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Ferryman set to retire

PUBLISHED: 10:39 19 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:13 03 March 2010

THE last ferryman on the River Deben has finally decided to retire from his boat business at the age of 84.

Frank Knights will close his company in two months after being established for more than 50 years on the banks of the river in Woodbridge.

THE last ferryman on the River Deben has finally decided to retire from his boat business at the age of 84.

Frank Knights will close his company in two months after being established for more than 50 years on the banks of the river in Woodbridge.

Frank Knights Shipwrights Ltd, Ferry Quay, has repaired wooden boats, made small clinker boats and occupied accommodation under the flat occupied by Mr Knights and his wife, Christine, the 76-year-old company secretary.

Mr Knights admitted that old age has finally caught up with him. He can no long shin up a mast and his rheumatic knees prevent him from easily getting in and out of a boat.

The ever-increasing bureaucracy associated with running a company, disputes with planners and increasing stress have persuaded Mr Knights that it is time to stop. He also says that people are more reluctant to try to afford the costly time-consuming repairs associated with wooden boats.

Mr Knights, born in Felixstowe, has been boat repairing since he was 18 and during the war he served with the navy as a shipwright. He can recall the days when the last barge cargo of coal was delivered to Sun Wharf, Woodbridge, in 1940 and the demise of the commercial trade from all over the world.

The couple lived afloat for 21 years, firstly on a sail boat and then a houseboat. During the harsh winter of 1963 Mrs Knights used to walk on water frozen to a depth of seven inches to feed the swans.

Mr Knights took over the job of Woodbridge ferryman in 1947 from his brother-in-law Roy Chittock. He was later called in to help after George Skinner had a stroke and Mr Knights was ferryman when the ferry closed in 1976.

Until recently he gave trips on the river from his boat The Duchess and the couple have owned a former fishing smack The Yet for 63 years. ''The boat was built in 1898, she spans three centuries, and we have grown old together,'' said Mr Knights.

He said: ''I have got a bit fed up. I have been at it with this company for 53 years and there is no fun in running a business any more. I was hoping to sell this as a limited company, as a going concern, but it was not viable.

''We shall still live here. I shall come out of here in a box I reckon. I just want to live a bit more of a life with a little less stress. The river does get hold of you – it is like a disease – and I like the freedom you have on the water. I would like to see the River Deben being kept as it is, placid and peaceful.''

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