Tuesday, 29 October 2013


CHAPTER 12 –  29 Oct 13

The long-awaited documents finally arrived from the National Archives – well the first batch anyway. We did not expect these to be helpful in resolving the puzzle of whether Cormorant was the same vessel as the one in the Belfast Pilot Station photo, however they were fascinating in their own right.

Firstly, the origin of the paperwork was a request from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners to have the Cormorant registered as a British ship and to have her surveyed and measured. The Cormorant was obviously still in Dublin at this point in time. I assume the nationality distinction arose because the body responsible for  ‘lights’ (lighthouses and lightships) around Ireland has always been combined north and south (and still is). Now that Belfast Harbour was going to use the ship for purely Belfast purposes, they wanted it ‘properly’ registered. On the face of it there was no problem, but a question arose as to whether the term ‘ship’ was appropriate! The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 stated that if a vessel is not used in navigation, it is not a ship within the meaning of the Act and, if solely employed as a lightship, would fall under the definition of a lighthouse!

However, it was accepted for registration on the grounds that a Ministry of War Transport 21 (a derrick pontoon) has been accepted, so why not this lightship? This was in no way to settle the question of whether it could be called a ship – “… this being a matter for the courts”.

There was also a question of fees for the Belfast surveyors visiting Dublin. In the end ‘normal’ fees and expenses were charged (but not listed) as Dublin could be considered as not being ‘abroad’ ‼

Although many records state that Cormorant was 91 ft long, these documents have her at 98ft 6in, with a beam of 20ft. Her Gross Tonnage was 182.98 and Register Tonnage 136.33, although I have not yet determined the reason for the difference. Her Official Number was 168531. She had no means of propulsion, but did have a rudder.

Finally, the alterations to the vessel were to be carried out in Dublin. She was to become a combined lightship and pilot station, with a crew of 10 and accommodation for 9 pilots.

The second batch of documents should be here next week. I can hardly wait!

Thursday, 24 October 2013


CHAPTER 11  -  24 Oct 13

With Winter approaching, young men’s fancy turns to – dryness and warmth‼ Because most of the teak decking has long gone, there is only rusty metal plate between the cold night air and the (future) living space below deck. Condensation is also quite a problem and because the drain holes are above the plate level, there are all sorts of leaking opportunities when it rains. Hopefully we have a cunning plan which will solve both problems. The sides of the ship are a separate project!
I related in Chapter 7 how the plan was to fill in the space left by the absent decking with a thick layer of all-weather ‘tennis court’ surfacing. This was going to be very difficult (the deck has a slight curve to facilitate drainage and following that curve with a fluid whilst maintaining a constant thickness …. need I say more?).
So now Simon is being advised by a professional roofer and a more complicated, but more feasible plan is emerging. Looking at the more difficult part of the deck – the curved walkways down each side, which have light-boxes built in …..

First the deck will be given a coat of primer. Then short lengths of timber, about the thickness of scaffolding-type planking, will be wedged across the walkways, at 5ft intervals, between the superstructure and the wide baulks of timber which edge the ship. The intervening spaces will be filled, to the same height, with roof insulation panels.

Then bitumen is poured into all the gaps
Sheets of marine ply are now laid over and secured to the planks. The surface is then treated like a roof – with bitumen and that gravelly bitumen sheeting you see on flat roofs.

The green colour of the bitumen sheeting is merely to differentiate it from the ply.

Then Simon can have a thin coat of tennis court material if he chooses. The light boxes will be double-glazed and the deck will then be insulated and leak-proof.

That's the plan anyway!


Friday, 18 October 2013


Still waiting for those documents from the National Archives. Today I received an estimate for the interesting item (the one with plans attached). It will cost about £36, whereas the first item (in the post I hope by now) cost me £6. I am therefore assuming that the second item contains many more pages. Can't wait, but I think 24 Oct is the earliest I can expect them.

Meanwhile Simon has not been idle. He has scraped the starboard wall (?) of the superstructure ....

... and painted it with anti-rust black ....

