History Repeats Itself : Deben 4 Tonner : Leading Wind

thought for the day :

Beware of social media !


Over the years I have owned a ragtag  collection of boats and my latest is no exception, “Leading Wind, a Deben 4 Tonner, built in 1938, has had a large number of previous owners, not least my late mother, Pat Wood, who restored the boat in Ipswich in 1992.  Sadly, ill  health led her to sell the boat, only to buy another smaller boat almost immediately but that’s another story !

For more years than I care to admit,  on the outskirts of Portsmouth, I have been involved in a labour of love – the restoration of  a little 1920’s gaff rigged cutter – therefore I certainly had no intention of buying another boat ! However, thanks to the perils of social media, a friend from a FACEBOOK Classic Boat group suggested that I looked at a link to an online auction site, where as luck [fate ?] would have it my mothers old boat was for sale and what’s more it was lying ashore on the South Coast – not the East, where I last saw her.

I drove down to the boatyard in West Sussex and was greeted by a very pretty little boat that had been  neglected for many years and although tempted, when I got home I decided not to make a bid on her. Instead I emailed the owner, wished him luck with the sale and told him of my connection to the boat and East Anglia and mentioned that I had a lot of paperwork and photos of the boat, which perhaps the new owner might like. I received a very nice reply and I continued watching the auction site and spent a lot of time deliberating about whether to place a bid. Next I spoke to various friends in the marine business and they reminded me of the perils of buying old wooden boats. The end of the auction came and went and I had mixed feelings –  pleased with myself for not getting tempted but a little deflated. The next weekend I returned to my mothers old house and discovered reams of bills of sales,  assorted paperwork and even more photos of the “Deben 4 Tonner'” and began to wonder whether I had made the right decision. Then on the following Monday I received an email from the owner saying that the person who “won” the auction admitted that he “didn’t have any money” and couldn’t honour his obligation to buy Leading Wind. The owner then went on to say that he wanted to walk away from the transaction and that he wanted to offer the boat to me at no cost – a dilemma  and possibly – very foolishly, I said yes please !

A couple of weeks passed by and we exchanged a number of emails and although the boat was technically mine I became worried that the whole thing was not going to happen – but it did and the owner and I met in a car park, exchanged a bottle of wine for a bill of sale, a 22 foot classic boat plus a car full of assorted bits and pieces of the boat that the owner had in dry storage at his home.

Leading Wind was described as a “Project” which sounded alarm bells straight away – as a former director of a yacht chandlery and someone who has spent many years working on wooden boats, I know a little bit about the potential issues.  However,  as an artist I am all too often ruled by my heart. I knew that the boat had a considerable amount of work done on her and from my cursory inspection, the hull was basically sound but as the boat had been left ashore with only a cockpit cover over her and there were signs that rainwater had got inside and caused a multitude of problems. The previous owner suffered ill health and was unable to get down to the boat to regularly pump out the bilges and ensure clear ventilation and again this had taken it’s toll. Added to this, over the years various local scoundrels had helped themselves to bronze deck fittings and the remaining screw holes had  compromised the integrity of the glass sheathed plywood deck  – I would only know the full extent of this once I had stripped off the toe rails, rubbing strakes and sheathing off – exposing the surface of the ply. The previous owner had sanded the peeling deck paint off in readiness for a new layer of protection but sadly the new paint never got applied !

One thing that I learned about wooden boats is the importance of engaging a marine surveyor to do a report early on and that’s exactly what I did.  Inclement weather delayed the process a little but we received  an interim/summary report by the end of the following week with a comprehensive list of issues to be dealt with.

Another uncanny coincidence was that our surveyor was not only very enthusiastic about the Deben 4 Tonners but he was a former manager of the Whisstock’s boatyard in Woodbridge  that built them.

It was my intention to get a professional shipwright involved early on, to get the majority of the difficult stuff done over the following twelve months – for my part I would crack on with the cosmetic work and the interior, which had to be stripped to allow access to the frames, many of which needed replacing. We discovered rot in the gripe, which is a large flat piece of elm that sits on top of the wooden keel and supports the mast step – so that along with some new floors (bilateral beams) was the first major job. In addition, the metal keel needed separating from the boat to facilitate  inspecting/ replacing the keel bolts but that’s another story.

