Boatbuilding & Sail making
Captain James Dunn
In the 18th century, Captain Dunn was a key figure in the community. He ran a successful boatbuilding business at Portmellon and used this trade to hide the profits from his even more successful smuggling activities.
He then had the distinction of being an early convert to the teachings of John Wesley who visited the village eight times between 1778 and 1798. However, we have been told that it took another eleven years before the good captain stepped away from this additional source of income.
The whole area was famous for boat building in the past, making vessels fast enough to outrun the excise boats, and also warships during the Napoleonic Wars.
The old port has retained its character in spite of the tourist influx. Boat building has been done here since 1745, and fishing boats still fish. John Moore's boat building yard is next to this museum. William Frazier was one of several boat builders to work in this building. William started his career as an apprentice to William Davis Lelean - have a look at his Form of Indenture especially his weekly rates of pay, which were set for 7 years. He eventually owned the boatyard and his family had a reputation for producing excellent boats.
Captain George Martin Chesterfield was a distinguished sail maker in Mevagissey and when Captain Dowman acquired the famous Cutty Sark he employed Captain Chesterfield to restore her to her original ship rig.
Percy Mitchell was an exceptional and highly respected Cornish boat builder.
Percy had only a rudimentary education, but taught himself to design boats from a set of drawings in an old encyclopaedia. Starting with only a building space, open to all the wind and weather, no building sheds, no capital, no launching equipment, and with only his practical genius and patient courage, he overcame every obstacle and designed, built and launched a magnificent variety of fishing boats, yachts, tugs and passenger launches..... from a 7 foot praam dinghy to vessels of over 30 tons dead weight.
He built a wide array of wooden craft and, according to Dr Claud Worth (the eminent yacht designer), “an artist in wood”. He took over his employer’s yard in Mevagissey in his twenties and later moved the yard to Portmellon for easier launching.
Before the move, every boat had literally to be dragged by hand over 500 winding feet of road to the Portmellon beach for launching, until he built a 72-footer which was too wide for the roadway. Not being permitted to breach the sea wall outside the yard, he did not hesitate, but launched this huge vessel right over the top of the wall !
During World War II he built motor cutters and MVF boats for the Admiralty. After the war his boats were in great demand; one of his most famous builds being the 28 ton ‘Windstar’ on which the late King George V often sailed, as did Princess Elizabeth, now Queen.