Sunday, 29 September 2013

Irish Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon Chapter 5

Labourer - n., one who labours, (esp.) person doing for wages work needing strength or patience rather than skill;   Oxford Dictionary

Labourer - n.,  one who prefers a little light work to fit in around his social life and/or mood swings and is incapable of initiative or diligence or loyalty;  Real Life

Well I suppose there are good ones around but they are difficult to find!  But on to other things ......

On an historical note, we have been investigating the access into the remains of the main mast, which was reportedly hollow, with a ladder inside leading up to the lamp 27ft above deck. I thought I had found a clue when I spotted a 'handle' in a photograph of the mast I had taken when I was aboard a few weeks ago. I had not noticed the handle at the time.

When asked to investigate, Simon reported that there was no handle there and even sent a photograph showing a blank area.  Later on he examined my photograph and he saw what I had seen!  Another investigation revealed that what appeared to be a handle on the mast was in fact the edging of a panel on the bulkhead behind....

So we are left with the puzzle for now and the only clue we have is an odd shaped projection on the side of the mast which must have something to do with access surely .......

Other historical features include the stub of the mizzen mast

the bow anchor 'nostrils'  ....

and the mast support points, ventilation funnels, a door (non-functional), port-holes and the side canopies - all visible in this photo...

I am now engaged in a protracted exercise in proving (or disproving) that the photograph of Lady Dixon in the role of the Belfast Pilot Station is indeed Lady Dixon / Cormorant. The only size reference I have is a 6 ft (?) man standing in the bow area with his lower limbs hidden. So I am using the proportions of Cormorant i.e. comparing the width of the superstructure (12ft) with the distance from the main mast to the front of the superstructure (29ft). The Lady Dixon photo is taken at an angle so the first task is to work out from where the photograph was taken.

Without going into too much detail, I have to find a spot where the observed ratio between the chosen distances (marked in red and green below) is the same as the actual measurements from the ship. The fourth one I tried (D) is very close.  Next I have to see whether that ratio is the same in the Lady Dixon photo (above). It's very late, I will do that tomorrow!

But I am still wondering why the light, the bow and the stern are all different from the ship down in Hoo!!

Thursday, 26 September 2013



Work is progressing to finish off the bed/sitting room, which eventually will become just a sitting room. As the bedrooms will be below deck, that time is some way off! Having gone through four unreliable workmen, Simon is now recruiting a couple more. Their main task now will be to remove all the loose rust from the ‘walls’ down below. Spraying on insulation would be an easier option than using insulation boards, but more expensive. It would also avoid having to apply some sort of rust-proofing, although after 130 years, will that make a big difference? The problem is that the ship is moored about 400ft from the shore along a narrow causeway and there isn’t a firm that has a spray hose that long!  So he is looking into DIY.

I have had a close look at the photograph of the Belfast Pilot Station vessel and compared its dimensions etc to those of Cormorant/Lady Dixon.
In addition to the shape of the bow and that of the stern being very different, the measurements of bow to superstructure; superstructure; superstructure to stern; and distance between masts is significantly different to Cormorant. This is in addition to the length (measured using the 6ft man) is 15ft shorter than Cormorant.
I therefore surmise that this is not Cormorant, in spite of all the reports claiming it is - plus the opinion of the chap who took the photo!
So more investigation needed and I can see a trip to the Public Records Office in Belfast coming up!

The little kitchen is well on the way to being superceded by a very spacious facility which will take up about half of the 59ft superstructure! It will complete the insulation and skinning of the superstructure. That large window is on the starboard side and is repeated on the port side. The thing that looks like another window further down the wall is in fact insulating panels yet to be skinned.

 And of course the quality of life items are not being neglected, so a new aviary has been acquired for the ship's canary!

Molly the dog is not impressed !
We still have not found a ship's bell .... any offers?


Monday, 23 September 2013

Irish Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon Chapter 3

If I have pressed the right buttons, this is the third chapter ... sorry, post.

I was certainly puzzled as to how the previous owners could have lived aboard for so long with the ship far from watertight.  All over the deck there were odd-shaped holes and many old bolts which must have secured the (missing) decking planks).  The bolts holes plus the odd-shaped ones meant that every time it rained water poured down into the below-deck area (I must find out the correct terminology for that) and on into the bilges, from whence it had to be pumped out every so often.

 It was so bad that taking a cold shower was quite easy!

That's not me by the way.  Thirty years ago maybe!

  So welding all the holes up was Simon's first priority.  Also the stern deck was just wooden panels covered with a plastic sheet, so that was properly done as well.

While he had the services of a welder, he decided to install 'light boxes'  to lighten up below deck. Each box will hold a double-glazed glass panel and be flush with the (eventual ) level of the deck.

He has not yet decided on the 'filling' material which I have faked in the photograph.
While this technical stuff was going on, down below there was an awful lot of rubbish to be extracted, carried down the 400ft walkway to shore and put into a skip (or two). If you think getting hold of skilled tradesman is difficult, try finding hard-working and reliable labourers! The dole may be less money, but it is far less exhausting it seems.
Anyway, eventually downstairs ... sorry, below deck ...  was looking much better - and drier.

That is the stump of the mizzen mast with the white stripe running down it. This area will be the master bedroom
Not all the old wood was thrown away. Enough was retained to keep the wood-burning stove going for a year (or three!).

This area will be the dining room. By the time Simon is ready to start on it, the wood will be long gone!

Meanwhile my historical research is making slow progress. I contacted the Belfast Harbour Master's Office, but they have no records from that far back and advised me to try the Public Records Office (N Ireland). This will mean a few days over there, or finding a volunteer who lives in or near Belfast, who would be interested in doing some research at the Records Office ........... ?

More tomorrow

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Irish Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon Chapter 2

I am still not sure exactly what I am doing, or how to let people know about this blog, but here goes.....

When Simon decided he would like to buy and live on a boat, we did a lot of searching to help. Moorings are as difficult to find as reasonably priced boats, but we found a few.  Our vision (and I think his) was a 50 to 60 ft widebeam barge, somewhere on the Thames. We were therefore taken aback when he came up with a 91ft ex lightship down on the Medway! The photographs took us even further back!

And downstairs - sorry, below deck, was huge and in a bit of a mess ......

We immediately christened it 'The Beast'. At least there was some liveable space - about half the superstructure area was habitable and the previous owner had lived there with his partner while he installed a bed/sitting room, a kitchen and a bathroom.

In spite of the enormous task facing him, Simon decided, after spending one week-end aboard, that waking to almost unbroken tranquility and wonderful sunrises, was so much better than the hustle and noise of London, that he gave up his London flat and moved down permanently.
There was much to do!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A bit of history first.

I am starting this blog in the hope of finding out some history of an Irish lightship.  My elder son Simon has recently purchased the vessel and because restoration as a lightship is out of the question, he intends to conserve what historical features remain as he converts it into a houseboat (houseship?).
Never having blogged before, it may be that I make mistakes which I hope will be forgiven.

The Cormorant was a Commissioners of Irish Lights light vessel. She was built in 1876/78 by the Victoria Shipbuilding Co., West Passage Cork, Ireland. She was 91 ft long, 21 ft wide and her draft was 11ft. She cost £7.500 to build and served on many Irish stations. Her construction was a composite of teak planking over Iron Frames. I have yet to find any early photos of the vessel.

In 1942 she was sold to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and renamed "Lady Dixon" after the Harbour Masters wife.

Between 1943 and 1959 she was reported to be moored off Carrickfergus as the Belfast "Pilot", but the photo supporting this has features which do not correspond to the ship as she was built or as she is now. More investigation needed.

In March 1961 she was sold to G. A. Lee Ltd, Earl Street Belfast, Northern Ireland.

In October 1961 a Slough, Middlesex, England journalist called John Thompson started a project to organise the first offshore radio station for the UK after hearing of the success of the Scandinavian stations. The station was to commence broadcasts on 1st December 1961.

Arnold Swanson was involved with this project but as Technical Advisor. The Thompson effort did not go forward as quickly as planned and Swanson split from Thompson in January 1962 with backing of £100.000 to start his own station.

Thompson then announced that he had purchased an "84 year old light vessel called Lady Dixon".

Thompson's fellow director was Robert Collier, a wholesale newsagent who registered the company as
The Voice of Slough at 35, Beechwood Gardens, Slough, England. The station had other names such as GBLN (Great Britain, London) Radio Ellen (after Thompsons wife) and Radio Elb.

Swanson now reappeared on the scene. They fitted out a caravan as a mobile studio to use for outside broadcasts and installed studios in Swanson's home at Notley Abbey, Thame (this is said to be the former home of Sir Laurence Oliver).

Programs were to be recorded on land and taken to the ship by speedboat. The Notley Abbey address was also the base of Amalgamated Broadcasting Co., owners of the now called GBOK who also had offices at 151, Fleet Street, London.

Keith Martin and Ed Moreno worked as DJ's.

The proposed name for the ship was "Buccaneer" and was to broadcast on 388 Mtrs for 24 hours a day at 8 kW from a position close to the Nore station in the Thames Estuary.

The ship was taken to Pitsea, Essex to be fitted out. Unfortunately she got stuck in the mud there and two tugs were used in an attempt to pull her out but without success.

On March 9th she was freed from the mud and awaited a tow to Sheerness for fitting out. The dates for opening the station now started to slip. On 18th May 1962 it was reported that was ready and just needed a tow to the Nore.

It is believed that the ship was raided in July 1962 by the Post Office and their equipment confiscated.

Swanson had now spent £15,000 on the project and after the raid decided that the old light vessel was unseaworthy. He then went on to start another project using 220 ton Tank Landing craft but nothing was ever heard again about the project.

This photograph is believed to have been taken when Lady Dixon was in Pitsea (not confirmed).  The stern is nearest the camera.

  [Research by John S. Platt]

Enough for my first blog. Tomorrow I will relate what is going on now.