'Peter Duck' is a character in Arthur Ransome's third, and possibly most far-fetched, novel, Peter Duck (though Ransome's later story Missee Lee runs it close) In the novel 'Peter Duck' represents solid common sense and maturity in contrast to the over excitable Captain Flint / Uncle Jim who is childishly eager to go dashing across the world in search of treasure. 'Peter Duck' is a reassuring figure. "Anything might happen to Peter Duck and he would always come out alright," the children think. It may be additionally reassuring to realise that Ransome modelled the old seaman on an actual person, Carl Herman Sehmel, "The Ancient Mariner", who sailed with him and his partner Evgenia in the ketch Racundra on their first Baltic cruise in 1921.
Arthur Ransome was a relatively young man then. By the time he commissioned Jack Laurent Giles to design the new ketch that became Peter Duck, he was older and unwell and requiring "some sort of a marine bath chair". Ransome's adventure writing career was also coming to an end. The year that Peter Duck was built (at Pin Mill in Suffolk) was the year his last Swallows and Amazons book, Great Northern? was published. It's possible that one underlying reason why he never really warmed to the boat was that she came at the wrong time in his life. He kept her scarcely three years before moving back to the Lake District and putting her up for sale.
Ransome's loss was eventually the Jones family's gain. Peter Duck had moved to the South Coast in her new ownership but George Jones, Julia's father, was a yacht agent who encountered Arthur and Evgenia Ransome in 1951 when, with characteristic restlessness, they returned once again to Suffolk for some sailing and rented George and June Jones's yacht Barnacle Goose. When Peter Duck was once again on the market, Jones was the agent and bought her for himself. This was 1957 when Julia was three years old and her brother Nick just fifteen months. When a third child Ned was born in 1959 he was taken on board and out to sea within months. Peter Duck had become a perambulator.
Peter Duck was the key element in Julia's childhood. She stayed in the family until after George Jones died - by which time Julia had three children of her own. None of the family was well-placed to take on the responsibility of the boat at that time and Peter Duck was sold. Once again she was lucky and, after a single short-lived ownership, was bought by Greg and Ann Palmer in 1987. Peter Duck is a fine sea-boat as well as a reassuring family asset and the Palmers explored her potential as never before. Finally Greg sailed her to Russia where he died in 1997, unexpectedly young.
In Other People's Dreams, an essay written for the Aldeburgh music festival programme, Julia tried to describe what it meant to her and to Francis when a friend from Woodbridge rang and told them that Peter Duck was back in the River Deben and up for sale once again. Since that date she has embarked on her own very much more modest nautical adventures: Seven Rivers in Seven Days was the 2008 summer holiday dash when Julia, her brother Ned and three children took Peter Duck up the Thames to meet Francis who was in the office during a Private Eye 'on-week'. This was quintessential family fun - triumph and disasters in equal, Lilliputian measure.
The 2009 summer dash was to Calais and back - returning in testing conditions in the aftermath of two days of gales. Once again Peter Duck proved what a fabulous seaboat she is. At one moment crossing the shipping lanes Julia, steesaw what appeared to be a double wall of water aproaching them from the wake of a container ship. Ned Ruth and Archie were in the cockpit with safety harnesses attached She shouted to hang on tight. Then shut her eyes and steered as if competing on horseback in some nightmare Pardubice. PD's extraordinary bouyancy sent her skipping over both waves flicking her tailfeathers in delight. It was unforgettable.
Over the last fifty years Peter Duck has put Julia through the gamut of emotions. Among her most treasured memories is the day she gave her son Bertie, then aged eleven, her first children's novel, The Salt-Stained Book, written in partial homage to Ransome. Bertie settled down in Peter Duck's cabin to read it and would not be disturbed.
Summer 2011 finally saw the publication of the Salt-Stained Book and unusual media excitments for Peter Duck. This brief summary was produced for the Peter Duck Owners' Association Newsletter