A “little ship” with a history which takes in rescuing troops from Dunkirk to mapping the sea bed and fishing has marked the next point in its fascinating journey.
Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV) Willdora was built in 1901 and was one of three identical boats, each given the name of their owners wife or daughter.
In May 1940, she was one of around 850 private boats which sailed from England across the Channel to help rescue more than 336,000 British and French troops who were trapped on the beaches in the Second World War.
Her links to Wearside began in the 1970s, when she was part of a maritime project by Hylton Red House Comprehensive.
But she fell into disrepair, leading to Sunderland Maritime Heritage’s involvement to restore her back to her original glory.
Today, she was lifted into the water within the Port of Sunderland’s South Dock for the first time as part of that project, with the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle Seamus Cunningham blessing the boat before she was lifted off dryland by a crane.
This is part of our national history.Jim Sullivan
The team now aim of ensuring she will be ready to lead out the boats taking part in the Tall Ships Races as the competitors leave the city on Saturday July 14 as they start the first leg of the challenge - an honour she last fulfilled in 1993 when the event visited Newcastle.
The team also want to take her to a memorial procession in two years’ time to mark the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk.
The restoration has been made possible thanks to £46,000 from Sunderland City Council, which also supports it through its rental of its Church Street East workshop, £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, trees from Beamish Museum’s estate to use as materials and C-Tech Northern Ireland, which supplied the team with materials and city housing firm Slayco, which donated £1,000.
Jim Sullivan, vice chairman of the group, led the celebrations in the absence of chairman Chris Carolan.
He said: “This is another step in our plan, a massively important step in the project, but it’s restoration will continue, because now we have to fit her out.
“She’s definitely good enough to be in the water now, but she has to be good enough for us to take her to Dunkirk in 2020 and that’s our ultimate aim.
“After that, if the people of Sunderland and community can keep involved and support the Willdora, we see there’s the potential to become a vessel for the people of Sunderland and be a living museum.
“This is part of our national history.”
Mayor of Sunderland Councillor Lynda Scanlan said: “It is an amazing feat what they have done over the last three years to restore it, and look at it today. “It’s absolutely beautiful and I think it will be great that it will lead out the Tall Ships.”
More about the work of the maritime group can be found via www.sunderlandmaritimeheritage.org.uk/.