The First Class Essex Smack Pioneer CK18 made the most extraordinary journey of her 140 year lifetime when she was transported by road from Gt. Totham to Brightlingsea which was her home port throughout her long working life.
The main problem was to find a trailer long and low enough to take the 70' long and 14' 9" high hull. Least clearance on the route was 15' 4" and the PIONEER at this stage weighed 23 tons. She was first jacked onto RSJs blocked up at each side clear of the hull. The trailer was reversed under the ship and then raised to take her weight. The RSJs were removed and the PIONEER secured onto the trailer. Ground clearance was minimal.
During this 3 hour operation a thunderstorm broke. The sky darkened and rain and hail lashed the PIONEER's shed. Water ran in torrents down the farm drive and soaked the field of wheat over which the PIONEER had to travel before reaching a metalled road. The driver took a run at the field, got 20 metres, and stuck! A single tractor was put on the lorry's head with no success then another and another. The PIONEER was hard ashore on the Totham Banks. But then even bigger and more powerful tractors appeared. At last 4 great beasts were coupled up side by side. Engines roared and belched black smoke. The Pioneer lurched forward and, as if reluctant to leave the home where she had been so carefully restored, set off down the field. She gathered speed and, with a crowd running behind, the whole yoke swept out onto the Colchester Road.
The PIONEER set off for Colchester. A police escort headed the convoy, blue lights flashing, followed by the support vehicle. Then came the PIONEER, her 15 ft beam filling the narrow road. A queue of traffic followed on behind. The PIONEER was driven into Colchester as darkness fell. The tight nip at the top of Head Street took 20 minutes to clear. The Town came to a standstill. She then rolled majestically past the Town Hall before parking up in the Crescent in front of Colchester Castle where she spent the next two days on view. Her presence in the centre of town reaffirmed her links with Colchester, her Port of Registry, a town associated with the oyster trade since Roman times.
On Friday evening the PIONEER began her final leg of the journey to Brightlingsea. As she climbed the hill past All Saints Church a crowd of people greeted her and from there on all along the route to the Hard people waved and cheered. It was a grand "Welcome Home". Early on Saturday morning she was reversed down the Hard and two cranes swung her off the trailer. Supported on her own legs the Pioneer rested on Brightlingsea Hard for the first time for at least 70 years.
Crowds gathered on the foreshore. The Band of the Colne Community School played rousing nautical airs and, as a fleet of Smacks and Bawleys watched the launching ceremony, the SB XYLONITE sailed into the Creek to anchor off the Wharf. It all recalled a bygone age.
The Mayor of Brightlingsea said this was her first duty as Mayor and a proud day for the Town which once numbered fishing smacks in dozens. The Deputy of the Cinque Port Liberty of Brightlingsea, said he wore the same robes and chain of office that his predecessor, John Bateman, wore in 1889 when the PIONEER was launched for the second time.
Then, in a simple and moving ceremony, the Vicar of All Saints and Saint James, Brightlingsea blessed the ship and anointed her stem with Holy Oil. Finally, champagne was poured over the Pioneer's bow, the band struck up, the smacks and barges rang bells and blew foghorns and exactly at that moment the Pioneer lifted and floated on the tide.
The PIONEER was home at last. Many thanks to all who have made it possible.
The PIONEER on view outside Colchester Castle.
The PIONEER is lowered onto Brightlingsea Hard ready for launching.
Copied with thanks from the 2003 West Mersea Town Regatta Programme.