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Gemini's first owner


23 Jul 2019 | Last update: 25 Jul 2019

Lt. Cdr. Donald Henry Ewan ("Richie") McCowen DSO, DSC, RNVR

Gemini was built in 1947 for a decorated Motor Torpedo Boat commander, Donald Henry Ewan (Richie) McCowen DSO, DSC, RNVR (1908-1998).

DHE McCowen in 1931

Born in Dublin in 1908, McCowen came from a wealthy Irish ship-building family. He went to Cambridge, where in 1932 he was a member of the team that won the boat race. He rowed for Britain in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Yacht racing

Before the war he was clearly a keen yachtsman, successfully racing at Cowes on the English south coast. The Gauntlets (Gemini is one of 39 Gauntlets built between 1936 and 1951) had made a name for themselves in the years immediately preceding the war as successful ocean racers, and presumably they caught his attention at that time. Soon after the war ended he had Gemini built.

By the 1950s he was racing another yacht, an International One Design, 'Susie', at Cowes. IODs are smaller, much lighter, extremely elegant day racers. It may be that while the Gauntlets were designed for lengthy, offshore racing, as a family man by then he preferred the day-racing scene.

In this photo, McCowen is sailing the IOD 'Susie' at Cowes. Susie is in the centre of the photo (sail number K6), the furthest boat from the camera. She is taking a different course from the other boats, heading between parallel lines of shallow rocks close to the shore. Once in the passage, there is no escape for 200 meters, but there is also no tidal current.

Source: IOD history

In 1956 he also bought the impressive 90-foot motor yacht 'Shu-Shu', so he was clearly a man of some means!

Shu Shu spotted recently for sale

WWII

During the war, he volunteered for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) and joined the Royal Navy Coastal Forces. The Coastal Forces were entirely manned by volunteers, but this was no Dad's Army. Their boats were MTBs and MGBs – Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats, of up to about 100 feet length. They had a very active war, in every major theatre.

By 1944, McCowen was the CO and SO (Commanding Officer and Senior Officer) of MTB 693 and of the 53rd MTB flotilla. MTB 693 was a Fairmile 'D' class boat.

MTB 695, identical to MTB 693, and also part of the 53rd MTB flotilla.

Fairmile D class - information on all 202 boats

McCowen was decorated twice for actions during this command.

DSO

London Gazette 30 May 1944

He received a DSO (Distinguished Service Order, just below the Victoria Cross) for an attack on the night of 6-7 March 1944. Leading 5 boats to within 500 yards of the breakwater at Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, the flotilla opened fire with guns and torpedoes on various ships while taking fire from the ships and also shore batteries. From the official report:

We held the stage for perhaps 15 seconds and then the enemy opened a heavy and sometimes accurate, but mostly wild, fire on the unit from all directions with the exception of the coaster which was heavily hit by our initial burst.

Five enemy ships were sunk without serious damage to the MTBs before they withdrew to the south leaving the confused enemy shooting at each other.

It was most gratifying to see that the standard of shooting had improved considerably. Both sides seemed to be scoring a satisfactory number of hits.

It seems that the deliberately understated, dry wit of post-war war movies was not an invention of the scriptwriters.

More details are available on the website of Leslie J. Sprigg (1920 - 2016), who was the telegraphist on board MTB 695 during this action - MTB 695.

DSC

McCowen was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for actions during the D-Day landings (Operation Neptune) in June 1944. During an intense and complicated engagement involving a large number of German E-boats and British MTBs, McCowen led 3 MTBs which sank the last of the E-boats to escape from Cherbourg.

Spitfires of the Seas

The Coastal Forces have tended not to receive as much publicity for their wartime activities as might be expected. The squadrons were very active, firing more torpedoes, with a higher proportion of hits, than the submarine service. Over 3,000 decorations were awarded, including 4 Victoria Crosses. Part of the reason for the relatively low profile is that MTB/MGB actions were almost always at night, and were very fast, short events. Opportunities for film, photography, or even reporting, were very limited. But recently, the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust has produced a documentary film, and plans are under way to create a permanent museum exhibit.

SPITFIRES OF THE SEA from Rostand Productions on Vimeo.

The German surrender

By the end of the war, McCowen was the commander of the shore base HMS Beehive (Felixstowe). On the 13th May 1945, he received the surrender of all German naval forces based in Holland. S204 and S205 left Dan Helder, carrying Rear Admiral Erich Alfred Breuning. They were met by 10 MTBs which escorted them in to HMS Beehive.

E-boats and E-boat admiral surrender. 13 May 1945, HMS Beehive, Felixstowe. DHE McCowen, Commanding Officer HMS Beehive, receives a salute from Rear Admiral Karl Bruning. 2 German E-boats, the first surface craft to surrender, were escorted in by 10 British MTB's. On board one of the E-boats was Rear Admiral Bruning, who had been in charge of E-boat operations and who signed the instrument of surrender.

