Saturday, 27 December 2014


For the final chapter of the year I have chosen to look back to remind myself how far Simon has got with this massive project. It really ought to be on Amazing Spaces!
   The many improvements Simon has made, since deciding to purchase and live aboard in August 2013 (only 16 months ago!), include the refurbishment of the 58x18ft deckhouse, turning a tiny ‘cooking space’ and a rubbish store into a terrific kitchen (Photos 1, 2 and 3).  Note that Photo 3 is a combination of two photos, which accounts for the two-tone floor!

    The other great step forward was the insulation and weather proofing of the whole 58 sq metre deck area, particularly the side decks which were full of holes with no cladding (Photos 4 and 5). 

  So a Happy New Year to all my readers.  I am running this story on several web-sites and the total  ‘hit count’ has just passed 47,000, running at about 800 to 900 per week, so there are people out there who are interested‼

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


This site has some awkward, nay contrary features.  Sailpix IRL left a couple of comments about Chapter 65 (October) and I have only just received notification that the comments have been left. Not that it is doing me much good because I cannot work out how to respond. Clicking on the 'reply' button presents me with a new box for about 1.5 secs and then reverts to Sailpix's comments again. The Help pages are useless. Can anyone out there help?
Anyway Sailpix, Patrick, thanks for the compliment. In answer to your questions, paintings are not really accurate enough to identify individual ships (artists' license and all that).  I have seen the two Wilkinson paintings before, but the Mailboat photo is a new one on me. Thank you for it, but what a pity the Mailboat was making so much smoke and obscuring the lightship!

Friday, 19 December 2014


Well the London Metropolitan Archives pulled out the stops and my photo, ordered on Thursday, arrived the following Monday!  I had to ask permission to reproduce it here, but that did not take long. It shows a hoistable lantern close up (Photo 1 © Trinity House).

The construction of the 2 ton 13 cwt monster can be seen clearly and the crew member alongside gives a good impression of the size.  I assume that chain is for hauling the lantern up the mast by means of the manual (?) windlass at the bottom of the photo. Although those chains look fairly vertical, they cannot be. The windlass must be nearer to the camera than it looks so that the chains do not foul the lantern when it goes up. However, in all the photos I have of these lightships with hoistable lanterns, I can find no clear evidence of stout chains near the mast. I can see block and tackle arrangements such as on the Owers lightship (Photo2).

     I say this as a plural because there is one forward as well as the expected one aft. Perhaps it took two windlasses to hoist the monster aloft? Or perhaps these are nothing to do with the lantern – in which case where are the chains? 

   Incidentally, the Owers Station is off Selsey Bill and I gather that one lightship with the name Owers is now a wreck in Tel Aviv harbour. I don’t think it will be this one.

   The other question refers back to discussions we had on sails. I assume that is a furled sail stretching towards the lantern and, as it looks very straight, I assume it is around a spar/ boom. There does not appear to be any rigging keeping it up. It must be hanging (sorry, wrong term) from the mizen and possibly anchored (sorry, wrong term) to the main mast or superstructure near it, but I have never seen a sail in that position in any of the old photos. There have been photos of furled sails and just one unfurled (Photo 3) – all aft of the mizen. So come on you experts, what is going on?

   The renovation has picked up speed and the deck is now completely insulated and weather-proofed. The bow has never looked so good! (Photo 4).

    I know some of you will be wondering what that large blue tray is doing there. Well it’s where Molly – Simon’s dog – empties her bladder in between trips ashore. The observant amongst you will notice that it is slightly tilted by those green blocks. This is to encourage the effluent down to the bottom left corner where there is a gap in the surround. Although hidden by a hanging basket (of dead flowers) the gap is positioned over the starboard haws pipe …. need I say more?

Saturday, 13 December 2014


I was not too hopeful of finding a great deal in the London Metropolitan Archives.  Yes they have a collection of Trinity House documents and photos, but Trinity House was hit by a bomb during WWII and much was lost. However, the LMA do have very helpful staff and they helped me to find a few nuggets.
     What I was looking for was a record of the Puffin tragedy (1896), or at least an expression of official sadness. I also wanted to find confirmation of my theory that the Court of Inquiry findings – that the sinking was most probably caused by the mast breaking – prompted both Trinity House and the Commissioners for Irish Lights to change the design of all the main masts on their lightships from having a hoistable lantern to having a fixed one. See my previous post.
    I searched through a number of large, bound volumes of ‘Wardens’ Minutes’. They had been nicely bound but, after 120 years, were showing their age and were more than a little fragile (Photo 1).  

 I went right through 1896, 1897 and 1898, but found nothing relating to the Puffin.  I did see a reference to the Siren LV and new steel masts in January 1900. On a totally different subject there was a note about trials of an ‘incandescent gas burner’ in December 1897. The cost was to be £35 (about £3,500 in today’s money).
    There were some photos of light vessels and I have ordered copies of two of them.  One is a close-up of a lantern sitting at deck level and hopefully these will not get too delayed by the Christmas post. They are being copied from old glass slides (which I was not allowed to touch!)
    There was a shot of Petrel on the Coningbeg station. It took some computer jiggery-pokery, but I can just make out her name on the stern above that white band (Photo 2).

