Friday, 7 November 2014


Although I have no intention of building a lightship, I have been reading the 1880 specification with much interest. I have been struck by the multitude of materials that have been specified in great detail for all the bits and pieces (scantlings?). The document starts off by insisting…..
 “All the materials used in the construction of the vessel to be of the best quality and description, it being in the power of the person or persons who may be appointed to superintend the construction of the vessel, to reject, and cause to be removed, any portion which may be considered inferior or defective”.
The word ‘best’ appears 16 more times and the word ‘good’ only twice.

Not counting any of the furniture, cupboards etc., I have counted nine different woods to be used. I will not attempt to catalogue all uses for all the woods.
Best East India Teak.  This is all over the ship, top to bottom and front to back ….. sorry, topside to keel and knighthead to stern post. The topmast, rudder trunk, outer and inner skins, topside and bottom planks, bulwark stanchions, hatchway coamings, sky-light and keel, to name but a few.  Only the mid-section of the keel was to be teak, the foremost and the aft lengths were to be ….
English or Irish Elm.  Parts of the keel, the whole of the false keel (3 inch thick sacrificial plank), and the bilge pieces.
Rock Elm.  Lower deck beams and sister keelson battens.
American Elm.  Chain lockers.
English Oak.   Roughtree rail (the main rail on the top of the bulwarks), rudder, bowsprit and tillers.
Dantzic Crown Deal.  Upper deck.
Red Pine.   Lower deck waterway and sky-light shutters.
Yellow Pine.  Lower deck.
Pitch Pine.  Mizzen and fore masts.

The metals specified were even more prolific and it was by no means a case of one suits all.
Staffordshire Iron.  Keel plate.
Cast Iron.  Hawse-pipes and bollards.
S.C.Stourbridge Iron.  The wrought iron fittings on the masts.
Best Quality Bessemer Steel.  Main mast.
Best Angle Iron.  Frames.
Galvanised Iron.  Water and oil tanks.
Gun Metal.  Knees (bracing pieces), rudder pedants and gangway stanchions.
Bulb Iron.  Deck beams, carlings (fore and aft deck supports) and clamp stringers.
Strong Lead.  Scuppers.
Muntz Metal,  Sheathing on the outside of the boat below the waterline.
Copper.  Throughout the ship!
Brass.  All door hinges and locks etc.

There was also concrete (to line the powder room) and cement (“The inside of the vessel, as high as the sister keelsons, to be coated with the best Portland cement”) and thick coatings of white lead between all ‘faying’ surfaces (joined surfaces).


PS: A close look at that 1908 photograph of Cormorant on station at the Kish, proves that it was indeed the Cormorant. The name is difficult to read there on the stern, but with the 67Mb hi-res scan there is no doubt that it does say ‘Cormorant’. However I cannot see names on the other photos as the vessels are more side-on and the stern is out of view. I wonder if all these lightships had their names permanently on their sterns and the name of their station in large letters on their flanks – changed when they went to a different station.