THE EARLY YEARS
The 100 square metre yacht
Marabu, Cowes to Cherbourg, 1949
This is the story of a classic ‘square metre’ class yacht built in Germany and sailed to Britain in 1946. Marabu was built in 1935 by the shipwrights Abeking and Rasmussen at Lemwerder, situated halfway up the river Weser between Bremerhaven and Bremen. Marabu is 17.5m (58 feet) long and is one of 100 square metre class, used for training the Luftwaffe (Air Force) navigators. Rumour has it that Hermann Goering was interested in Marabu’s construction and considered it his private yacht when not being sailed by the Luftwaffe.
At the end of the war, nearly 400 yachts were commandeered by the British army and were distributed amongst the three services of the Allied forces around the world, becoming known as ’Windfalls’. The Windfall fleet were divided into a number of different classes – but primarily it was the 30, 50 and 100 square metre yachts that were ferried back from the Baltic.
In 1945 Commander Peter Richardson (1924-2002) was serving on the frigate Rupert as an anti-submarine warfare officer. He was also an experienced yachtsman and was sent to Kiel to be in charge of the British Windfalls. He chose 130 vessels to bring home and the Royal Engineers were tasked with the job of locating them all and bringing them back to Kiel. This became a lengthy exercise to fulfil – Richardson describes one 30 square metre yacht found hidden in a hay barn. Once back in Kiel, regular sailings of the Windfall yachts took place from Kiel in 1945 and 1946.
In May 1946, to speed up operations, Lieutenant Commander Martyn Sherwood (1901-1980) was called to Kiel to organise the operation to return the remaining batches of yachts to Portsmouth by October. Under Sherwood, Marabu was brought back to Britain from Kiel as part of ‘Operation Homeward’ in the final batch to be sailed home by the Navy before being distributed to Service units.
The Windfalls were crewed by Naval personnel who answered Admiralty's call to deliver the yachts. The only instruction given was that they had to be delivered safe and sound. Overall, the Windfalls had been well preserved despite the rigours of war. However, many of the yachts lacked suitable or up-to-date charts, or had faulty or missing equipment – such as a compass, wireless or barometer. The sails and rigging were in poor condition, rope and tackle was in short supply and few, if any, of yachts had any guardrails.
Sherwood was an experienced yachtsman. Prior to the the war he had commissioned, financed and sailed the yacht Tai-mo-Shan from Hong Kong to Dartmouth, together with four other naval officers. Sherwood recognised the need for the volunteer crews to take part in an initial shakedown cruise. He organised all these returning yachts, including Marabu, to undertake a race across the Baltic to Rodbyhavn in Denmark and back – in order to identify then rectify numerous defects – as far as possible. With a calm sea and light winds the journey outward was uneventful, but the Windfalls were fully tested on their return to Kiel, while beating to windward in a lumpy sea. The race was won by Lieutenant Scott on 50 square metre See Otter, despite no chart of the Baltic and a faulty compass!
On their homeward journeys, the Windfalls were towed out of Kiel through the Kiel canal and into the North Sea. Some of the skippers chose to race, while others undertook more leisurely routes via the Frisian Islands or ventured into the Dutch canals on journeys that in some cases took weeks to get back to Britain. A number of yachts were caught up in a huge storm at the end of July with one yacht eventually being towed into Den Helder by a trawler and two others reportedly getting stranded on the Goodwin sands off the coast of Kent.
With Richardson on board as Mate, Sherwood skippered Marabu – who arrived at Gosport with only one stop and four-and-a-half days on passage in September 1946. She was then based at HMS Hornet, the headquarters of the Royal Naval Coastal Forces at Gosport until 1957.