1990 . Enter lagoon left : Michael Simonsen Kiersgaard from Denmark, on his sailing boat. Dreamer, shipbuilder, traveller. I hope he will forgive me if some small detail is incorrect – I met him only once when the boat was signed over to me and we had a brief glass of champagne together. I was bubbling with questions, but he was keen to move on. The very same day, he bought himself a tug boat.

Michael found Annibale Foscari in a heap with another rusty Vaporetto – two colleagues in retirement. He recognised diamonds in the steel dust. The Brits were the best engine builders of the day, so it is just conceivable that the Venetians originally installed a GARDNER engine and I think it was all in place when Michael discovered the ship. The engine works perfectly, with a gorgeous low rumble. I will confirm her age when I check the serial number against the records, but we think it is from the 1960’s.

Michael rescued both boat shells and determined to make one his home and one his business. He renamed his home ‘HIPPOPOTAMO’ and her colleague ‘CLAUDIA’, and with skill, love and a shoe-string budget he built a cosy comfortable home for his wife, two young sons and their little jack russell dog. Michael prepared the steel for the wooden ribs and insulated with a layer of rockwool-enough for the warmer weather of the Mediterranean. He skilfully redesigned the interior as a delightful open-plan family living space, with a wheelhouse extension made of ply, and bedrooms downstairs. He welded a large steel wood-burning stove by hand, and did all the carpentry himself, including the twelve handsome wooden windows (which were heartbreaking to dismantle). The personal touches were visible everywhere. It was a labour of love, but done with speed, to fit around his ever-growing family. He then proceeded to live on La Giudecca island facing St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) for roughly twenty five years(!) On my second trip to Venice, and second trip to Harry’s Bar, Stefano, (the oldest and most charming barman there – who conceivably served Ernest Hemingway his multitudenous bellinis) wept an operatic tear as I mentioned the name of the ship to him. He told me he remembered the danish family well as he passed HIPPO every day on his way to work. Stefano and I are in touch by text, and we exchange Aperol and Ramazzotti cocktail recipes. He promised to make bellinis onboard if HIPPO makes it to Venice..

2005 . Michael planned a magnificent TOUR DE FRANCE, for Hippo was then 70 years old. 8km/hour maximum warp speed was the claim, though I can’t imagine that walking pace, as the engine is a strong and swift one. Springtime from St Jean de Losnes, Easter heading for Paris, Autumn from Champagne with an arrival in mid-September at the Canal du Midi, and November in the South of France. Like in The Adventures of Babar, Hippo left Italy and became a well-travelled retired lady.

Michael had now achieved one of his goals, and his children had all grown up, so it was time to move on. He dreamt of a tug boat..so returned North and left HIPPO in a historic marina in Workum, Friesland. We will never know why he chose Workum, perhaps because Hippo would be amongst beauties her on age – a rest home for divas his final sign of respect. She looked worn out, like a beautiful old metal trunk beaten up by an adventurous owner. A glorious older Sophia Loren. She was crumpled by low bridges, knocked and bruised, family life and sporadic maintenance had taken their toll. Maintenance is the luxury of the wealthy when you own a ship. The highest goal is not to fail in this area. Ships like HIPPO are well beyond anyone’s sensible financial means, and no wealthy person would be fool enough to invest in such a project. A steel or wooden ship is part obsession, part romantic affair and part need to rescue history and memories from falling to dust. It is up to the dreamers and hopefuls to scramble together the funds to keep the story alive.

Thank you Michael for keeping so much paperwork safe, ensuring and protecting provenance, and reviving Hippo from the ashes.
2016 . Enter Miranda & Richard on a rainy day in Workum, newbies viewing boats for fun.

Read on in next chapter..