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)