Issue 95 - February 1997
William (Bill) Sims, boatbuilder and waterman of Eel Pie Island, died on December 31 after a short illness. He was 82.
Bill started work at 14 as an apprentice boatbuilder to Chris Cruisers of Isleworth. He was also apprenticed to the water by his father who was a licensed waterman. At the outbreak of the Second World War Chris Cruisers switched from building cabin cruisers to MTBs (motor torpedo boats). Bill, by now a licensed waterman, would take the boats for trials down river and pilot back those in need of repair.
In 1947 he started out on his own, forming the company WER Sims (Boats). Starting with a few moorings, he did general river work, towing and piloting. He purchased a motor launch hull and converted it to a passenger boat called Migrahan (named after his three sons Michael, Graham and Andrew) and worked on the Richmond-Teddington stretch of the Thames. In 1953 he converted a larger boat and called this one Coronation.
It was during this time he became associated with rowing. He built two umpires' launches, Matrona and Clivanda, both of which he designed, claiming in later years they were the result of a bit of chalk and a large boathouse wall! He wanted the names to end in the letter 'a'. Most of the launches on the Putney reach were named as such, for example Consuta, Ailsa, Nostella (he bought these three later), and there was also the Thelma and Arethusa. Clivanda was named after his two younger sons Clive and Andrew. For many years Bill drove these launches at Henley and, of course, the Boat Race. Matrona and Clivanda still work on the river, with a new owner, Chas Newens, and renamed as Panache and Pommery.
In the late 50s he became involved with George Sims (Racing Boats). Frank Sims (no relation) had taken over the Hammersmith-based company from his father but decided he didn't want to carry on running the firm. George Sims, Frank's cousin, was interested and approached Bill to be a partner. In 1961 the firm moved to Eel Pie Island.
Meanwhile, through the late fifties and sixties W.E.R. Sims (Boats) expanded. Bill owned Waites Boathouse, just below Richmond Lock. In 1975 he sold this to Pete Townshend, guitarist of rock group The Who. Pete, who lived near the river, was so fed-up battling against the traffic to get to his Central London office that one day he hired a launch to take him from Richmond to Charing Cross, instructing his chauffeur to meet him at the pier. Arriving well ahead of the chauffeur Pete decided that one hour on the river was better than two in the car, and promptly commissioned Bill to build him a 55ft launch, complete with on-board office. This was done and the boat was named Zephyr.
In recent years WER Sims (Boats) reduced its workload and Bill spent time advising his son Andrew with the racing boat firm which Andrew has managed since 1974.
Bill will be remembered by all who knew him as an entertaining raconteur with a ready wit. One customer approached him to survey a newly purchased second-hand cruiser. 'Bill,' he said, 'I want to take this to sea. What do you think?' 'Depends how far you want to go,' replied Bill, 'Battersea or Chelsea?'
© Copyright John Shore, 1997.
|Archive Index||Full Index||Back to top|