Tuesday, 25 March 2014


Fate continues to deal Simon some low blows. His Cherokee broke down (again) and this time it is terminal. It is very difficult to find a replacement vehicle without any transport to get around; while earning enough to keep the wolf from the door; while repairing the door; etc etc. Still, he remains cheerful.  I am searching up here in N Wales, but of course that means getting any vehicle down to Kent if I succeed.

My trip to the Public Records Office in Belfast is now arranged. I am allowing two days to peruse their records of wireless traffic between the Harbour authorities and the Lady Dixon, plus the Masters’ log books of the ship from 1943 to 1956 – and anything else I can find!

Meanwhile the Devil finds work ……. I am on the track of a Diaphone fog-horn to replace the one missing from the ship. You will remember that it was shown on the 1943 blueprints I got from the National Archives (Photo).

Unfortunately it is proving difficult to get a decision from the owners. Only the ‘trumpet’ remains, but it would be a start. So meanwhile I have had a cunning plan.

Simon needs some sort of doorbell to alert him to visitors when he is working in the depths. So I have made use of a redundant speaker to provide a basis for a very appropriate alerting system.

First I gutted it, then made up a little circuit board (a kit of parts purchased from Germany) which required some delicate soldering. I also purchased a suitable little speaker, made a mounting board for it and installed a push-button to operate the device. (Photo).

The finished article looks very smart (Photo) and makes quite a good sound for a lightship - you can try it (mpv).

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


It is a good thing I am retired. Just when I think of a relaxing afternoon, or a quiet drive in the old motor, Simon sends me fresh evidence of his progress.
Below decks is going to need some serious heating (once it is refurbished and insulated). I have sent Simon numerous adverts for modern multi-fuel stoves with back boilers to run radiators down there, but Simon doesn’t often do modern – as witnessed by his purchase of this 1878 ship!  So he has bought something with a lot of character, something which will blend in with its surroundings and yet (hopefully) do the job. It is ‘probably’ a French Godin stove, age uncertain, quite ornate and in need of some TLC (Photo). The glass front door is not in place, but it did come with the stove.

While that sits on deck waiting its turn, Simon has got on with the skylight. Until now it has been covered with a board and plastic sheeting (Photo - note the rusty old ventilation cowls). 

To compensate for some of the low blows Fate has dealt him over recent months, he did acquire a double-glazed panel of toughened glass, just the right size and with a blind incorporated in it, for just the cost of the petrol to go and fetch it. So off came the temporary cover (Photo – note the newly refurbished ventilation cowls) and, with a bespoke frame to give it a slight ‘drainage’ slope, on went the new panel (Photo).

The interior surround now needs packing, plaster-boarding and plastering, but looks very good already. (Photo)

Meanwhile my search for history goes on. Last week Charlie Warmington published an article about the Cormorant/Lady Dixon in his excellent Roamer column in the Belfast Newsletter. Already he has been contacted by some of his readers and of course I am hoping that some of them may have memories and perhaps photos of the ship when she was stationed off Carrickfergus.  I am planning a trip across to Belfast to research the Lady Dixon’s log-books which the Public Records Office has in the archives.

Monday, 10 March 2014


Thank you Lego for your kind remarks and interest.

It’s nice to see Simon making good progress and he certainly works hard enough in his ‘spare’ time. The story so far has shown the good bits and the bits that he has made good, but, even leaving aside the complete refurbishment of the cavernous areas below deck, there are a lot of bad bits which need to be addressed. These include the hull itself where the 136-year-old teak is showing its age. The massive beam which goes right round the edge of the ship (technical term please someone) has crumbled away in places – especially at the stern – and a previous owner has back filled it with concrete. This concrete is itself crumbling in places. I don’t know whether concrete is a recognised repair material, but I cannot think of any other way to fill a jagged hole easily. (Photo)
The ‘repairs’ go right around the stern and look quite fresh on the port side. (Photo)

Most of the sides of the hull look sound, but there are areas where close inspection and perhaps repairs are needed. The forward starboard area is a case in point (Photo)

As the vessel is floating higher than she was in her working days and will not (hopefully) be subjected to anything more than a gentle lifting and lowering on the tide, this may not be a problem. A good scrape and paint is indicated!

Wood rots and metal corrodes – especially when exposed to salty sea air and moisture. A temporary repair has been done on the lifeboat platform supports. Although the lifeboat and its davits have long since gone, the platform was definitely at risk. A more permanent repair will be effected. (Photo)

Finally, the old mizzen mast is doing a reasonable job keeping the ship off the mooring posts, but a gentler medium is needed. We found a neighbouring contractor about to dispose of some big dumper truck tyres, which will be ideal fenders. (Photo)   

The only problem now is how to get them from N Wales to Kent‼

Thursday, 6 March 2014


How embarrassing! Lego Legere very kindly commented on Chapters 28 and 31 with very useful leads about deck lights and pirate radio stations. I have not been checking to see if any comments are left (well I am rather new to this blogging lark) and the system did not alert me to the comments until this week – nearly 8 weeks after the first one!  Sorry Lego.

