The MA James

The MA James was a schooner constructed in Porthmadog, Wales, by David Williams in 1900. During the vessel’s working life she operated from several ports in the UK and was used for international trade. The vessel now lies abandoned on the western bank of the River Torridge, North Devon, where she was deposited at the end of WWII.


The MA James lies on the western side of the River Torridge to the south of Appledore and the Bidna Shipbuilding yard and to the north of Bideford. It is part of a collection of 5 hulks, of which, all but one (a modern fiberglass vessel) were deposited on site during the same period. The other hulks that form the collection are the ketch Hobah, the schooner / ketch Emma Louise and the ketch Bessie Clarke.


The MA James was constructed in the smaller form of the two kinds (defined simply by their size, with the smaller of the two renowned for better shallow water performance) of Western Ocean Yachts constructed in Porthmadog, North Wales. These yachts were all constructed to be less than two hundred tonnes, as this allowed them to operate without a licenced crew mate, requiring only the ships master to hold a mariner’s licence. This allowed cheaper, smaller crews to operate the last trade of which merchant sail was more profitable than steam – the fish trade. The Porthmadog Western Ocean Yachts were described as an ideal small merchant sailing ship to trade continuously under all conditions on deep water, and some of the most graceful and beautiful ships the world has ever seen. As these ships were among some of the final wooden hulled merchant vessels ever constructed, they represent some of the most advanced or refined designs in wooden shipbuilding to have been used.

The vessel originally operated out of Borth-Y-Gest, Carnarvon, under John Jones for seventeen years during which time she traded with the continent and crossed the Atlantic several times before spending time in the coastal trade. In 1930 the vessel was refitted changing the sail plan and installing an engine.

In WWII the MA James along with the Earl Cairns, the Margaret Hobley, the Welcome and the Donald and Doris was requisitioned for barrage balloon service protecting Falmouth Harbour. During her war time service the MA James fell into dis-repair and following the war the vessel was considered a total constructive loss and was sold to the Harris Yard as a wreck for £750. Following this the MA James served one last duty of lifting a fallen crane out of the river, before being laid to rest where she now lies. Once abandoned on the banks of the Torridge, the timber that was in good condition on the hulk was salvaged and reused in various vessels such as the Deera, now a hulk in the River Hayle, Cornwall.

The importance of the MA James as an example of a Western Ocean Yacht grew as whilst she was laid up and under consideration following WWII, the Isallt, the last Porthmadog ship afloat, ran aground in 1948 near Courtown, County Wexford, leaving the modest hulk of the MA James as the best example of such a vessel in existence.

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