Red sails in the sunset... the Three Brothers, a local icon

The Three Brothers will enter harbour Picture: Pier Road Diaries
The Three Brothers will enter harbour Picture: Pier Road Diaries

A lovely photograph of the red-sailed, gaff-rigged wooden fishing boat coming into Littlehampton harbour under full sail prompted me to write in a column some years back...

‘The Three Brothers is a 28-foot Cornish Crabber owned and beautifully maintained by the Rockall brothers David, Alan and Brian. It is permanently moored at Fisherman’s Quay by the lifeboat station and is a popular visual attraction and no more so than when riding over the bar and up river to that berth under full sail. Such a sight also serves as a reminder of what the River Arun was, and always should be about, and was featured heavily in much of the publicity, photographs and drawings when the East Bank development was proposed and, no doubt, was part of the ambiance that helped sway many into buying property there…’

Submerged Picture: Christine Elson

Submerged Picture: Christine Elson

That was from a column written about three years or so ago, and since then she has not looked her best.

The brothers work hard to keep her in trim but it seems like painting the Forth Bridge – no sooner do you get to one end do you have to begin all over again – and that means inside, outside, rigging and engine.

Hard work for even young men and these lads are not as agile as they once were.

Still a talking point though for both locals and visitors to the riverside walkway, and she strikes a delightful pose for the cameras when entering or leaving our harbour.

Beached Picture: Christine Elson

Beached Picture: Christine Elson

The boat’s history is pretty chequered: Alan tells me she began life as the Lady Betty, a gaff-rigged Cornish Crabber, built in the early thirties and pretty basic below deck.

The three brothers bought the boat as a wreck in the mid-sixties.

In 2003 they sailed her around the east coast and on up to Scotland and then back through the Caledonian Canal, down the west coast and home to her safe Littlehampton berth at Fisherman’s Quay where she has held fast and been much admired for these many years.

It was a hairy trip though, a close encounter with a minke whale and, I am told by big sister Josie, it was a voyage which frequently had them huddled in prayer as the sea threatened to claim them and punish their effrontery for attempting such a voyage in the first place.

Drying out

Drying out

However, the boat has never let them down and for some reason their brave little adventure went unsung and unnoticed.

I have been to sea in her several times over the long years and the last time out we caught some mackerel which Alan boiled in seawater and we ate with our fingers.

Finest mackerel I have ever tasted, especially washed down by a dram of the good stuff!

The brothers themselves are very much of the sea.

The Three Brothers will enter harbour Picture: Pier Road Diaries

The Three Brothers will enter harbour Picture: Pier Road Diaries

Alan built himself a small sailboat while still at Connaught Road School and David lived on a converted Second World War P-Boat, the fish-like skeleton of which can still be seen on the West Bank mudflats.

Brian built the graceful 45-foot gaff-rigged cutter the Mary Winifred from the keel up in a barn and she is another lovely sight when under sail and moving clear of the Arun on a high tide.

The Three Brothers frequently voyaged to the Isle of Wight, she has been to France on several occasions and served them well in the Solent’s famous Old Gaffer’s Race.

She may have been the last to cross the finish line but the elderly lady earned much admiration from mariners in younger, sleeker and more luxurious plastic craft.

I believed, if carefully maintained, she would serve the brothers well for some time to come and would remain the ever iconic and visual joy for to river watchers in Littlehampton... Or would it?

Sadly, a couple of weeks ago the old lady slipped her mooring, capsized at a very high tide and sank beneath the green waters of our lovely River Arun.

The river takes no prisoners and has little respect for old ladies who lose their footing.

Local help was on hand and with generous support from the harbour master and the board, she was soon righted, pumped out, grounded, demasted and with a sad lack of dignity, hauled onto a trailer and taken to their yard where she now forlornly awaits her fate.

My hope, and that of many others, is that she will get the care and attention she so rightly deserves and, with any luck and one heck of a lot of hard work, she will be fully restored to something near her former glory and return to Fisherman’s Quay to be admired for many years yet to come.