..... which looks much better. That large window is the kitchen window - serving as a hot-house at the moment until the units are plumbed in ....

He has also got his stove going, which makes things very cosy inside .....

and there is plenty of fuel below!!


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon - Chapter 9a

Curiouser and curiouser!  That ring/plate on the mast has turned out to be a plate. It is difficult to photograph, being so close to the wall ... sorry bulkhead ...

It is directly adjacent to that bolted panel in the bulkhead ...

...which from the other side of the bulkhead looks like this ...

Now that is what I call a permanent job. With 14 bolts holding it, nobody is going to get access to the mast through there in a hurry. So what is/was it for?  And what is that relatively small plate on the mast covering? There are only about four bolts holding that on.

I need to get down there and examine the mast in great detail. There must be a man-sized entrance somewhere on it.  Meanwhile, my theory about this small panel is as follows:

That small plate covers an emergency access point to the mast - in case the door (which I have yet to find) became stuck. Why it is next to a bulkhead I have no idea, except that perhaps that was the only place it could be due to the main access door taking up the rest of the mast area. There would then have to be an access point through the bulkhead and this may well have been a watertight door - part of a watertight bulkhead right across the ship.  Now then, if the Belfast Harbour Commissioners got rid of the old moveable oil lamp ....

... and replaced it with one of the new, fixed electric lamps when they bought the Cormorant (lightship) and converted it to a Pilot Station in 1943....

...all access to the inside of the mast would have been redundant and all holes sealed up to add to the strength of the mast. That bulkhead access panel would also be redundant and was permanently sealed.

 I am hoping the documents from the National Archives will reveal all.  Mind you, this still does not explain the differences in proportions and hull shape that I pointed out in Chapter 6.

If anyone has another theory or any comments on mine, feel free!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon - Chapter 9

The Devil finds work for idle hands .......

While waiting for that (hopefully) revealing document and plans from the National Archives, I have returned to the puzzle of the main mast and its access point.
The handle that wasn't (Chapter 5) turned out to be an access panel of some sort, but it is very firmly bolted in place on the other side of that partition....

And while examining it (photographically) from the side next to the mast, I noticed  an interesting feature on the mast itself .... right opposite that sealed panel.

I have asked Simon to examine this area and find out whether it is a reinforcement ring around an access hole, or a sealing plate covering a possible access hole.  History relates that:

 "There were two openings in the mainmast, one below the deck and another on the level of the lantern when hoisted up. Inside the mast was a ladder which the lamplighters climbed to trim the lamps. Both openings were stiffened round the edges with wrought iron frames".

Now if that is a stiffening ring around an access point, why is the access close to a bulkhead instead of further round the mast in a clear area? If it was an unavoidable choice, perhaps that sealed panel gave access to the access.  But sealing the access would suggest that access was no longer required and this in turn would suggest that the old moveable (oil) lamp was no longer in use and wick-trimming no longer needed. So perhaps when the Belfast Harbour Commissioners converted her to a Pilot Station, they changed the lamp to the fixed (electric) variety - as seen in the 1954 photo of the vessel - using the original mast but sealing up all the access points.
Mind you, I am still puzzled by the differences in hull shape and proportions as set out in Chapter 6.  You can see why I am impatient to see those documents from the National Archives!
Meanwhile, another historical feature to be preserved are the anchor-chain 'nostrils' (what is the nautical term?) at the bow, on either side of the forward access hatch.

 The rust holes in the access hatch have already been repaired. It would be nice to preserve the original decking forward of the nostril, but this side of it has all gone, so we may end up with a composite bow area... carrying forward the tennis court covering I spoke of in Chapter 7.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon Chapter 8

While I have convinced myself that Simon's vessel is not the same one as depicted in the Belfast Pilot Station photograph (see Chapter 6), I am now very confident that it is the same vessel as depicted in the 1960s photograph of Lady Dixon taken I believe in Pitsea.

With the aid of my trusty computer, I traced the main features of this ship and transferred them onto a photograph of the Beast, which I took on a recent visit. The angle of the two vessels is not quite the same - had I planned ahead I would have stood a couple of feet further along - so some of the features do not quite match up. However I think you can see that with an adjustment in camera angle, they will.

