|When I was a small toddler living in Barfield Road, my Dad used to take me out in my pushchair while Mum cooked Sunday dinner. The route was usually down Coast Road by the houseboats and this was in the early 1930s when yachts and other vessels were coming in to be converted to houseboats. I'm pretty sure OTHONA was one of the yachts brought in at that time. She has recently been broken up to make way for another vessel to come in to the berth. OTHONA has been part of Coast Road scene for over eighty years.
OTHONA was one of the oldest of the surviving houseboats, a wooden yawl built as the LADY RUTH in Southampton in 1893. Within a few years she was renamed OTHONA but around the time of World War I she disappears from the registers and perhaps was renamed again. Back in Mersea, close to the Roman fort of Othona, she went back to her earlier name.
My son Laurence was working nearby and took photos of her demise. A number of these yachts which were fit enough to be restored are now sailing again. The first to go was AVEL which is sailing again in the Mediterranean, others to go for restoration were DIADEM, HISPANIA, ARTEMIS. KISMET did not stray far - she was rebuilt at Tollesbury and has since competed in our Town Regattas.
Among famous people who have lived on Coast Road houseboats, the best remembered would be the concert pianist Semprini. He surprised me when chatting to him one day when he said he hated playing the piano and if he could find an other occupation which paid as much he would pack it up tomorrow. I understand when he retired he never played again.
HOTSPUR is another former yacht, resting in the saltings. A veteran dating from 1874, she has been at Mersea since the day World War I was declared. Arthur 'Nutty' Hempstead lived on her for about 30 years, from the 1930s to the 1960s. The picture shows him with Consuelo Semprini - wife of the pianist.
Article published in Mersea Life March 2021.
1875 houseboat LORNA ex VERA