Tucked away in a quiet corner of East Cowes there is a veritable treasure chest of nautical gems associated with the Island and much further afield.

Over the past 17 years or so a group of volunteers have pieced together a magnificent collection of boats that have been a part of British and world heritage stretching back more than a century.

They range from speed boats to sailing yachts and canoes to even a coracle, and each has its own tale to tell. They have been brought together under one roof of a former factory in Albany Road that has been painstakingly cleaned and converted into the Classic Boat Museum. Just a few strides away in Columbine Road is the Classic Boat Gallery, providing a rich tapestry of photographs, models, trophies, magazines and artefacts that perfectly complement the Museum.

The Museum itself houses such famous boats as Coweslip, a Flying Fifteen class sailing dinghy owned by Prince Philip, and given to him by the town of Cowes as a wedding present for him and the Queen in 1947.

There is also the Europe dinghy which Island sailor Shirley Robertson sailed to a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and the shocking pink Lady Penelope, formerly owned by jet-setters of the 1950s Lady Docker and her husband, who were severely reprimanded by Prince Rainier for driving it too fast around the harbour at Monaco!

DSC_0571Also among the 60 or so boats that have been gathered is an airborne lifeboat, which was dropped by five parachutes from an aircraft into the English Channel during the Second World War to rescue British airmen who had been shot down. The boat, designed by iconic Island yachtsmen the late Uffa Fox. It was designed and built – from drawing line to water line – in just 21 days, and helped save more than 200 lives!

The airborne lifeboat on display in the museum has been lovingly restored, and since its salvation was revealed, artefacts and memorabilia from all over the country have been donated – even down to cigarette packets – to help return it to just as it sailed some 70 years ago.

Also on show is Britannia, the boat rowed single-handedly across the Atlantic by John Fairfax in 1969 – the first to complete the crossing. He completed the row on the day man first landed on the moon, and even received a message of congratulations from the astronauts in space.

Britannia remains just as it was when it completed the trans-Atlantic crossing and portrays the difficulties John Fairfax must have encountered through massive waves on his epic journey. Close by is a Caribbean fishing boat, while at the other end of the scale Miss Britain IV highlights supreme British technology as the speedboat that reached a record-breaking 124mph on Coniston Water in 1982. Indeed, each boat really does have a story to tell!

Museum volunteer Sonya RigaudBarrett explained: “The museum has been in existence since 1996. The founder was Maurice Wilmot who had a few boats of his own and decided they were being wasted sitting in a shed, so he and a few friends decided to set up the museum, which was originally in Newport.

“Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and we moved to East Cowes last year when we could no longer afford the premises we had in Newport. It became a bit of a desperate search for new premises, and we were lucky to get what was formerly a machine shop for J.S. White.”

Restoration of the Albany Road factory allowed the Museum volunteers to show off the fine collection of boats, with restoration of further vessels ongoing. Sonya said: “We are always looking for more volunteers, so anyone interested should come along and see us.”

Enthusiasts of all ages visit the museum and gallery, which have nominal admission charges to help cover expenses. The pink Lady Penelope, with leopard skin fenders, is a favourite with youngsters, while admirers of Dame Ellen MacArthur can marvel over the many trophies she accumulated, and has subsequently loaned to the museum and gallery.