I followed up both leads and found the Chapter 31 reference was an article in Dutch!   Hans Knot set out a history of UK pirate radio stations – ‘zeezenders’. If my translating machine is correct, the Voice of Slough was going to be the first. On 10th October 1961 in The Times reported the arrival of a British offshore radio. The newspaper reported that the 42-year-old journalist, John Thompson from Slough, was planning to set up his own radio station. Thompson told the journalist that he had available a 70-ton motor boat with a length of 65 feet, previously used as a fishing boat. The planned anchorage would be in the vicinity of the light ship The Nore , about three miles off the coast at Southend.  The broadcasts would have a power of 1 kW on a frequency of 980 kHz. The launch date was set for 1 December 1961. There were several delays and eventually the main financier, the Canadian Arnold Swanson, abandoned the project and committed to a similar project, that he would call GBOK (Great Britain OK). He bought a former 91 feet long and 570 tons Irish light ship - . the Lady Dixon (recognise that name?). As well as being a radio station, the Lady Dixon would also function as a light ship. A logo was designed (Photo) but troubles lay ahead.

The other lead from Lego was a newspaper archive site www.newspapers.com and there I turned up an article from the Hobbs Daily News (Hobbs is in New Mexico), dated 29 March 1962. (Photo) The same story also ran in the Kansas City Star.

Basically the story was about Lady Dixon having a sticky time with mud and officialdom. Swanson maintained that he still hoped to be broadcasting by the end of the month. However, even though two tugs managed to free the ship from the mud’s embrace, the UK Government and the BBC were unhappy over GBOK.  Swanson’s application for a ship-to-shore radio telephone license was refused and eventually all the radio equipment was seized. The venture collapsed. She might have been a contender to be the first pirate radio ship in the UK, but never made it.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


More gems from the National Archives. On the 4th of  October 1910 the Irish Lights Office (ILO) asked the Board of Trade (BoT) to agree to the purchase of 16 fire extinguishers for use on their light vessels, at a total cost of £54 (£4,500 in today’s money). Presumably therefore there were 16 light vessels being operated by the ILO in 1910. The letter, signed by Mr H. Cook, the ILO Secretary, was couched in charming, Victorian language (Photo).

Three officials at the BoT agreed to sanction this expenditure, but one awkward chap in F Dept stuck his oar in saying that the Trinity House lightships (about 60 of them) did not have these extinguishers and that, “ …having investigated the specifications for the Irish lightships, I see that it provides for water tanks and various pumps (including fire engine pump and hose) for flooding and washing. Should we not ask what provision is made at present and why it is considered inadequate?”

So, on 10 October, the BoT asked the ILO for details of existing provision and reasons why that provision was considered inadequate. On 4 November the ILO’s Mr Cook replied “I am directed to state, for the information of the Board of Trade, that the wood light vessels are fitted with portable 3” fire pumps of Messrs Stone’s manufacture, with hose long enough to reach any part of the vessel. In the steel, wood-sheathed and iron ships, in addition to the portable 3” fire pumps, there is in each vessel a 6” Stone’s pump of the Downton type with sea cock connection and hose, fire buckets also are borne in each vessel”.

Unfortunately Mr Cook did not elaborate on the second part of the BoT’s query (reasons why this provision was inadequate) and merely stated that the Commissioners considered that it would be advisable to supplement these appliances with a suitable patent Fire Extinguisher.

The BoT then sought ‘professional’ advice by asking a Capt Monro for his opinion. The good Captain thought the proposal ‘quite reasonable’, but then hedged his bets. (Photo).

The killjoy from F Dept then stuck in another oar saying there was no record of any fire on board a light vessel and recommended asking Trinity House for their opinion.

On 23 November Trinity House reported on the observations of the Elder Brethren (sic),  saying that the provision on their light vessels was ‘regarded as sufficient for the purpose’ and went on to say that their appliances were practically the same as those on the Irish light vessels. Mr F Dept leapt in gleefully, saying that Trinity House had four times as many lightships as the ILO.  I think he went rather over the top by suggesting that extra fire extinguishers were not needed as the Irish lightships were stationed near the coast and were provided with life boats‼ (Photo)

 And so on 1 December 1910 the BoT informed the ILO the expenditure was not sanctioned.  There it rested until two years later when the ILO had another go. On 7 August 1912 the new Secretary of the ILO, Mr J Philps, wrote “I am directed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights to state that they are convinced of the importance of furnishing lighthouses and lightships with efficient fire appliances…..”.  Notice that lighthouses have crept in alongside lightships and the requested expenditure shot up to £278 (£19,000 today). 

The Elder Brethren at Trinity House were again consulted and replied listing the provision of Chemical Fire Extinguishers at their 70 lighthouses – the list shows the name of the lighthouse; the number of extinguishers at each; and the location of each extinguisher (in the lamp room, the tower base, the dwelling or ‘other’). No lightships were listed and TH recommended that the ILO should state their reasons if they wanted provision on their lightships. However their letter concluded with the words “… should they consider further safeguards necessary on board their lightships, a portable Chemical Fire Extinguisher would perhaps best meet their needs”.

There seemed to be a softening of the BoT approach and the expenditure on the Irish lighthouses was approved, but F Dept was still muttering in the background against the lightships. On 5 October the ILO was again invited to state why they thought current provision was inadequate. On 8 October the ILO responded, but without any justification apart from saying they considered the supply of these fire extinguishers ‘absolutely necessary’. The reaction in the BoT was negative all the way up the food chain until the memos reached a Mr Robertson on 25 October. Swimming against the tide (Tide? What tide?) he merely opinoned that the request should be grants (Photo)

He must have been fairly senior as there was no more dissent, not even from F Dept, and the ILO were given sanction to spend the extra £40 :10s on 28 October 1912.  Pity they did not go straight to Mr Robertson in October 1910.