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A Keswick couple's mast-y problem turned into tall order for a Cumbrian forest. Meg Crosthwaite and Alan Whitaker launched a nationwide hunt for new masts for their Caribbean schooner - only to find the ideal trees just minutes from their front door.
Timber merchants brought the pair right back to Thirlmere Forest, where foresters work hand-in-hand with climate and soil conditions to produce perfectly straight, tall trees with very few flaws.
"What surprised us most was that the right wood to use was just ten minutes down the road. We chose the trees and saw them felled. It was quite an experience," said Meg.
The couple's traditional wooden boat, the Friendship Rose, is a hit with holiday makers on the island of Bequia (pronounced Beckway) in the Grenadines.
Built from the island's native timber around half a century ago, maintaining the Friendship Rose is an ongoing task. But Bequian wood is not noted for being straight and there was nothing local suitable to replace the 66 foot masts when one of them cracked.
"The Friendship Rose is one of the very last traditionally-built West Indies schooners. It was made by hand on the beach from local trees, which have perfect curves for the boat. They don't have the sort of long, straight trees we need for masts so we came home to look for them."
After contacting a timber merchant in Lincolnshire they were recommended to look at Thirlmere Forest, an 800 hectare woodland around Thirlmere reservoir, which is owned and managed by water company United Utilities.
United Utilities' Woodland Officer Paul Clavey said: "Thirlmere Forest was planted around the 1900s, when the reservoir was built, to help keep the water clean. It helps protect the water by stabilising the soil and preventing erosion. Thirlmere supplies about 800,000 people from Keswick to Manchester with their drinking water.
"The Douglas fir at Thirlmere has grown in good soil, is well sheltered and grows quite slowly. We manage large areas of the forest using a system called continuous cover. That means we pick out individual trees for felling rather than clear felling large areas. This protects the landscape, water quality and tends to result in nice big straight good quality trees."
All United Utilities woodlands are certified under the FSC® UK Woodland Assurance Standard which is the UK forest industry’s recognised standard for well managed and sustainable woodlands.
As well as being tall and straight, the two Douglas firs selected by Meg and Alan needed a huge girth because the traditional masts are wide at the deck and at the cross-trees. Extra long trucks were needed to haul the timber. Alan and his nephew Simon made the masts at specialist workshop Touchwood Devon.
The masts are now on board the Friendship Rose after shipping to the Grenadines where the local captain Calvin Lewison MBE, the original builder of the boat, is proudly installing them.
Meg and Alan bought the Friendship Rose - so named after the bay where she was built - while travelling a few years ago. They lived and worked in the Grenadines until having the second of their two children Lorna, now four, and Hazel, 8. Then they moved back to Keswick, where Meg's family has a long history. Her grandfather was one of the founders of the Keswick Museum.
They run the boat as a business from their Cumbrian home and it has featured in a number of national newspapers and magazines. For more visit www.friendshiprose.com