James Ravilious must have been drawn to the strong lines, textures and perspective in this view of a boat on the Torridge estuary. He may have also been drawn to the sense of history, his image capturing a moment in time that is about to be lost forever.
The picture shows the Doris May which he names as the last wooden fishing boat.
He must have been at Bank End slip, says Bideford assistant harbour master Thom Flaxman. Standing with his back to the town, Ravilious would have been looking north downstream towards Appledore.
It was 1986 and the new Torridge Bridge, visible to the left of the image, in the background, was under construction. The letters and numbers on the boat indicate where it was registered. All seagoing fishing boats must have a licence, and take the first and last letter of the port, in this case ‘BD’ is for Bideford.
“It looks like it’s beyond economic repair,” says Thom, pointing out that wooden vessels are far harder to maintain both in terms of time and cost. Although some people will take them on and restore them, it’s a labour of love, not something to be undertaken lightly.
“If you don’t keep on top of the maintenance, they go downhill very rapidly.”
It’s hard to know whether the Doris May has been abandoned on the slipway, but this site is within the designated harbour area, between the two bridges, so the harbour master would have jurisdiction over what happened to it.
Photographers are always drawn to this sort of scene. One of the most photographed boats in north Devon must be the wreck of an old sand barge at Crow Point near Braunton. With the bold colours of its flaking paint and rotting interior, it makes a striking image against sand and water. Even in black and white, Ravilious has captured an equally atmospheric portrait of the Doris May.
There’s also a subtle contrast between the old and new. The old fishing boat and the new bridge, two iconic items so closely associated with the water – one decaying and one springing into life.