So after reflection, and persuasion by the fisher folk, he decided to enjoy briefly his newly found celebrity status in Plymouth and then return to Bridport. It seems he made no further attempts to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Ethelbert Holborrow died in Bridport on Christmas Day in 1920.

(Ethelbert about to leave West Bay Harbour for his singlehanded transatlantic crossing.)


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