Cliffhanger in boat's 25-year trip to the sea

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Many thought it would never happen. But after 25 years in the Walker household's back garden, the 17-ton catamaran, Steelaway, has been launched. All that remains is its maiden 10-mile voyage today as final proof of the craft's seaworthiness, writes Ian MacKinnon.

Yet, after a quarter of a century, it was a near-thing as the vessel was spirited by means of hydraulic legs through a neighbour's field in the dead of night to beat his objections.

Even then Walter Walker, 72, had only managed to get it to the top of a 200ft cliff at Port Mulgrave, North Yorkshire, where it remained stranded until a JCB excavator was used to dig a trench to take it down. "He is very relieved," said Mr Walker's daughter, Penny. "We all are. I honestly did not think they would get it in the water."

Her doubts were well founded. She is now 34, but the steel frame for the boat arrived when she was 11. Over the years their home was awash with plans and drawings as Mr Walker built his boat bit by bit."Every time I went out people were asking if dad had finished his boat yet," said Ms Walker, speaking for her father who was preparing for sea yesterday. "It became quite famous. I think they all thought he was a bit mad."

Completion last year was only the start of another saga. Rob Sanderson, the neighbouring farmer, refused permission for Mr Walker to haul the boat over his land.

Mr Walker decided the solution was to wait until Mr Sanderson went on holiday, take down his fence at 3am and move the boat on hydraulic legs across his land. "It was a bit a like a Dalek," said Ms Walker.

Once at the top of the cliff, Steelaway became something of a draw, attracting hundreds of sightseers attracted by the bizarre spectacle. Equally impressive was the operation to lower the boat the last 200ft. "It was quite spectacular," said Ms Walker.

"It was like a ski slope in places. The boat was lowered with a Union Jack on top. There was a big celebration and lots of people brought bottles of whisky for dad."

That only left the small matter of Mr Sanderson's cornfield, a corner of which was "clipped" in the operation. "I think they're sorting it out between solicitors," said Ms Walker. "Relations are not too good."