Friday, 30 January 2015


Following the adventures of the Commissioners as they inspected the lighthouses and lightships around the Irish coast has been fascinating.  Life aboard the Alexandria was probably quite comfortable, but getting ashore on a rocky lighthouse promontory would have been tricky – some were accessed via a jib and rope hoist, with just one foot in a loop as support - and boarding lightships in choppy seas would have been just as exciting (Photo 811 – Guillemot 1905). 

    Approaching lighthouses and lightships, which by their very nature were situated in dangerous waters, obviously required caution in a large vessel like the Alexandria.   Hence the presence at the bow of a ‘Leadsman’ singing “Quarter less seven” and other strange incantations  (Photo 812). 

    Once aboard they took their inspection duties seriously, even when age and physique might cause problems! (Photo 813 –  aboard Shamrock 1906).  This is the first photo I have seen showing the anchor chain (one of them) draped half way along the ship from the bows to what must be a port leading to a chain locker.  The chain is wrapped around a winch on the way.  

   Now I have not one but two photographs showing this arrangement. I did wonder what the man on the left was examining (looks like a flower pot!) and I was puzzled by that tall black cylinder behind him (Photo 814).   

   My first guess was a gas cylinder as I found a photo of the Commissioners ashore at a gas storage depot and there is a similar cylinder on the left of that scene (Photo 815).  

 I estimated the capacity of the lightship cylinder to be about 45 cu ft and that is not enough to keep the lantern going all night for a few weeks between resupplies.  Also the connection between it and the lantern which moves 30ft up the mast would be complicated?  But look back to Chapter 65 and the photo of Torch on the Barrels station reveals all. The cylinder is part of the early fog-horn apparatus. Emerging from the top of the cylinder (out of shot in Photo 814 but clearly visible on Torch) is a very much elongated version of an old fashioned ear-trumpet.
  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Simon is cutting a hole in the stump of the lantern mast to see whether there is/was a ladder inside for access to the lofted lantern in days gone by. I will report next time.

All these photographs are © Commissioners for Irish Lights and courtesy of The National Library of Ireland.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Well my trip to Dublin did not start well. As the weather had been so cold, I decided to start up the Morris Minor well in advance. Well that was the plan, but it did not start – nomatter what I tried. I will not go into detail as this is not an old car blog. Suffice to say I left it a bit late before calling a taxi.  £75 later I arrived at Liverpool Airport with 10 minutes or so to spare, but had not reckoned on security (shoes off, trouser belt off, coat off, shaving foam examined and bagged, cough mixture examined and confiscated etc etc) plus 3 miles of retail area to get through (I exaggerate only slightly). I was about 2 minutes too late. My pre-booked return fare was £58, but I had to pay a further £110 to transfer to the next flight. Now is that an administrative fee or a fine?  And I forfeited my pre-booked airport parking fee and I left my gloves in the taxi and I had another 6 hours to kill! So far, so bad. Anyway, My Dublin friend David Ryan met me at the airport, in spite of the late hour and things began to go right.

The next morning we were ensconced in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, poring through photo albums donated by the Commissioners for Irish Lights. What a treasure trove! There were over 40 photographs of lightships. It seems that the Commissioners, as part of their duties, would tour around Ireland visiting lighthouses and lightships to make sure all was in order. They did this in reasonable style aboard the good ship Princess Alexandria (Photo 1), 

although occasionally the transfer by cutter to a lightship or a lighthouse must have been exciting in rough seas! (Photo 2)

Well I now have a collection of photographs of Irish lightships dating from the 1890s, when they all seem to have the hoistable lanterns; through the early 1900s, when some were hoistable and some fixed. Most of the ‘collection, were acquired during my Dublin trip and many of them are courtesy of the very eminent photographer who accompanied the Commissioners on their inspection tour, taking photographs with his Kodak Panoramic Camera and his No3 Folding Pocket Kodak. He was Sir Robert Ball, the Astronomer Royal of Ireland. I have to say that he took a very large number of ‘seascapes’ – acres of sea with nothing to see (except sea!).
The Commissioners obviously took their task seriously and I found a lovely record of who was on the 1905 tour (Photo 3).

On an earlier tour, again headed by Sir William Watson, Mr W Douglass was one of the inspectors presumably in his capacity as Chief Engineer of CIL (Photo 4).

He was the engineer who produced the 1880 specification for the steel lantern masts – like the one which was judged to have collapsed and sunk the Puffin with all hands in 1896 (Photo 5).

All these photographs are © Commissioners for Irish Lights and courtesy of The National Library of Ireland.

