By Trevor Kemp, France Chapter

As a 14-year-old English schoolboy I was fascinated by all things Royal Navy and when I discovered that the Thornycroft company had built a series of 40ft & 50ft torpedo boats known as CMB’s, I thought one would make an interesting model. John Thornycroft were pioneers in stepped hull record-breakers with their later boats racing in the States against Miss America V and others. The Thornycroft company let me borrow a set of GA plans from the archives and the result was a working model that survives to this day, if a little battered. Fast forward 55 years and looking for a new project, I saw an advertisement for “Sereia”, one of six 33 knot, 30-foot Hydroplanes produced by Thornycroft in the late 1920s as civil versions of the Royal Navy’s CMBs.

Naval C.M.B on Trials

“Sereia” 2014

“Sereia” is unique as the only working example of the six, complete with her original engine and all of her owner’s records. The only other one is a static exhibit in the King of Thailand’s museum in Bangkok. I am only the fourth owner and with nearly 100 years of continuous history on record there are many tales to tell. Delivered in 1928 to a Mr. Cyril Gleeson at Tinarana on the River Shannon, Ireland, and originally christened “Sunbeam II”, “Sereia” was regularly used by the him right through to the late 1960’s. Mr. Gleeson and his boat appear to have had quite an impact on the river with one elderly lock keeper quoted as thinking ”it was the devil himself coming up the river” when he heard her approach.

Cyril Gleeson on the Shannon 1930’s

The owner’s log records one trip from Tinarana to St Davies – 224 miles in 7 hours at an average of 31 knots, using 30 gallons of petrol. With her 7-litre 6 cylinder petrol engine on open water cooled exhausts, she still makes an impact!  After a major restoration in 1994 (20,000 copper nails and 1000 hours of varnishing) by her then Italian owner and his team of Brit’s, “Sereia” gained concours successes all across Europe but later fell into disuse until that advertisement in 2010.

Hull & Engine under Restoration

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Old boats and cars are full of surprises but to me it was the challenge of bringing this piece of history back to life. The first thing I discovered was that the starter gear (Bendix) was missing. Little did I realize that this and the story behind it would lead to a 2-year engine rebuild. Finally, in August 2013, “Sereia” was relaunched near Southampton and the joy of having her out up on the plane with the noise and the spray plus a prize at the Henley Boat Festival, was an appropriate tribute to the engineers and others who have helped me.

Getting Wet on the Solent 2019


This year is probably a lost season so we must look to next year – maybe the Royal Cork Yacht Club Cork 300 Celebrations or maybe one of the ACBS Boat Shows around Clayton, 1000 Islands??

Something to Polish

5 Comments

  1. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE.BOATS LIKE YOURS HAVE SO MUCH HISTORY.SPOT ON. I have a 19ft.CHRIS CRAFT BARREL BACK found in a scrap yard in 1975.in BEING SOLD FOR PARTS. BOUGHT IT REBUILT IT.
    STILL HAVE IT GREAT BOAT. THANKS AGAIN.BUDDY.

  2. Trevor:
    Congratulations on keeping her alive. Amazing history to preserve. I was on board with her owner at the Monaco Classic Week back around 1994 when I had BABY BOOTLEGGER in Monaco. Ugo Baravelle had made an amazing effort in bringing her back from her “grave” in Ireland. I was also onboard her sistership in drydock in Bangkok in 1988. So Ugo and I became friends and he came to visit me at Lake Winnipesaukee.

    • Mark

      Please forgive the late response to your comments – living between France & the UK life recently got a lot more complicated plus I was trying to find my records as I was intrigued by your reference to the boat in Bangkok.

      I was fascinated to hear how you got know Ugo Baravalle and Sereia. The world of classic boats owes Ugo an enormous thank you – Sereia, Islay, Mohican – the list is long. The work that he and his team (Derek Smart, David Plummer and the others) was, as you said, amazing – do you still keep in contact, if so please pass on my regards.

      I have photos of the sister boat in Bangkok which have been annotated with the name of a Mr Veeranich. Would these have come from your visit ? According to my records this is hull number 2055 under the name “Todak” and was originally owned by Thornycroft to serve the flying boats operating out of Singapore. Unfortunately when I went to visit the museum a couple of years ago it was closed due to the local political situation. Did you find any information on her ? I presume in Singapore she would have been on contract to Imperial Airways.

      Over here the challenge is to find events for big engined classics. Last season (2019) we did the Thames Traditional Boat Festival, a wonderful social event but limited to 4 knots, followed by a lonely but very exciting (and wet !) 30 knot solo run across a choppy Southampton water to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

      Looking at the photos of Baby Bootlegger (magnificent !) and reading about your approach to antique boats I think you will understand importance to me of getting Sereia on the water for others to see and to continue to do so with her original engine. Coming from the car world just the engine rebuild working with Rowan Bell at Thorne Engineers was an enormous pleasure.

      I wish you an active season and I hope we have the opportunity of meeting

      Trevor

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