The engine had to come out to allow further access to the structure of the boat. As the engine was winterised possibly 10 years ago, this needed some TLC and although it looked relatively clean there was quite likely internal water damage – so the engine was packed off to a specialist who stripped in down and rebuilt it. The 31 foot mast had been condemned and a quote was obtained for its replacement. The standing rigging and fittings all looked in relatively good condition so these will be transferred from the old to the new mast although at this stage is not a priority. I aim to get rid of the deck stepped tabernacle and put the mast back through the deck. This will mean that I can restore the cleaner lines down below and give easier access forward by dismantling the bulkheads which were put in to support and distribute the weight of the deck stepped mast. My mother was responsible for that modification as it was her intention to take the boat up to the Norfolk Broads and it was thought to be easier to have the mast on deck to facilitate getting it up and down to go under the numerous bridges.

So to summarise, History Repeats Itself , “Leading Wind” will live again and now that she is back  under Wood family ownership she will be fully restored [again] to her prime in 1938 when her lady owner sailed her single handed around Britain.

At present I have no plans of sailing around Britain but as an artist it’s my intention to use my “Deben” as a floating studio – every marine artist should have one !


Chris N Wood



About chriswoodartist

painter, print-maker and illustrator


  1. Sue Cox

    Hello Chris,
    Sue Whisstock here – I’ve just come across your article about Leading Wind on Google and am so delighted to hear that she is lucky enough to have found you! Claude Whisstock (which is spelt with 2 s’s please note!) was my father, he passed away in 1990. He built Leading Wind, in 1938 for Mr M H Murray – the sixth Deben Four Tonner of the total 35 which were built.
    In 2017 I published a book, a photographic memoir, ‘The History of Whisstock’s Boatyard’ which charts the history of the yard and includes a couple of photo’s of Leading Wind. The book has sold very well, and I have since been busy giving a series of talks and writing articles about the history of the yard. My brother George Whisstock also worked at the yard from 1963 onwards, and as my mother, Joan was a director, it was truly a family affair. My brother now lives in Maine US, still designing boats – so it fell to me to record the yard’s history and to remember some of the wonderful boats built at Whisstock’s Boatyard. It’s so good to hear of one that is being restored. I hope you are progressing well with your project – I understand what a huge undertaking it is!
    I’d love to hear how you are getting on.
    Best wishes,


  2. Hi Sue
    Many thanks for contacting me. I was also recently in touch with David Hervey Murray, son of the late George H.M., who spent a lot of time sailing Leading Wind just before she was mothballed in Port Navas for WW2. George visited my mother and Leading Wind when she was restored for the first time by the Wood family in Ipswich in the early 1990’s. I know Whisstock’s (with 2 x S’s) very well and as a young lad I learnt to sail in Woodbridge and often passed your family boatyard, either on foot or aboard various boats that we kept just up river at Robertson’s Boatyard. Leading Wind is progressing very well indeed and now has an interior again ! My wife and I recently celebrated our 44th Wedding Anniversary by staying aboard for the weekend . It was a typical “Wood weekend” with gales and driving rain but the Origo Stove worked well and we had a memorable time ! We are very nearly at a stage where we can move from our berth under our own steam and venture out into Chichester Channel and beyond. The engine and electrics have to be sorted out first but she will be sailing again before Christmas ! I’m sure you have seen the other posts on Leading Wind but if not there are several detailing the Rennaissance ! I will try and track down a copy of your book. We met Peter Clay recently and he was very keen on hosting an exhibition in the Viking Shed – so watch this space ! I’m currently creating a body of work documenting the restoration of Leading Wind and had a wood engraving of Leading Wind selected for an exhibition at the BANKSIDE Gallery in London. More paintings, prints and drawings of LW to follow. Cheers for now Chris

  3. John Heath

    Hello Chris,

    I was so pleased to find out that ‘Leading has been saved and under restoration as this boat was owned by a friend of mine who sailed around the East coast. I have shown him some of your pictures and he was very pleased to see that it is in safe hands. He believes that it used to have a Stuart Turner engine installed. There is a café in Woodbridge that has a mural on the wall featuring wisstock boatyard and several Deben 4 Tonners Inc Leading Wind.



    • Hi John
      Many thanks for your kind remarks and for getting in touch. How long ago did your friend own Leading Wind ? I have a history of the owners from about 1990 onwards. A writer called Alan Gurney had the boat and kept her in the TideMill Marina at Woodbridge and it was he that replaced the Stuart Turner with a nice new Yanmar . I have also been in touch with the relatives of the first ever owner of Leading Wind and they also mentioned the photographic mural in the cafe – as yet I haven’t seen it for myself but will do soon ! All the very best and take care ! Chris Wood . Instagram chrisnwood2062

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: