Nic Compton was researching the history of a 32ft double-ended cutter called Nausikaa, when he came across the name of a very interesting owner. It called for further investigation
It’s quite possible too that the ‘arrival of the others’ and the rough trip that followed might have spelled the end of Greene’s yacht owning. By 1950, Lloyd’s Register shows Nausikaa was owned by R. H. Goddard & F. W. Knight and based in Southampton, with an RORC rating to boot.
Meanwhile, Greene was enjoying a holiday on Alexander Koda’s yacht, Elsewhere, in the South of France in the company of celebrities such as Laurence Olivier, Margot Fonteyn and Vivien Leigh. He later satirised his cruises on Elsewhere in his novel Loser Takes All (1955), but of the pretty, double-ended cruising yacht he himself owned, there is no sign in any of his books.
As for Nausikaa, after her brief affair with Graham Greene, she went through a series of lovers up until 1955, when she was bought by Peter Burnett and stayed with him for more than 40 years. From her base on the Hamble River, the Burnett family sailed the yacht extensively up and down the Channel – often in company with the Bailhache family on their T-Class sloop Monica – all around Brittany and even up to Scotland.
Despite being more than 20 years old, she raced on the Solent under the auspices of the Royal Southern YC as well as the Round Jersey Race and managed to pick up ‘the odd pot’, according to Peter Burnett’s son, Richard.
The yacht’s interior was considerably altered during the Burnett years, with the enormous heads by the companionway replaced with a quarter berth and chart table, and the saloon seating improved. The original Gray petrol engine was replaced first by a Parsons Scampi petrol engine (which apparently sounded ‘like a Tiger Moth’) and eventually a Saab diesel. The old coal cooker was replaced with a Taylor paraffin stove and then by a ‘sensible’ Calor gas arrangement.
These were happy times, when Nausikaa was in regular use as a family cruiser, clocking up many miles and even more memories for both the Burnett and the Bailhache families – even if she was sometimes described as a ‘half-tide rock in a hurry’ (ie she had a big bow wake). There was romance too, with a Burnett Young eventually marrying a Bailhache Young.
Lloyd’s Register doesn’t tell us what happened to Nausikaa after the Burnetts sold her in the mid-1990s (the Register of Yachts was discontinued in 1980), but it seems in 2000 she was bought by John Hutchings, who lived on her for a time in Guernsey before he died.
A sorry state
In any case, by the time she turned up at Traditional Shipwright Services (TSS) in Poole in 2010, Nausikaa was in a sorry state. Eighteen months’ work followed, during which the accommodation was entirely rebuilt, including a new double berth in the fo’c’sle, moving the saloon bulkhead forward to give more space for the chart table and a ‘decent’ galley, and creating a partitioned heads.
It would have been sacrilege had it been the original interior, but most of that had been discarded long before David Messum bought the boat, so there was never any chance of being able to say: “This was the saloon where Graham Greene sat” or “This was the bunk where Graham Greene slept” or even “This was the galley where Father Gilbert cooked”!
Instead, Nausikaa was fitted with a beautifully crafted interior, far superior to the one she had during Graham Greene’s ownership, but better suited to her new-found status as a nautical collector’s item. For, even before he knew the boat’s unique pedigree, Messum had high hopes of his latest acquisition.
“The value of something depends on how you look at it,” he says. “It happens all the time at art auctions: people don’t stop to think about value, it’s all about price. So if it’s cheaper than the next thing, they think they’ve got a bargain. That applies to boats too. If you look for another Gauntlet and find one for £25,000, you might think ‘what a bargain’. But take it to a shipwright and he’ll say it needs a year’s work.
“Whereas with a boat like Nausikaa, all that work’s been done. It might not be cheaper, but it’s better value than that £25,000 boat! It’s like an valuable painting. There are lots who will say it’s too expensive – but they’re probably the wrong people anyway. It’s not always about money.”
1st on handicap
And certainly Messum’s first outing suggested he and his team had got something right. Less than a week after being relaunched, she entered the Round Island Race at the 2014 Panerai British Classic Week and, against some of the top competition in the UK, came 1st on handicap (albeit she was one of the last over the line in real time).
Had he been more of a sailor, Graham Greene might have realised what a little treasure he had and hung onto her a little longer, instead of selling her and jetting off to the South of France. But then he had a habit of chasing after the unattainable, rather than appreciating what was right there under his nose.
Sailing his own boat in England didn’t suit Greene quite as well, it seems, as sailing other people’s boats in the South of France.