Dick Durham


Dick Durham, aged 18, at the wheel of Cambria 1970

About Dick Durham

Dick Durham was taught to sail by his father, Richard Stephens Durham, in 1963 and cruised in his first boat, Jonah, a 12ft Heron-style, gunter-rigged dinghy around the creeks of his home at Leigh-on-Sea, in the Thames Estuary.

He soon swapped the 12 footer for Pagan, a GP 14, then Phantom, an International 18, followed by two Essex One Designs, Sarabande and Polonaise.

In all these boats he cruised the Thames, Medway and East Coast rivers.

He left home aged 18 and (above), as mate, threw his kitbag aboard Cambria, the mule-rigged Thames sailing barge and the last vessel in Great Britain and Northern Europe to carry cargo under sail alone. Under legendary skipper Bob Roberts Dick spent the last 14 months of Cambria’s trading life loading freight in the London Docks and transporting it to ports on the East Coast. He was aboard Cambria in October 1970 when she carried her last freight, 100 tons of ground nut cake, used in cattle feed, from a ship in Tilbury Docks to Ipswich.

He then worked as a rigger aboard the topsail schooner, Captain Scott, after her launch at Buckie, in the Moray Firth, on Scotland’s east coast, and later aboard Kathleen & May, the West Country schooner, while she was based in Millbay Dock, Plymouth.

He was then bosun aboard Black Pearl, a 55ft brigantine, and sailed from the Hamble to Belle Isle in an aborted November passage to Antigua. During a Force 10 storm in Biscay the vessel was severely damaged and towed to port by the St Nazaire lifeboat.

His first cruising boat was Almita, a 26ft centre-board Bermudian cutter, built in 1906 at Teignmouth, Devon and designed by FB Howden. In her he made extensive cruises with fellow yachtsman, Pete Willetts throughout the Dutch Frisian Islands, and along the coast of Holland, Belgium and France.

Next came Powder Monkey, a 30ft Yeoman Junior sloop, built in 1957 and designed by Alan Buchanan. In her he cruised to the Solent, East Coast and again returned to Holland, the Frisian Islands and the Dutch canals, and to the northern French ports.

He then switched to GRP with Minstrel Boy, a Contessa 32, built in 1973, and designed by John Sadler. In her he cruised the Norman ports of Dieppe, Fecamp, Le Havre and Honfleur.

He has sailed the Channel Islands, Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the West Country, Norway and Sweden in friends’ boats and has chartered in the Med, Caribbean and Andaman Sea.

Following a 20 year career on the Fleet Street red tops and at CNN.com Europe he joined the staff of Yachting Monthly, a magazine for which he had written since 1985, as news editor in 2001 and worked there until 2014 when he left to work as a freelance, although he still holds the YM title Editor-at-Large and writes a monthly column.

During this time he sailed in the Fastnet Race of 2001 aboard  Warpath, a Bashford Howison 41, helped deliver the gaff ketch-rigged Brixham trawler, Leader from Fort William to Dartmouth, sailed as crew aboard the 12 metre Victory of Burnham during the America’s Cup Jubilee and was crew leader aboard Sir Francis Chichester’s former ketch, Gipsy Moth IV during two legs of her restoration circumnavigation: Gibraltar to Tenerife and transitting the Suez Canal.

For Yachting Monthly he has tested second-hand boats in Home Waters and new boats in the Baltic and Croatia.

He now also writes for Classic Boat magazine and sails a gaff cutter, Wendy May, built in 1936, and designed by Maurice Griffiths.

He has two daughters, Katie and Emily, and a son, Richard, and still lives in Leigh-on-Sea with his wife Cathy.  

Polonaise at Snape Maltings in Suffolk and right: Almita rounds the North Goodwin light vessel

Powder Monkey approaching the North Foreland after crossing the North Sea from Nieuwpoort, Belgium

 Bob Roberts and his border collie Penny with a young Dick Durham aboard Cambria 1970

Cambria loading cases of tinned pineapple juice from a ship in the Royal Docks with Dick tallying in the freight, far left. Right: Dick and Bob shift pallets in Cambria's hold after discharging cattle cake in Colchester. The pallets were a device to try and keep the cargo dry as the barge, in her last months, leaked badly.

Cambria today, rebuilt with a £900,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Wearing the white cap is racing skipper, Richard Titchener, the director of Sea Change, a charity which is building a new sailing  barge to carry freight and be crewed by youngsters.

Dick Durham at the helm of Gipsy Moth IV, restored after a campaign by Yachting Monthly. She was taken around the world again, via the Trade Wind route and crewed by youngsters. 

 Dick at the helm of his Contessa 32, Minstrel Boy, in the River Crouch, Essex.

Bowled over with his new boat Dick helms Wendy May, a 26ft gaff cutter in Hadleigh Ray,Leigh-on-Sea, Essex where he lives. (Pic: Bob Aylott.)