    I also trawled through ‘Inspection Books for Light Vessels’;  ‘Visiting Committee Reports’;  ‘Buoy Books’; and ‘Board Agendas (Pilotage)’. Nothing interesting in that lot!  However I do now know how to operate an 1895 Manual Fog Signal Apparatus. I also discovered that at a Board meeting on 11th February 1941, the Rt Hon Winston L S Churchill CH MP was fined one shilling by his fellow Board Members for lighting a cigar at the meeting. Not a lot of people know that!
    Towards the end of my second (and last) day, I was casting about rather desperately for lightship items, when one of the staff unearthed some other bound volumes and I struck gold.

17 October 1897:  “Irish Lights and Surveyor of Shipping.  Asking that Mr Goodall be allowed to inspect the old Daunts Rock Lt Vsl “Puffin” which is expected shortly to be dry docked at Cork.  Approved”.
In fact the Puffin wreck was beached, inspected there and broken up there.

19 October 1897: “Irish Lights (Lt Vsls).  Forwarding copy of Report of Court of enquiry into the loss of Daunts Rock Lt Vsl “Puffin”, who attribute the disaster to the breaking of the steel mast, which tore up a large portion of the deck. In consequence of this finding of the Court, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, with a view to the prevention of similar accidents in future, propose to introduce a stronger description of mast for use on board the other Light Vessels in their Service.
The Board of Trade now request the observations of the Elder Brethren upon this proposal of the Commissioners.”

Bingo!  Put another way “The Irish are putting stronger masts in their light ships, shouldn’t we be doing the same?” A very satisfying end to my labours. I now look forward to my trip to Dublin in January, where I hope to find some more nuggets.

Friday, 5 December 2014


The original construction and the subsequent modernisation(s) of the Cormorant were obviously shaped by the knowledge and technology of the times. In the 1880s the lanterns were constructed of brass and glass. With the oil tanks necessary to keep them alight through the night and/or bad weather, their overall weight was 2 tons 13 cwt. Having this lump over 27ft above the deck must have tested the mast and the shrouds quite severely in rough seas. In daylight it could be lowered to deck level and no doubt also in severe storms. However, when aloft, the wicks needed trimming from time to time and the masts were made hollow, incorporating a ladder to give safe, covered access to the lamp. There could be no question of lowering the lantern when in operation just to trim the wicks. (Photo 1)

   Now, having hollow masts, with two fairly large access holes in them and 2 ton weights waving about up there, must have caused a bit of concern. When the Puffin was lost with all hands in a terrible storm in 1896, the inquiry decided the cause was the mast breaking below the deck, carrying away the house and tearing a large portion of the deck. “The rectangular doorway was a source of weakness ….”.  (Photo 2)

    This tragedy may well have caused Trinity House and the Commissioners for Irish Lights to look again at the design of masts and lanterns. Changing to acetylene may have obviated the need for frequent access.  By 1908 Cormorant and her sister ship Torch had been converted to a fixed lantern. This was just as high up the mast – the mast most probably strengthened by plating over the two access doors – but because it did not have to be hauled up and down, or to carry oil tanks, it could be constructed weighing a good deal less than 2 tons. (Photo 3)

    Later in life the cramped crew quarters were improved by the addition of a deckhouse and certainly this was needed when Belfast Harbour adapted her to act as a pilot station as well as a lightship. With 10 crew and 9 pilots, extra room was certainly needed.  (Photo 4) 

This superstructure may well have added support to the mast, but as Cormorant – or Lady Dixon as she was now christened – was safely tucked up inside Belfast Lough, she would never experience the sort of atrocious weather suffered on station at Lucifer Shoals, the Kish and other isolated moorings. (Photo 5)

    Today, or rather over the next year or so, her insides will be reworked yet again. This has already started and the deckhouse is approaching completion (as you have seen in previous posts). Below deck will be a much greater challenge! (Photo 5)


Saturday, 29 November 2014


After a pause to earn a living and to find a source of reasonably priced plywood and timber, the decking work is approaching the finish. Those nostrils (haws pipes), which were impressive but a bit of a mess (Photo 1), 

are now blended in to the new decking (Photo 2).

The final stretch of decking is timbered (Photo 3) and early next week, weather permitting, will be insulated, covered and sealed. 

We are still looking for a source of rubber tiles to go over the roofing felt and protect it. They will need to be interlocking, hard wearing and have some type of drainage channels on the bottom surface to allow rain to run over the roofing felt to the scuppers (Photo 4).

One small historical note – Simon sawed a piece off the end of the old mizzen mast (now hanging between the ship and the jetty) so that it would clear an upright. Looking at the newly exposed cross-section (Photo 5) reveals how well the timber (pitch pine) has survived the last 130 years – the last 15 or so being dunked in the sea on every tide!