Sailing down memory lane on a tour around the harbour
A FORMER deckhand has made a special journey to Bristol to be reunited with a boat he worked on 50 years ago.
Tony Davies, now 63, began working on a boat called the Wincombelee on the River Thames in London when he was just a 13-year-old schoolboy.
Unfortunately after he stopped working on boats he lost track of the Wincombelee – which unbeknown to him had its name changed to the Tower Belle in 1965 and was moved to Bristol in 1977. It made his attempts over the last 30 years to track the boat down quite difficult but eventually he heard a rumour that it was operating somewhere in the West Country.
He knew its name had changed but did not know what the new name was. Eventually he made contact with Bristol Packet Boat Trips and found that his beloved Wincombelee was one of Bristol's best loved boats.
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After 50 years, Mr Davies has now been reunited with the boat.
He was taken on a tour around the Floating Harbour and was even allowed to drive it again.
He told The Post: "As a child I lived near Teddington Lock in London and was fascinated by the boats.
"One day I was sitting by the lock when a passenger boat came by and the skipper asked me to tighten a rope that had come lose.
"I showed so much interest in the boat that he asked me to come aboard and help out with the trip.
"I was from a council estate and had never been on a boat trip before so was thrilled.
"I suppose I should have been at school a lot of the time I was on the boat but it was such an adventure.
"I was a deck hand and used to do whatever they needed me to, including loading and unloading and helping people on and off.
"This was the first boat I worked on and I have always remembered her – I've been trying to track her down for the last 30 years or so."
Mr Davies, who now lives in Brighton and is a self-employed engineer, took a trip down memory lane as he worked out the slightly changed controls and the new layout.
"The boat now is brilliant – it's in much better condition, and its deck is steel now rather than wood.
"Driving it brought everything back – the controls were very similar and it drove beautifully around the Floating Harbour, past the ss Great Britain."
Luke Dunstan, from Bristol Packet Boat Trips, told The Post: "The Tower Belle was brought to Bristol in 1977 by the enterprising Nick Gray, who had started Bristol Packet Boat Trips four years earlier and was already carrying passengers on the narrow boat Redshank. The boat arrived in Bristol on the back a truck, and if that was not enough indignity, she was dropped by a crane sustaining a hole and dents in the hull.
"After repair she was launched into the harbour and quickly gained popularity. She offered trips through the Gorge to the Bristol Channel – a voyage that had not been available to the general public since the Campbell's paddle steamers had stopped trading in the early 1960s.
"Today she is probably the busiest passenger boat in Bristol.
"We all enjoyed meeting Mr Davies and asking him lots of questions about how the boat used to be and telling him about all the changes she has gone through over the years."