Francis B. Cooke

by Les


The man left in charge of Frank’s boat pointing her out to him.

Francis B. Cooke took up sailing as a young man. He was born in England in June 1872 (or perhaps 1873: I’ve seen both years), and acquired his first sailing vessel, a bare hull two feet long, about ten years later. This vessel (acquired in exchange for a single roller skate missing one wheel, a catapult, and a pregnant white mouse) he named Arrow. With little income, the young Frank managed to rig his boat as a schooner modeled on the America, and sailed it successfully on several ponds until it sank in deep water.

He then had to do without sailing until he left school and went to work for a bank at age seventeen. He saved every penny he could, and soon had enough to buy a real boat. He spent all of ten pounds on a small dinghy rigged with a single lugsail. He and a friend (who had experience sailing) took it sailing at Kingston on Thames on a February day with a brisk southwest wind blowing. It took them only minutes to capsize and sink the boat, leaving two young men in overcoats swimming for shore.

After that experience Frank decided to teach himself sailing: he could capsize effectively without help. But he managed to learn how to sail that boat without any more capsizes, and sought more distant waters and larger boats.

After several adventures as crew and part owner on a succession of unseaworthy craft in the tidal reaches of the Thames, Frank bought a shapely, well-equipped cutter of 24 feet hull length named Euryanthe for thirty pounds. While Euryanthe sailed quite well, he soon found out that the large soup tureen supplied with her was most useful as a bailer. After the first weekend of sailing, he left her at her anchor. Next weekend he found her under water, with just the top of her mast showing (see picture above). He had her refloated, but after one more sail in her he was greatly relieved to hear that his boat had been run down and sunk by a barge. He salvaged the spars and sails, and sold the remaining wreckage as firewood for ten shillings.

That was the first of a long succession of sailing boats Francis B. Cook sailed around the southeast coast of England. The last was the Iolanthe, a 2.5 ton Blackwater Sloop, built in 1937. He retired from the bank in 1931, but continued to sail for more than thirty years after that. He reported that he did not feel confident enough to sail in open water by himself after 1960, and that he did not feel capable of sailing singlehanded after he turned ninety. He died in 1974 at the age of 102.

More on this interesting man later.