Carlotta, her story, by Stephen Mohan, British Colombia & Pacific NW Area
First published in the Gaffers Log, June 2010
The venerable Bristol Channel pilot cutter Carlotta, built in 1899, is still sailing! She’s been owned and sailed by pilots, princesses, lords, criminals, Churchill’s cousin, viscounts, an illegitimate line of the Royal family, and one-eyed Canadians.
Her history includes a daring World War II escape from Guernsey as the Germans were landing at the airport. She’s been laid over by hurricane force winds until the mast trucks were almost hitting the water. She’s raced successfully against 12-metres. The British Army Training Manual was written on board. One time a porpoise swam across her foredeck in a Scottish gale! She’s been dropped four feet from a travel lift, towed by rowboat completely around Texada Island, made passages averaging 180-mile days, and been engineless for the past 40 years.
In the 1970s she fell over on her beaching legs, smashing her port side frames in. That was almost the end of her, but in stepped Canadian Peter Heiberg. Peter bought Carlotta and began a four year rebuild at Thomas Ponsharden’s yard in Falmouth. Peter got her sailing again and set off for Vancouver BC, stopping in the Caribbean for a few years along the way to race in the classic boat circuit out of St.Barts.
Eventually Peter brought Carlotta back to Vancouver, where he was the founding member of the Old Gaffer’s Association of BC. The BC chapter of the OGA frequently got together to race against each other, but somehow the organization dissolved. Now it is back under full sail with a new revived interest spurred on by Mr. Colin Ming.
In 2004 Heiberg sold Carlotta to Barbara and Stephen Mohan. Long time admirers of Carlotta and pilot cutters, the Mohans jumped at the chance to be Carlotta’s next custodians. After one year of sailing and living aboard on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia attention was turned to long term maintenance and repair. The Mohan’s began the process of restoring Carlotta with an eye towards the original workboat she was in 1899.
In 2015 Carlotta was based at Powell River, British Columbia, and purchased by Michael Wright who lives in London. She underwent repairs and restoration work at the yard of Abernethy and Gaudin on Vancouver Island. In 2017, she was transported by road and by sea back to the UK after more than 43 years abroad to her new base on the River Hamble, near Southampton.
Archive silent film footage of Carlotta in 1937