Legendary shipwright turns in his tools

Frank Knights, the well known East Coat shipwright and boatbuilder, has died aged 91. He was also a former Trinity House pilot.

Born in Felixstowe in 1917, he was orphaned at an early age. At 14 he left school and was apprenticed to a local butcher. But boats were to be his real love and he took a job in a local boatyard.

In May 1940 Frank responded to the call for owners of pleasure craft to help evacuate troops from the Dunkirk beaches. With another boat owner, George Arnott, he set off for Ramsgate in Arnott’s boat Atlanta, a former Swedish pilot cutter. To their great disappointment the navy told them that their boat, which had a top speed of 5.5 knots, would be too slow for the job. Undaunted, the pair remained in Ramsgate for ten days, helping where they could.

Returning to Woodbridge he joined the Local Defence Volunteer Force (later the Home Guard) and patrolled the beach at Waldringfield with a shotgun. With typical wry humour he said of that period, ‘We must have done a good job because the Germans never landed on our beach.’

Soon after Dunkirk he joined the Navy, having been prevented from joining earlier because boat-building was a reserved occupation, spending three years in the Mediterranean, working on motor torpedo boats and later on mine sweepers in the Scheldt, before going to Vancouver to commission a new ship on which he sailed to Colombo.

After leaving the Navy in 1946 Frank decided to work for himself. Travelling on a bicycle laden with a case full of tools, he repaired boats in Woodbridge and Waldringfield. When the Woodbridge Quay Company was formed, including Bass Dock and Ferry Quay, he was able to borrow a small amount of money enabling him to buy into the company. So Frank Knights Shipwrights was born in a building on the quayside.

He worked on all types of vessels, designing and building small sailing boats and inshore fishing vessels. Most of the Aldeburgh fishing fleet and many of the Orford boats were built at the yard. Frank established a reputation throughout East Anglia for producing good, small fishing boats.

In 1938 Frank had bought an old 36-foot Colchester oyster smack, the Yet, which he set about restoring with Christine, then his girl-friend. It became their first marital home. They later sailed her, venturing as far as the Dutch waterways. After owning the Yet for more than 64 years Frank sold her about five years ago, saying it was a bit of a wrench ‘because you see, I’d had her longer than I’d had the wife.’

After the Yet the couple moved into a former assault craft which he’d converted into a floating home. They lived in this, moored alongside Ferry Quay, for twenty years or so. In the mid 1960s the couple moved from their houseboat and into a flat above the boatyard.

In 1965 Frank and Christine leased part of their premises to the newly-formed Woodbridge Cruising Club and the club remained there for over ten years.

The funeral service was held on October 2 at 11am at Ipswich Crematorium.