Saturday, 4 October 2014


I am back on the historical trail again, thanks initially to Harry Gibbons, who suggested that I contacted John Gore-Grimes, a Board member of the Commissioners of Irish Lights for many years. I am indebted now to John, who has come up with a copy of the original “Specification for Building a Light Vessel on the Composite or Combination Principle” dated April 1880 ‼ It is signed by one Joshua Cole, Com. R.N. Inspector of Irish Lights and Alex F Boxer, Assistant Inspector. It is 15 pages of detail about the construction of such vessels, plus two extra pages of details about the steel mast signed by W Douglass (sic). As Cormorant was built between 1876 and 1878, I am fairly confident that she was built to these specifications. Unfortunately although the text refers many times to drawings, none seem to have survived.
    Until I find a dictionary of maritime terms, much of what is stated is double Dutch to me, but many of my naval-type followers will have little trouble with paragraphs like this one :-

To be of best East India teak, amidship, sided 12 inches, moulded 13 ½ inches, to be in three lengths, the foremost length and after length to be of Irish elm, connected together with scarphs, the scarphs to be 5 feet long and to be vertical, each to have a tabling 3 inches wide and 2 inches deep, to be laid together with flannel and a heavy coat of white lead, and fastened with six through copper bolts 1 inch diameter, driven and clenched on copper rings.

    At first sight I would have guessed the author to be the late Kenneth Williams!

   To be serious, the mast pages have settled one question that was puzzling me. Several sources of information on the Cormorant have stated that she had a steel mast and fixed lantern, while others spoke of a lantern weighing over two tons which was ‘wrapped’ around the mast and hoisted about 30ft above the deck. This document talks about three wrought iron girders 36ft 5 inches in length, which should be attached “…perfectly true and parallel to the centre of the mast, ..…one of them, to be used as a guide for the lantern, is to be planed on all sides;   the other two, which are to be used as a roller-path only, need not be planed.”  To me this means the lantern was hoisted, not fixed.

   Talking of masts, I had assumed that the Cormorant had only the two masts visible in the 1956 photographs on station in Belfast Lough – the main, stubby mast carrying the fixed lantern and the mizzen which was removed during its early days in Hoo. In my search for similar vessels pre-1943, I have discarded any with more than two masts. However, on Page 13 there are two wooden masts detailed – a foremast and a mizen (sic). They are both pitch pine, the foremast 54ft long and the mizen 50ft long. So I shall have to do my searches again and find vessels with three masts!

    So, with the aid of a glossary I have found on the Internet, I shall begin translating the document into landlubberese.  Watch this space.