On Thursday afternoon, as Aberystwyth’s historic quay was packed with yachts berthed in a welcome festive burst of the town’s personality, the boat I’m floating on – Glo Seafood Deck – also stands poised. The corner of the Quay opposite will change on Monday, on the fifth anniversary of the death of its last boat, Royal Albert, when the new one, Lady Victoria, is launched.
This little pebble-bedecked fishing boat may appear clunky on the water – but inside it’s gleaming mahogany.
“My grandfather, Thomas Arnold, built her. He was a sea captain with WH Smith,” says Tommy Broadfoot, sitting on the back deck in the tie-dye sun. A miniature replica of one of his grandfather’s handmade drawings decorates the vessel’s leather deck-posts. “He had only just finished teaching me how to row in the summer.”
Tommy Broadfoot’s ‘My grandfather, Thomas Arnold, built her’. Photograph: Godfrey Drysdale
Tommy’s teenage son, also “Tommy”, is waiting in the harbour to join him on the quay. They hop into the old ladder-lift which gives access to the dinghy’s main deck. “It was originally a canoe,” says Tommy. “Only he could get it in and out.”
As we take a trip across the water, the family’s three cats look on, peering with longing, from behind the deck.
First of all, you need a boat for Christmas!
“I’m not 100% sure but it’s from [Gwyn Edwards, now the head of the Waterfront Trust in Aberystwyth],” says Tommy as he loads up the boat with some boxes of ready-packed fish for a meal for friends on the Quay. “The hull has gone down to just 6in thick. It doesn’t look like a boat but it is. It’s lovely.”
As we hit the water, it’s hard not to feel swept away by the power of the water. Even with the boat’s walls white, there is a nice red glow to the water at night. The main deck feels roomy and welcoming for a night out.
“It’s not a boat,” says Tommy when I ask him if it’s anything like one. “It’s my mum’s boat. I kept going back to her and saying, ‘It looks like a boat!’ Then I went and got it. I think I’m trying to get away from the same thing and getting away from the lifeboat life.”
First of all, you need a boat for Christmas! You can buy a beautiful one on their website here (£900 plus £3,000 delivery). Alternatively, they will take you down to the Quay on Friday, join the quay party on Saturday and re-launch the new one on Sunday.
The dock they’re naming after Aberystwyth’s last fishing boat for Aberystwyth’s last fishing boat. Photograph: Godfrey Drysdale
This is part of an upcycling effort on the quay. The bridge and one of the giant pontoons have already been given a whole new look by a company called Company of Docks. “We’ve done about seven of these re-designs,” says Tom Vivid, one of the design team. “It’s the only way you can tell what [an old ship is] like by looking at it.”
Asked what the nostalgia element is, he says: “People like [the names] because they look elegant.” The pontoons, he admits, do look a bit like boats, and the bridge looks like a round jelly jar.
From the boat, Tommy and I head over to St Dolmen square where the end of the road slopes down towards the river. The old full-size dock now houses a pizzeria and pub. At the top of the revolve is another old-fashioned vessel, with a sign which reads