My Boats - Peter Sutton
My Boats - Peter Sutton, Dartmouth
My Boats - Peter Sutton
The garden of local architect, Peter Sutton, and his sculptor wife Jilly, stretches idyllically down to the edges of the River Dart, just upstream of Dittisham. There, against a narrow finger pontoon sit two classic wooden motor launches – the first, a 1937 Chris Craft, the classic American motor launch most often used on the USA lakes and, the second, an original Venetian Taxi, the traditional motor boat used for VIP transport and high end taxi services around the canals of Venice.
Peter’s love of boats stretches back to his childhood and is the reason he lives where he does. But modern boats are not for him - instead craft that have a history or a recognizable magic. A 1936 Olympic single-handed wooden sailing dinghy sits proudly between the boatsheds. There’s even a 1978 Russian hydrofoil made of aluminium requiring restoration, not the best boat, Peter admits, for the River Dart!
Other than for a couple of hours either side of high tide, Peter’s motor boats sit comfortably and softly on the mud. But on all good high tides, Peter and friends make the choice to cruise the river in one or other craft especially when there’s a chance to enjoy a bottle of wine and picnic in some style.
It was typically a visit to Venice that aroused his passion for the water taxi. He had searched for some years to find one in the right condition and at the right price. He eventually found his boat 8 years ago on Lake Como in Italy to where she had been shipped from Venice.
Built in 1983, she was originally called ‘Lady’ as Margaret Thatcher had once travelled in her but Peter quickly changed her name to ‘Serenella’, after the boatyard in which she was built, to better suit her Italian heritage (meaning ‘Lilac’). Shipped back to Totnes by train and lorry from Italy, ‘Serenella’ has been slowly restored with some major restoration work undertaken this year by local shipwright Simon Beer (see opposite).
Simon has expertly restored the rear deck’s coamings and covering boards, rebuilt or replaced deck beams and engine lids and replaced the stern’s beautiful holly inlaid deck. Peter is full of praise for Simon’s skills as a craftsman.
Although he leaves the hard stuff to the experts, Peter is never happier when, armed with a mug of coffee, he’s applying say a coat of varnish early on a Sunday morning – and on these boats, there’s a lot of that always to be done!
Approximately 30 ft in length and displacing 3 tonnes, ‘Seronella” can travel at 25 knots. Powered economically by a large Iveco diesel, a Fiat lorry engine, she travels comfortably and majestically through the water and her deep wake is perfect for Peter’s children to water-ski behind.
A bit vulnerable in rough seas, she’s able, however, with her ample power to plough through the waves. These boats are very rare in this country and indeed are quite unique, as they were constructed specifically for Venetian water transport.
Peter’s example was built at the Serenella yard in Murano near where the famous glass is made. Still being built today, Peter considers them as possibly as good a build as the famous Riva, the ‘Rolls Royce’ of motor launches.
Peter has owned the Chris Craft for 15 years and she languished for some years in a barn in an awful state. With the help of boat-building neighbour, Barney Bucke, it’s been a long restoration job but an enquiry to the US Maritime Museum yielded a full set of the original drawings.
She’s powered by a 1960 V8 Chevrolet petrol engine (it came originally with a really small engine) with a straight through exhaust. The restored engine was bought unseen from the USA over the phone, paid by credit card, but works beautifully.
It would be good enough to own just one of these boats – to own two, is just downright greedy! But what pleasure they give.
First Published August 2010 By The Dart