Wight Life


Drawn and written by A W R Caws

The Pilot Boat, Bembridge

Drawing of The Pilot Boat, Bembridge

THE PILOT BOAT would seem to have started life as a small cottage standing on the eastern bank near the mouth of what was then known as Brading Haven. Here local fishermen and other seafaring folk came to refresh themselves drinking beer probably brewed on the premises. A photo in the lounge bar bearing the date 1720 shows the cottage with water almost up to the entrance and a rowing boat anchored on the nearby beach. In those days the harbour extended up to Brading Quay which was used by colliers and other coastal vessels.

With, in recent years, the enormous increase in small boat sailing, it seems a shame that this beautiful natural haven, which must have been one of the finest harbours in the south of the country, should have been almost destroyed by the building of the embankment road to St Helens and the reclaiming of some acres of almost unuseable land, often water logged during the winter months.

The present inn was reconstructed on the existing site into something suggesting the form of a boat with portholes, bridge and dinghy swinging from davits on the side. In its picturesque setting this makes an unusual but attractive sight. There are two bars, the public one known as The Ship's Bar, and the lounge labelled The Ship's Cabin. In this bar there are photos of marine subjects and an interesting ceramic dish depicting the interior of the inn.

The Pilot Boat was kept for many years by a local family named Childs and they were followed by an ebullient Frenchmen, Alphonse Vernet. He was quite a character and I well remember this period when the inn was most popular with both locals and holidaymakers.

The Pilot Boat was taken over nearly two years ago by Mr and Mrs Draycott who had considerable experience of managing London inns, first at King's Cross and later at a busy and popular house, 'The Marquis Tavern' in fashionable Canonbury.

Drawing of the bar the Pilot Boat, Bembridge

During their time here they have built up the catering side of the business and are rapidly gaining a reputation for good food at sensible prices. Their fish dishes are especially recommended.

Mrs Draycott enhanced her culinary skills by taking a cookery course at the Westminster Technical College.

In addition to a wide range of drinks, wines are served by the glass in the bars and by bottle or glass with meals. As well as cooked dishes, tasty cold snacks such as crab and prawn sand- wiches, pork pies, scotch eggs and fruit are always available.

Situated beside the harbour in this renowned sailing centre The Pilot Boat is much frequented by visiting yachtsmen and if, as seems likely, the rapid increase in demand for meals continues, it will surely be necessary for more room to be made available for this purpose.