The bulwark has long since disappeared, but otherwise it is a very good match. Incidentally, a number of the original stanchions/ribs that supported the bulwark are still there and Simon has bought over 50ft of suitable timber to replace the missing/unusable ones. The timber - reclaimed roof joists - he got at a real knock-down price (good old eBay!). He does not plan to fill in with planks as original, but will have a ship's rail on top and a safety rail at the half height level for most of the ship, with a built in curve at the stern, with built in seating.  Something like this .....

Meanwhile, if Lady Dixon and the Beast are the same ship and the Pilot Station and the Beast are not, then the red Lady Dixon and the Pilot Station are also not the same ship. So what has gone on between the lightship called Cormorant and the Pilot Station called Lady Dixon; and the Pilot Station called Lady Dixon and the red ship called Lady Dixon??  I am hoping the two documents from the National Archives might throw some light on the matter.

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Things have slowed somewhat, both on the work and the historical research.  The work because the kitchen installation had to be halted as the installer had a family illness. So it looks good, but nothing works yet!

The matching picture window on the other side is also awaiting installation.

In spite of £8,000 being spent on welding up holes in the deck, there are still small holes letting rain through. A friendly roofer has suggested spreading bitumen as if it were a roof, which I suppose it is! It would not only solve the leak problem, but would be compatible with the next stage of 'decking', which Simon hopes to use the stuff that all-weather tennis courts are covered in. The present level of the iron deck is below the drainage tubes which were level with the now missing decking planks.
When the 'tennis court' is laid, the levels should be correct and the deck will drain ....
The colour has yet to be decided! This should also improve insulation.

Meanwhile the historic bit goes slowly. The National Archives takes 10 days to provide an estimate on how much they will charge for photocopying, then you can order (which I did 2 days ago for the first document I discovered) but there is then a 14 day delivery time. I now have 10 days to wait for the estimate on what is potentially the more interesting document (the one with plans attached), plus the 14 days of course. My impatience is much tempered by the realisation that we are indeed very fortunate to have such a wonderful facility!
Meanwhile, at the suggestion of a chap who I believe lives in S America, I have made contact with the Archivist of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. I am hoping that he may have access to more information about the early days of this ship .........

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Lightship Cormorant and/or Lady Dixon? Chapter 6

Well I am now convinced (sort of) that the photograph of the Belfast Pilot Station taken by Wil Smith in 1954 is not the same vessel as my son's ship in Hoo. There are some similarities, but there are too many differences.

1. The ratio of the overall length to the length of the superstructure on Cormorant is 1.54
On the Pilot vessel it is 1.88 (the red and yellow lines).

2. The angle of the bow on Cormorant is 60° and on the Pilot it is 74°

3. The angle of the stern on Cormorant is 52° and on the Pilot 78°

4.  The lantern on Cormorant moved up and down the mast like the old Gull lightship below and the Pilot was definitely fixed.

5. The securing points for the main mast shrouds are still there. When their line is extended upwards ….

… the lines meet at where the main mast was and at a height of 51 ft above the deck – much too high for the fixed lamp of the Pilot.

So where do we go from here?  I have three lines of enquiry at the moment:-

a. In the National Archives at Kew they have a letter from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners asking in 1943 for a registration survey and tonnage measurement to be done in Dublin. I have requested a copy hoping it will shed some light on the ship.

b. The Public Records Office in N Ireland has some documentation reference wireless traffic between the Belfast Harbour office and the Lady Dixon. I may have to go over there to dig these out.

c. I have registered at four likely websites where naval matters are discussed -  World Naval Ships Forums;  Ships Nostalgia; Boards.ie; and The Association of Lighthouse Keepers. I am also writing this blog.   Someone out there might have some information.‼

STOP PRESS:  The National Archives also has a document from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners referring to the Lady Dixon being used as a Pilot Station complete with accommodation, and the document has apparently got plans attached!  I have asked for a copy…….