It has been a long time in the making, quite literally, but Vera finally arrived on Wednesday evening with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect for such a VIP.
I speak of one of the last remaining original lerrets (a traditional Dorset boat designed specifically for launching off Chesil Beach) that nationally acclaimed boatbuilder Gail McGarva has made into a unique storytelling facility that has taken pride of place on the Marine Theatre forecourt.
Vera’s journey started just after 6pm on Wednesday when Gail and a crew of 40 or so emerged from the Lyme Regis Boat Building Academy that is down at the far end of Lyme Regis near Monmouth Beach; pulling, pushing and guiding Vera who was sitting albeit upside down, on a huge wooden hand drawn trailer (the trailer in itself was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship with its huge metal rimmed wheels). It didn’t take long before the word spread and the number of followers grew as the trailer rumbled along the tarmac road then onto the concrete surface of Marine Parade.
We watched from Theatre Square and could work out where Vera was because two gig boats with crew were waiting offshore and as she approached, each rower raised their oar in a salute. It sent a tingle down my spine and conjured up images of our great seafaring days when we ruled the waves and strove to be the best of the nautical best.
I later discovered there had been a slight hitch when they reached the second gate that limits access along the Parade and found the council had forgotten to unlock it, but luckily there was a restaurateur on hand with a key so Vera’s journey was only temporarily delayed. It wasn’t long before we could hear the rumble of the metal rimmed wheels rolling along the road.
Now if you know the Marine Parade you will know it is pretty level and an easy walk, but once you move up into the town, things get a bit more challenging with nothing but hills on both sides and with a full size lerret, you need to put your back into it, so by the time the crew reached the Theatre archway, they were building up a sweat!
There was a brief moment when I honestly think everyone breathed in to make themselves as thin as possible as Vera passed under the arch, but Gail had done her homework and measured it accurately several days earlier so that Vera moved through as gracefully as she might going off Chesil Beach. It was then just a case of some backy-forward several times before she came to rest in front of the Theatre where she will reside until December.
But she won’t be resting on her laurels the whole time, during half-term she will become the Storyboat where Gail will inspire a small number of children to create their own story based on a single item they are encouraged to bring along.
However, it was after the excitement had died down and I returned to my desk that I noticed a small fishing vessel out at sea; it was a very blustery day and the sea was being churned and violently turned to create enormous undulations of swollen waves and as I watched I felt certain the vessel’s stern was getting lower and when it showed no sign of returning to shore I made ready to put out a shout and call the RNLI. But just as I was about to hurtle down to the lifeboat station, the fishing boat turned and started heading back to the safety of the harbour. I continued to watch it as it rode the waves up, over and down like a powerful but lethargic bucking bronco; it made me feel seasick just watching it!
So from the regal grace of Vera’s arrival to the sturdy thrashing of the fishing boat heading back to shore, it has been a week of spine tingling seafaring excitement, but after all, the Marine Theatre is the ‘little theatre by the sea’.