Next time I will be showing you some more of the fascinating photos we found.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


I have found a great deal of  interesting material in the library of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the National Archives in Kew and the London Metropolitan Archives. I was hoping that the Commissioners for Irish Lights would also yield something useful. David Ryan has unearthed good photos from the CIL collection in the National Library of Ireland and I hope to find more when I visit this week. However it seems that the CIL Board Minutes and other possibly interesting material is out of reach. Apparently it is not kept in the CIL HQ, but has been stored elsewhere and is not accessible to the public. Also, although the Minutes should be easy to navigate, other documents are not catalogued and would take considerable effort to work through. A heavily over-worked private researcher does have access, but charges 30 euros per hour – definitely outside my budget!
So, back on the ship, Simon would really like to get on and finish off the salon. As hanging very special wallpaper is what he does for a living, it should not be too difficult, were it not for the laws of physics. The structure of the deckhouse includes metal triangular fillets joining vertical beams to roof beams (not sure what they are called but I think in wooden ships they were called ‘knees’). The walls and the roof are now well insulated, but these fillets, or part of them, protrude through by about 16 x 17 x 20 inches (Photo 1). 

 Now they are of course bolted/welded to the metal sheeting which forms the roof and side walls, so they are nearly as cold as the outside. Those of you who paid attention in class will know that when warm, moist air comes into contact with a cold surface, condensation often forms – depending on the Dew Point (I paid attention). It certainly does on these fillets, especially now winter is upon us. Simon does not want water running down his expensive wallpaper, so I am experimenting with ways of preventing this – either by avoiding the fillets getting cold (extremely difficult), or by preventing the moist air reaching the cold metal.

My first idea is to glue an insulating material to the fillets and I am trying rubber at the moment. I bought some 2mm sheet (white) and stuck some to an odd piece of metal, leaving a bare strip which I submerged in ice water (Photo 2). 

Now the worst case scenario is when the room has been cold for a while and whatever heat the fillets have absorbed from the room has been lost by conduction to the outside. When Simon then lights the stove and the room heats up, the warm air (which holds more moisture than cold) will precipitate condensation on any surface colder than the Dew Point.

So I left my apparatus in my workshop (ambient 2°C these days!) for an hour or two and then brought it into the kitchen (ambient 17°C).   After an hour I measured the temperature at various points on the metal and the rubber with a laser thermometer, to see whether the rubber surface stays warmer than the metal and avoids condensation. (Photo 3 – ignore the ice which had all but melted by this time. This is Photo 2 with temperatures added). 

To make sure the emissivity of the white rubber was not too different from that of the dull metal, I stuck small pieces of black tape to the rubber. Impressed? 

There was condensation on the exposed metal below the rubber and this had obviously precipitated before the exposed metal rose above the 0.5°C at which it emerged from the workshop. Doing the test again without the cold start produced no condensation on the metal. There was no condensation on the rubber strips in either case.  Q.E.D.

We must now do an on-site test and I am sending Simon a suitable rubber piece. Of course the answer might be to keep the ship interior heated at all times in cold weather, or to run a large dehumidifier constantly, but until the lower deck space is insulated and some form of heating available down there (or Simon wins the Lottery), such extravagance is not an option.

If anyone out there has had this problem and found a solution, we will be glad to hear from you.

Saturday, 10 January 2015


Colin J wrote in .....
"Sorry, David, but perhaps I should have shouted louder and earlier. If you are still willing to go ahead, then I would certainly want a copy. Reading the blog is essential reading, but whenever I meet up with you, there are always extra snippets that would do well in the book. Colin"

Well we are now fast approaching 50,000 'hits' in total and getting over 900 per week.  If only a third of the regulars expressed similar interest ........

Friday, 9 January 2015


My mention of a possible book on the history of Cormorant produced a deafening silence, so have abandoned that idea! Maybe if I get snowed in this Winter I will produce one copy – for Simon.
   My trip to Dublin is rapidly approaching and David Ryan is being a great help over there. We have much to do in a short time!

   That will be looking at material from 1878 to 1943. Meanwhile I have found confirmation that the ship was indeed moored near Sittingbourne in the 1990s. Charles Reece owned her at that time; she was painted red (Photo 1); 

and was reported to be at Gas Road, Milton Creek. Looking on Google Earth, I easily found Milton Creek. Gas Road meanders around a bit, but I did see a sort of jetty in the right area. I then spotted Google’s historical facility, which offers aerial shots of locations taken from other sources. Obviously the coverage is limited to what’s on offer, both in area and time. In this case it was Kent County Council in 1990 and there was Lady Dixon (née Cormorant) lying alongside that very jetty (Photo 2). 

A small discovery perhaps, but a very satisfying one.