February 2009:
Paddle Steamer Model Maker Chris Wood

February 2009:
Paddle Steamer Model Maker Chris Wood

Chris Wood (pictured above left at the helm of the Fairmile B Poole Belle (2) with Neil “Smiler” Purdy, right) has not only enjoyed two highly successful professional careers simultaneously but also is a model maker of exceptional skill.

Inspired and helped by Nick James with his model of the Cardiff Queen and Tony Horn with his of the Ryde, Chris started work on his finely detailed example of the Embassy (pictured above) in the 1960s.

And what a superb model it is. This is the Embassy just as she was in that era.

There is the lovely engine room skylight on deck which bathed the real engines in light, the odd Cosens’s designed induced draft duct for the boiler air forward of the funnel which made the bridge rattle and the brown painted “Foamite” tank with special fire extinguisher filling for putting out any potential blaze in the boiler room.

Born in Tuckton, a stone’s throw from the Stour and only just down the road from Bournemouth, Chris Wood knew the Embassy well. When he joined the Westminster Bank in 1963, Bournemouth Pier was only just down the road from work so, in his lunchtimes, he used to walk down to watch the comings and goings of Bolson’s various passenger vessels and, in the mornings and evenings, the Embassy herself.

He has fond memories of cruises aboard her particularly one during his time at Bournemouth College when she was chartered for a jazz evening featuring the then little known Manfred Mann.

Chris’s first job was not with the bank but years earlier, whilst still at school, as a crewboy on the launch Headland Belle running between Mudeford and Christchurch. Later he graduated to be a driver of the rival Funnel Boat Service fleet and gained his first “command” in 1960, the graceful Stour Queen, pictured above with her distinctive curved slipper stern and with a youthful Chris at the wheel.

Later in the 1960s, whilst still progressing up the banking ladder by day, in his time off, Chris continued his nautical career “deep sea” as master of a little hydrofoil and also the Island Queen (pictured above with Chris at the helm) running from Boscombe to the Isle of Wight. It was around this time that the Board of Trade, as then was, introduced the first qualification for masters of small domestic passenger vessels, called a Boatman’s Licence, and Chris was amongst the first candidates in the country to take and pass the necessary exam.

Various bank career moves took him off to the West Country and Bristol and it was then, whilst exiled from Bournemouth, that he started building a magnificent working model of Sealink’s Portsmouth to Ryde passenger ferry Brading.

This is another stunning model packed with wholly accurate detail.

Chris continued to get afloat to keep up the necessary sea time for renewing his licence whenever he could sailing as relief master of the Bolson vessels at Bournemouth in his summer holidays and, when he was based in Plymouth, the Coral Star, (the former Bolson’s Poole Belle (1)) then running between Paignton and the River Dart.

In his later years at what had become the NatWest, Chris was managing the Bank’s relationships in the Wessex Area before deciding to take advantage of early retirement in 2000.

After that it was back to boats again, relieving one day a week on each of the Dorset Belles as well as on the Mudeford Catamaran Ferry Josephine and the Headland Belle on which he started out all those years ago. Chris is pictured above on the bridge of the Poole Belle (3) alongside Bournemouth Pier with, from left to right, Craig Collins, Joe Lambert and Peter Lamb.

In 2001 he was invited to become a Poole Harbour Commissioner and served two terms totalling six years bringing to the job his keen intelligence and a lifetime’s experience of the domestic passenger vessel business.

Now retired, Chris still relieves on the Mudeford boats and has kept up his expert model making skills. A wonderful model of the Poole Belle (2) has come off the stocks and he is mid way through one of the Poole Belle (3).

All of Chris Wood’s models are fantastic and the thing that really makes them for me is the detail. Looking into the back of the wheelhouse of his Brading you can imagine yourself into that world just like stepping through the door of a wardrobe to find on the other side another and more magical land where everything is the same but better. A place where ships don’t go wrong, don’t go rusty and don’t grow old but stay forever as they were, pristine, safe, shiny and new. It is a rare skill.

Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.

John Megoran

John Megoran