Chronicles: 1949 ‘Nova Espero’ (New Hope)

There were no Carnivals during the second world war or immediately afterwards, as Ventnor concentrated on repairing the damage of those years and getting back to normal life.  Peace had returned, but life was not easy – food rationing continued until the early 1950s.  In 1949 the ‘Ventnor Wardens’, a group formed improve entertainment in the town, organised the first post-war Carnival, which was a resounding success.  A symbolic centrepiece of the procession was the appropriately named  ‘Nova Espero’ (Esperanto for ‘New Hope’) the 20 foot boat which brothers Colin and Stan Smith had designed, built and then used to cross the Atlantic in 43 days earlier that year – one of the smallest boats ever to have made the crossing at that time.

Bringing them to Ventnor Carnival was a great coup for the Wardens and as the pictures below show, during the Carnival Colin and Stan were  surrounded by crowds of autograph hunters, and entertained by the Council leader (shown here on the Esplanade talking with one of the brothers).  And the story of their Atlantic crossing is still a wonderful one, worth retelling.

The two brothers worked at Saunders Roe in Cowes, but trained as pilots in Canada during the war.  They were clearly accomplished designers, but ‘Nova Espero’  was just an open boat with an upturned dinghy as a ‘cabin’ in which the brothers took turns to sleep – you can see the cabin in the photograph here showing them on their arrival in England.  The whole enterprise was wonderfully amateurish, as Colin describes on the website ‘Yarmouth and Thorley Voices’:

We didn’t know if anyone had done any trips, prepared for it beforehand or anything like that, so we just got what we thought we needed and that was it.  Sponsorship, we’d never heard of that . . .  got loads and loads of ships biscuits, far more than we needed, I suppose, and lots and lots of tinned stuff and that kind of stuff, powdered milk and lots of sugar.  Couldn’t do without that. We had no bunks.  We just about had sleeping bags, laid those out on the cabin floor, you see.  I’d say we were probably wet most of the time.

We had some pretty nasty weather at times too of course. We had a little portable radio we hoped to get the time checks or weather checks or something like that.  Didn’t get a peep out of it from the time we left so we dropped it over the side and that was that.  . . . We had a little primus stove we used to hold between our knees, and a little pressure cooker.  We used that a lot.  We didn’t do too bad you know.

They kept the whole enterprise very low key, saying We didn’t want anyone to know we were sailing across the Atlantic because we didn’t want to worry our parents. It never occurred to us that anyone would be interested in our journey.  But a passing ship which came over to check the tiny craft early on in their trip alerted other vessels.  To their surprise, in the final stages of their journey they were greeted by a Royal Navy destroyer with a huge ‘Welcome Home’ banner and they arrived at Dartmouth to a rapturous welcome.

The original plan had been to make the crossing both ways, but, again in Colin’s words:  Afterwards, mostly it was going up to this do up in London, and this do and all that sort of thing, which we just hadn’t expected of course, and all that sort of nonsense.  But there was one firm that wanted to turn the boat into production or something, but we didn’t go along with it, we were too busy. We were going back to Canada and set up in business over there but it didn’t come off.  I came back to this country, met my wife and got married and that was that.

Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  Photographs from our Collection.  Information and quotations from ‘Yarmouth and Thorley Voices’ and Daily Express website.