Uffa Fox, 1938
Betsie Jane of Cowes 1938
etsie Jane was commissioned by Lord Ebbisham and built by Saunders Roe at Cowes in 1938. Designed specifically to entertain guests she was luxuriously appointed with white leather seats in the cockpit, teak decks and beautiful cabinet work. She was driven by two American 6 cylinder Gray petrol engines with a maximum speed of 17 knots. On launch day the local press were on hand to record the event.
However Betsie’s launch was noted further afield and attracted the attentions of the celebrated yacht designer Uffa Fox. In his Thoughts on Yachts and Yachting, he notes that ‘The lines of Betsie Jane are the result of many years of development, and are those of a fast yet sea-worthy day cruiser’ and it is those qualities that were effectively utilised by the Royal Navy during the second world war. In his summing up Fox concludes that ‘ Betsie Jane is as fine an example as we shall find of the round bilged day cruiser.’ Great praise indeed from one of the world's most influential yacht designers.
During peacetime Betsie had a full time skipper, Frank Toogood, and was used by Lord Ebbisham to cruise the French canals and the Solent during the summer months. Although with the outbreak of WWII her cruising ground was somewhat restricted and her role was changed from leisure to military use. Reputedly she was involved in the Dunkirk evacuation as Peter Toogood recalls his father’s stories of his trip to Dunkirk with Betsie Jane being used to tow smaller craft.
In 1942 Frank Toogood was asked to travel to London where he met Lord Ebbisham at his office in Threadneedle Street. He was informed that the Royal Navy had requisitioned Betsie Jane and upon Lord Ebbisham’s insistence Frank was to remain skipper. Betsie was then known as HM Motor Launch Betsie Jane and Frank was paid an extra 6 pence a day as he was in charge of a boat. During the war years Betsie was based at Culver Fort on the Isle of Wight and had a number of roles including escorting American ships into Portsmouth harbour, as a launch for the Captain Saunders Commander in Chief for the Isle of Wight. On one occasion she was ordered to pick up a ditched airman 10 miles south of St Catherine’s Point. On this occasion the airman was a badly injured German fighter pilot whom they disarmed and took directly to the Royal Hospital Haslar at Gosport.
owards the end of the war Betsie was involved in a secret mission carrying surveyors who where laying the PLUTO fuel pipeline to the Normandy beaches. Although Betsie never went to Normandy she was very active during the invasion as Peter Toogood recalls ‘father worked night and day leading ships to anchorages, transferring officers from ship to ship and delivering sealed orders.’
After the war she was returned to Lord Ebbisham and remained in the family until his death in 1953. Since then there have been a number of owners and modifications made including, in the 1960s, an aft cabin and centre wheelhouse.
Restoration was started in 1991 by retired boatbuilder Ron Bailey. Ron spent many hours undertaking essential structural work with the intention of rebuilding her with a similar centre wheelhouse and aft cabin. Unfortunately ill health meant Ron could not continue the project and so he offered her for sale in 2007.
The project was taken over by Paul Rainbird who undertook a major rebuild which was completed in 2012. Fortunately many of the fixtures and fittings have survived and have been incorporated into the restoration enabling Paul to rebuild Betsie to nearly exactly as she was orginally back in 1938.
Paul's 2,500 man hour restoration gained recoginition by Classic Boat's Restoration of the Year Award 2013. She is also listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels and as such flies the National Historic Ships UK Defaced Ensign.
In September 2016, Blue Box Sailing purchased Betsie Jane after a long search for the right boat to buy to add to their fleet. Bringing Betsie Jane home to Solent waters from the Norfolk Broads, she is once again a Solent boat, where she started out 78 years ago.