The small Essex village of Tollesbury has a fascinating maritime heritage and still has a vibrant sailing fraternity today. The village sign and Parish Church window both depict ‘Endeavour’, one of the British entries in the Americas Cup during the 1930s. Apart from the racing, there’s a special tale to tell of the yacht and some of the men of Tollesbury from the early 20th century.
Many local fishermen spent the winter working their oyster smacks or sailing the special barges, known as ‘stackies’, laden with straw and hay on passage to London. Along with men from West Mersea, Rowhedge and Wivenhoe the experienced sailors and skippers were sought after as crew during the summer months on the big yachts in the 1920s and 1930s such as ‘Britannia’, ‘Shamrock’, ‘Endeavour’, ‘Velsheda’ and ‘Astra’ as they raced in the company of kings on the Clyde, the Solent and across the Atlantic in the America’s Cup.
The 1930 ‘Shamrock V’ America’s Cup crew all hailed from Tollesbury: Tom Cudmore, Lemman Cranfield, Cyril, Ted (Snr), Ted Heard (Jnr) and Billy Wilkinson. ‘Endeavour I’ was the 1934 challenger for the America’s Cup and in 1937 she crossed the Atlantic in company with her replacement, ‘Endeavour II’, to train together in advance of the race itself. The return passage involves the tale of a severed towline, which forms an exhibit in the Mersea Museum. ‘Endeavour’ was being brought back across the Atlantic by the motor yacht ‘Viva II’ when the towline broke, leaving her to sail back amidst considerable concern over the crew’s safety, since nothing was heard from her during the passage.