Allan Brockbank obituary

Other lives: Boatbuilder who designed and built motor launches and cabin cruisers, spending his life working around Windermere

My father, Allan Brockbank, who has died aged 94, worked as a boatbuilder at Windermere in the Lake District from the age of 15 until his retirement in 1998. He became one of the founding directors of Bowness Bay Boating Company, now Windermere Lake Cruises.

Allan was born in Windermere, then in the county of Westmorland, to James Brockbank, who delivered groceries on a horse and cart, and his wife, Annie (nee Judd). He went to St Mary’s boys’ school in the town, leaving at 14. His career was punctuated by national service, from 1947 to 1949, in Bielefeld and Göttingen, Germany, where he was put in charge of the joinery workshop. His demobilisation was delayed by the Russian blockade of Berlin, and during this extended stay he took a sign-writing course.

In a bar in Bowness, Allan met Ethel Armer, a waitress from Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire; they married in 1951 and had three children. During the 1950s he worked at Anchorage Ltd, where he made clinker-built mahogany speed boats, and the family made several backpacking and camping trips around the Lake District using local buses.

Allan Brockbank meeting the Queen on board the historic steamer Teal at Bowness-on-Windermere pier, 2013.
Allan Brockbank meeting the Queen on board the historic steamer Teal at Bowness-on-Windermere pier, 2013. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

Allan broke his leg while using his homemade skis on a hill above Windermere. During his time off work, he decided to try his hand at boat design, and realised he would need CSE maths. Many calculations were needed in boat design; for instance, the centre of buoyancy must be above the centre of gravity for the vessel to float. So, aged 29, he studied at night school at Kendal Technical College, achieving 98% in the exam. In 1966, he designed and built the Venture, a motor launch that runs on Windermere to this day, though now the engine is electric.

With a group of independent boat men in 1968, Allan formed Bowness Bay Boating Company (which in 1993 became Windermere Lake Cruises). There he designed and built a fleet of fibreglass, six-berth cabin cruisers for leisure hire. In the early 1990s, the company acquired the three historic Windermere steamers MV Teal, MV Tern and MV Swift. He remained on the board of directors until 2015.

Allan’s other passions were archaeology and hill-walking. He spent a holiday in 1990 on a dig at Castell Henllys, an iron age village in north Pembrokeshire, Wales. With his son, John, in 1975, he climbed Napes Needle, a pinnacle on the side of Great Gable in the Lake District, inspiring his children and grandchildren with a love of the hills and adventure.

He was a volunteer fireman from 1956 to 1974, and in the winter of 1963 rescued a man who had fallen through the ice on Windermere. As the shortest and lightest member of the crew, it was Allan who was chosen to crawl across the ice on a ladder, roped round his middle.

Ethel died in 1979. Allan is survived by his children, John, Helen and me, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Sally Chaffey

The GuardianTramp

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