Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Is there a more famous dinghy than the fictional ‘Amazon’? I suspect not, save for ‘Swallow’ in the same children’s story book, “Swallows and Amazons’, written by Arthur Ransome, first published in 1930.

‘Amazon’ was described by the author as, “a fine little ship, with varnished pine planking,” newer than ‘Swallow’, but of the same length between 13’ and 14’. She had a single mast for carrying a white lugsail, which was stepped forward of her centreboard case, containing an iron plate that could be raised or lowered with the aid of a tackle. She was less roomy than ‘Swallow, which probably meant she was narrower. Lacking the beam of ‘Swallow’ and her lead ballast, ‘Amazon’ excelled in light airs, but as she was not as “stiff”, she could be overwhelmed in stronger gusts.

‘Amazon’ was owned by the Blackett children, Nancy and Peggy, otherwise known as the Amazon Pirates, and they kept her in a boathouse at Beckfoot, at the mouth of the River Amazon, with access to a lake containing several islands. The story unfolds when they meet the Walker children on Wildcat Island, complete with ‘Swallow’, a dinghy they borrowed from the Jacksons, who were farmers at Holly Howe. The tale is full of all sorts of exciting adventures involving camping, fishing, burglary, piracy, mock battles, surviving a storm and reconciliation between the Walkers and the Blackett children’s uncle, James Turner, who had accused them of stealing manuscripts of a book he was writing.

Well, it is thought that Ransome based his book on real life experiences when he taught the Altounyan children to sail while on holiday at Coniston in 1928. There were Taqui 11, Susan 9, Titty 8, Roger 6 and Bright 2, although I suspect the younger ones were just spectators. Ransome had two dinghies built, one for his own use and the other for the Altounyan family; the latter was named ‘Mavis’. She is still owned by Altounyan family, but she has been renamed ‘Amazon’ after her fictional counterpart. Most probably she’s the boat Ransome used as a model for his fictional ‘Amazon’, but she differs by having three thwarts instead of two. She is currently looked after by the Ruskin Museum at Coniston, later to be returned to the Windermere Steamboat Museum where she was on permanent loan before the commencement of the Museum’s restoration.


The Arthur Ransome Society

Arthur Ransome Boats

Obituary Taqui Altounyan

No comments: