Bessie is another Dunkirk Little Ship, and our next project.

We are very pleased to have acquired whelker Bessie from Trevor Farman in Yarmouth, from where she was delivered to Morston Quay by Abbey Transport Ltd on December 7th 2011.

Her history 

Bessie is one of the last remaining Johnson-built whelkers.  She was built  in 1935 for the Cox family (G.H.Cox and Sons) who whelked with her out of Wells-next-the-Sea for 30 years, license number LN 16. 

She is 26 ft long and 10 ft broad, built to the traditional double-ended design that was prevalent along the North Norfolk coast, and made of larch and oak with an inboard engine and an auxiliary dipping lugsail.

She was named after George Henry Cox’s wife, Bessie.  Later, when the Cox family acquired three Liverpool-type ex-lifeboats she was retained as a reserve vessel.  She was well regarded by the family and considered a fine sea boat.

Squeakie Bishop then bought her and used her for angling parties, first from Blakeney and then Gorleston, where she was used as a pleasure and fishing boat until acquired by Rescue Wooden Boats. 

  • Dunkirk connections 

    In 1940, Bessie was taken from Wells-next-the-Sea to Ramsgate as part of Operation Dynamo to help evacuate the British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk.

    She was chosen for a special sub-mission to collect a party of men.  She crossed the English Channel and had to lie off the French coast in a vulnerable position.  There is a detailed and exciting account of this mission in the 1946 book Storm on the Waters by Charles Vince (click on the bold title to read), in which it quotes,

    “It was rumoured that he (a VIP within the party to pick up) was Sir Launcelot Oliphant, British Ambassador to Belgium, who was made prisoner by the Germans when trying to get from Bruges to le Havre.” (p. 42)  

    But the time after the signal passed and there was no sign of the party, so Bessie returned home.

    There is also an account of the expedition in local paper The Journal, dated Friday 9th July 1954, an account based on a report written by Dr. E. W. Hicks, dating from 18th April 1944, and we have copies of three dated postcards (plus transcripts) from Billy Cox to his wife, posted from Ramsgate, Dover and Harwich - click on the text in bold to read.  Bessie is also listed in Alphabetic List of The Little Ships in Christian Brann's book The Little Ships of Dunkirk (p.229; Collectors' Books, 1989).

    Many thanks to Billy Cox's granddaughters, Geraldine Green and Caroline Gittens, for helping us with the research into Bessie's history.

    Her restoration

    During the winter of 2013 and 2014 essential work was carried out on Bessie to repair damage and keep her stable until she has her major refit.  At the same time the added wheel house was removed and her decks strengthened, so she looks much more like her original 1935 self.  David Hewitt and Tom Gathercole carried out the work, with plenty of help from volunteers.

    We regard Bessie as a very important boat.  She needs major restoration, a new engine and a new dipping lugsail to return her to her original state.  We estimate at least £50,000 is needed for this work, which would need to be done in stages over a number of years, as she needs to be kept damp.

    Once restored she will be used afloat.

    See photographs of Bessie here 

    Watch films in which Bessie is discussed here

    Become a "Bessie Benefactor" and support her restoration here



October 31st 2015                                        

Harvester is now being used afloat by a local family.

Whelker Harvester has been generously donated to Rescue Wooden Boats by Graeme Peart. She was built in 1951 by Emery of Sheringham and her first owner was Sid "Custard" Cooper. David Hewitt restored her for Graeme Peart as a pleasure boat and she now has a gaff rig.  She needs some maintenance to get her back afloat.

Restoration on Harvester continues.  David has taken out the engine in order to get to the keel bolts. The stern post had to be removed, as the bolts would not tighten due to rust. The aft apron needs attention and the engine will be serviced while out, and the drive plate will be checked. 

See more photos of Harvester here

Take a look at some of our films featuring Harvester here


Wells Whelker. 28ft. Build 1939 for Jim Shrum by Reggie Emery. Later owned by Gully Grimes and worked by Tony Jordan. Now owned and skippered by Ben Riches in Wells-next-the-Sea.


Whelker. 26t. Build 1938 for Gerald Bullard as a pleasure boat by Reggie Emergy. From 1942 used by “Diddy” Cooper whelking from Wells-next-the-Sea.


Brancaster Whelker. 30ft. Built in 1950 for Alf Large by Worfolk Brothers in Kings Lynn. Now owned by Henry Chamberlain of Coastal Exploration Company in Wells-next-the-Sea.


Brancaster Whelker. 26ft. Built 1938 for Cyril Loose by Reggie Emery. Now owned by David Parkinson of Fosdyke.