Some British officers boarded the German boats for the journey. The German boats (called E-boats by the British, for 'Enemy boats', but designated S-bootes by the Germans, for Schnellboot) were superior vessels to even the best of the British boats, and they demonstrated this during their final voyage. The E-boats were well known for their capability in rough weather. On multiple occasions during the war, British MTBs were unable to go to sea while the E-boats were active, due to rough weather. This particular day happened to be quite choppy, and the E-boats headed in at full throttle. The British escort simply couldn't keep up.

The British officers on board were very impressed with the S-boote's capabilities. You can perhaps imagine that this was the first time in the entire war that British officers had seen these boats in daylight. And certainly, they had never experienced them like this! Here's an account from Captain Peter Scott, one of the British officers to board an S-boote for the final trip into Felixstowe:

...We still had a few dozen miles to cover before arriving at Felixstowe. This was the first time I had ever sailed on an enemy boat and I was immediately impressed by the size of the S-Boote. The general silhouette was hardly visible above the surface of the water and everything seemed to be designed to offer minimum resistance to the elements and maximum protection for the crew when the boat was travelling at full speed. In spite of the rolling we soon reached 30 knots. The MTB's couldn't keep up and in spite of the speed, we kept perfectly dry, while my comrades on our boats had to put on their oilskins...

One of the S-boote's tying up alongside an MTB.

The two S-boote's arriving at Felixstowe.

Rear Admiral Bruning boarding a launch. Many MTBs are tied up on the other side of the river, their crews watching the proceedings.

An S-boote approaching the dock at Felixstowe.

An S-boote approaching the dock at Felixstowe, German crew lined up on deck, British officers visible on the bridge deck.

An S-boote approaching the dock at Felixstowe, German crew lined up on deck, British officers visible on the bridge deck.

There are a few more pictures available here.

Finally

Made in 1945, THE BROAD FOURTEENS is one of the excellent, dramatized accounts of WWII made by the Ministry of Information for morale purposes. The film shows the first posting, and eventual first action, of a newly-trained motor torpedo boat (MTB) crew.

What our customers say

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Fantastic day of sailing!

What a great experience! We went sailing with Dave in early April for my birthday. Dave is fantastic and Gemini is gorgeous! Seeing Barcelona from sea was gorgeous. Can't recommend doing this enough!
calitravels48 | Los Angeles, California | 21 April 2015

Wonderfully relaxing, friendly, and informative trip

My wife booked this trip - we were a group of 9 (3 related families) - Classic Sail worked with another organization to ensure we got a boat that fit our group's size. It was clear that Dani had chosen a skipper that was fluent in English, and was just as native to Spain as could be! Bernardo was an excellent skipper - talked very knowledgeably about the culture and history of Barcelona and the buildings that we could see as we motored out from where the boat was anchored (Port Olympic). He also pointed out some of the sailing tips that an accomplished sailor would know - the ripples on the water indicating the location of wind, the tell-tales near the sail that he used to track the wind shifts to ensure the sail was oriented right. What was incredible was the extent to which he was able to encourage our younger daughter to feel confident in "helping" him sail, when we were way out in blue water, returning back to shore. Most of us got into the blue water to swim a while - and again, Bernardo had the right words of encouragement to get the faint-hearted into the water. We had a great time in the crystal-clear water, which was bracing at the first touch, but very comfortable rapidly after, not at all warm. We would heartily recommend this 2.5 hour sailing trip as a great way to relax in the Mediterranean!
Popsrao | New York City, New York | 17 July 2015

Fantastic afternoon's sailing on Gemini with Skipper Dave

We took a 3 hour sailing trip with Skipper Dave - it was by far my favourite part of the holiday, and represented excellent value for money.
dduffy41 | | 25 October 2018

HAPPY SAILING

If you want to go sailing for a few hours on a 1940s sail boat then do this. I came across another provider with good reviews but it was a modern catamaran which didn't interest me.
DalBelloV | Barcelona, Spain | 20 July 2018

You want to go sailing? Classic Sail Barcelona is the perfect provider!!

I wanted to surprise my fiancée for her birthday - the booking of Gemini with Skipper Dave was the perfect gift and an incredible experience. We took the Sunset Tour which was a picture perfect trip with blue sea, a romantic sunset and a refreshing swimming stop. Gemini is a beautiful and very well maintained sailing boat, with a nice history (built in 1947). Skipper Dave couldn't have been a nicer host with a friendly smile and loads of cool insights into sailing.
Colonius | Zurich, Switzerland | 28 July 2018

Chillin on the Mediterranean Sea

It was quick and easy to book this trip. The boat was easy to find and captain Dave was the perfect host. Unobtrusively providing a wonderful outing for us and allowing for us to truely enjoy relaxing in the boat and taking in the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea. Absolutely beautiful! I highly recommend this!
Julia H | Austin | 3 August 2018

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