Alpha history

The pilot cutter Alpha was built at Fleetwood in Lancashire in 1904 by Liver & WIlding, under the master shipwright William Stoba. This man was once described as “exact and temperamental and if he did not get what he wanted he went home, as he did on the day a lad brought him galvanised nails when he had ordered copper. On being told there were no copper nails in store he reached for his hat and coat saying he might as well go home, as there was no point in staying with no work to do, and he could not work without the right materials.” An apprentice caught sharpening a pencil with a knife would get a sharp crack over the knuckles. “ What is your chisel for”? Stoba would bark. A later employer of his is said to have lamented that “ Stova would be the ruining of them all with his demands for tropical hardwoods and expensive fittings. He was a perfectionist and he thought it was not his business to worry how much things cost.”


Alpha appears in the Newport pilotage authority’s Register of Pilot Cutters on December 8th 1904. Her (Thames) tonnage was recorded as 17, her port of registry, Newport, and the fee paid was 2s 6d. The cutter was built for pilot William Prosser of 18 Arthur Street, Newport. She was named Alpha, it seems, because Prosser’s pilot number was one. William Davies, married to Prosser’s sister, Pat, was another pilot aboard. The pilotage returns show both William Prosser and William Davies as pilots in Alpha up until as late as March 31st 1922, and she remained in the Prosser family until 1924. It appears that the Newport pilots amalgamated in 1914, yet as late as 1920 there were still 19 pilot boats left. By 1923, after the Newport (Monmouth) Pilot Boat Company Limited had been formed, only five cutters were owned by the company, and Alpha was not one of these.

Her fairly cutaway underwater profile made Alpha no typical example of a Bristol Channel pilot cutter, but it earned her an enviable record for speed, particularly in light winds. Indeed, she was considered by many to be one of the fastest craft of her type. Alpha took part in the 1906 River Usk Pilot Cutter Race of which there is a famous photograph showing six cutters off Nell’s Point below Barry. On that occassion, she was beaten into third place by Hope and by her fellow centenarian, Mascotte. But Alpha had won the Cardiff Regatta in 1905, and William Prosser’s descendants still have the magnificent cup, which at one time lived on Alpha.