THE Isle of Wight Classic Boat Museum has double the reason to celebrate, after reaching its 25th anniversary and refurbishing its gallery.

And tomorrow (Saturday) there will be an illustrated talk at 2.30pm by Will Hodshon, who circumnavigated the UK in Nipegegi, a 16ft Wayfarer dinghy.

Scroll through the gallery of pictures above to see more pictures of the gallery before and after its refurbishment...

The museum began with the love of old boats when in 1975 Maurice Wilmot purchased Flying Spray, a Thames pleasure launch in need of restoration. With the help of a shipwright friend, Alistair Garland, he restored the boat to a high standard.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The refurbished gallery at the Isle of Wight Classic Boat Museum. Photo by Hamo Thornycroft.

Maurice and another friend, Peter Stevenson, both loved restoration and in 1995, they began to look for a building to house the craft they completed. Maurice and Peter had visited the Island sailing the Dragons Mistress and Mustang with Brian Charlesworth, who introduced them to Ian Lallow.

Ian introduced them to Morris Barton and Felix Hetherington at the IW Council and the idea of a museum being founded on the Island was formed.

The museum’s first site was a derelict warehouse, the former Vectis Transport depot on Newport Quay, which was transformed into a museum with the aid of a Wilmot family loan and opened its doors to visitors in 1996.

Kim Lyal started a Friends Group and a board of trustees was formed in 1998 with Brian Charlesworth, Mark Wynter, Rosemary Joy and Kim Lyal as its first members. A year later the trust was granted charitable status.

In 1999, the Queen Victoria rowing lifeboat was restored with funding from private sources. This gave the museum a welcome amount of publicity and acknowledgement that it was becoming a focus for maritime heritage.

Local residents began to donate their maritime artefacts. This meant a suitable premises to keep them in would have to be found, and more volunteers would be required to take care of them, and so the Classic Boat Museum Gallery was born.

In 2001, the board applied to be a registered museum and 2003 and 2004 were busy years with many rallies attended by boats from the museum’s collection.

In 2004, Ankle Deep, a launch owned and built by Uffa Fox, was donated to the museum and restored by John Collis, Uffa’s crewman. In the same year, the Beken family donated a derelict launch, Rosabelle, which had carried many well-known photographers of yacht racing in The Solent in the 1920s and 30s.

In 2004 the South-East England Development Agency (SEEDA) proposed creating a Marine Heritage Partnership Group to build a museum in the former GKN Aerospace workshop, known as the Union Jack Shed in East Cowes.

The following year, the adjacent Columbine Building became available to create an exhibition space to house the growing collection of maritime artefacts.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The Isle of Wight Classic Boat Museum gallery before refurbishment.

The gallery is still located in the Columbine Building, but plans for the Union Jack Shed (now Wight Shipyard) failed to progress as SEEDA was dissolved and the tasks of economic and cultural regeneration were transferred to other government bodies.

In 2007, Felix Hetherington took over as chair of the trust, so Maurice could concentrate on his first love of restoring boats. The first website was launched in 2007 too.

Over the last ten years, the museum had grown from a club of boat restoring and sailing enthusiasts to being a registered repository of classic boats and maritime heritage artefacts.

To spread the ever increasing work-load, a management team was formed in 2008, under the guidance of Felix Hetherington. Rosemary Joy continued to form a group of volunteers at the gallery, which was slowly gaining a reputation as a venue for display and discussion.

Monthly evening talks on maritime subjects were a success and attracted further artefacts from the public, including three collections of historic glass-plate photographs.

In 2009, the museum applied for accreditation from the National Museums, Libraries and Archives Service. In June of that year, Maurice Wilmot died.

Since its early beginnings, the museum has gone through many changes. In 2012 the boats were moved from Newport to the Albany Building in East Cowes, only to be transferred to the Medina Yard in Cowes six years later.

More recently, funds were raised to completely refurbish the gallery, which reopened on the museum’s 25th anniversary in September.

The museum is being digitally transformed with the addition of audio-visual material to enhance the interpretation of its holdings and a new on-line cloud-based record keeping system has been installed.

The trustees want to build a museum which is inclusive, caring and multi-disciplinary and it is seeking partnerships through its memberships of the Cultural Education Partnership and The Island Collection.

The museum is widening its appeal to encourage schools, families, and young people with virtual sailing experiences on a dinghy simulator, available early next year.

The Isle of Wight Classic Boat Museum stands at the heart of the recently announced economic and cultural regeneration of East Cowes and the Arts Council has named it a priority area. Ambitious plans are underway to collaborate with other museums on the Island and to bring all the maritime artefacts and vessels under one roof.

  • The Gallery in East Cowes is opening its doors tomorrow (Saturday) from 1.30 to 4pm. Everyone is welcome for a free visit and to hear an illustrated talk at 2.30pm by Will Hodshon, who circumnavigated the UK in Nipegegi, a 16ft Wayfarer dinghy, in only 15 days.

Click here to visit the boat museum's website for more details about its collections.

Like reading stories about the Isle of Wight in bygone days? Click here to visit our Looking Back section.