Thursday, 23 April 2015


Using an 1897 map, I have marked the docks that existed then, on today's Google version.  (Photo 931)  Across the road from the Health Centre on Beach Road  (Dock St in those days) was the 350ft main dry dock. Although not named on the old map, I believe this to be the Victoria Dock as it is the right size and it has a caisson. The later Albert Dock had a sliding gate, but there is no sign of this dock on the 1897 map and the two smaller docks to the north of the Victoria are not named, they are too small and they too have a caisson gate. 
So where is/was the Albert Dock? And the question still remains - was there a Victoria Shipbuilding Company in Passage West?

Simon was told that Cormorant is one of only three surviving ‘composite’ ships (ships with teak cladding on iron frames). He knew one of these is the Cutty Sark, but did not know the third. According to National Historic Ships UK, the three are Cutty Sark, The City of Adelaide (another clipper) and HMS Gannet (a sloop).  Cutty Sark is permanently ‘docked’ at Greenwich;  Adelaide has recently gone to Australia to be restored;  and Gannet has been restored and is in Chatham.  In truth these three have actually been described as ‘the only three surviving ocean-going composite ships’ and so Cormorant would not be included – although she did spend most of her working life out on the ‘ocean’ (well the Irish Sea anyway).  Regular readers may remember my discovery of a Trinity House document which queried whether Cormorant, not being used in navigation, could rightly be registered as a ship. Invoking the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 would classify Cormorant as a lighthouse, not as a ship. If so, she has to be the only composite lighthouse in existence!

    I was wrong to say that Simon has not had time to do any work on the ship.  He has started on the crumbling stern gunwale. The English oak has succumbed to age (and misuse?) in several places and has been patched (in several places) with concrete. So Simon has continued this cheap and cheerful method – erecting temporary shuttering on the outside of the hull and pouring concrete into the gaps (Photo 932).   

Unlike his predecessors, he has had the foresight to insert bolts into the concrete in order to fix whatever rails or seating he decides to install later (Photo 933)

    What spurred him on to do such repairs I can only guess, but the sight of yet another vessel sunk at her moorings may have had something to do with it. You will remember the sad photo of Ena lying under a high tide recently. Well another one has done the same – right next to Simon’s boat (Photo 934). 

   A sad sight and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. I don’t know what the problem is, or where, but she looks a nice little craft, when you can see her! (Photo 935)     

What a sad sight and nobody seems to care.


Friday, 17 April 2015


Speaking of pianos …… it has been gently suggested that perhaps the wardroom might be a good home for the piano Simon has acquired.  However the Captain is normally excluded from the wardroom, except by invitation. (In the Army we called them anterooms and it would be a foolhardy officer who told the CO that he was not welcome!)  Even if the protocol could be ignored, there is the problem of practicality. The piano must weigh over 300lb and is not the handiest shape. Readers may remember the difficulties with the deck tiling (Photo 911). 

Getting the piano along that walkway would be quite a feat, even for the most experienced (and physically strong) removers. Then there is the gangway. Again readers may remember its size and inclination (Photo 912).  

    Twice a day it is horizontal but with a large step down onto the deck; at high tide that step is impossibly large; so low tide probably offers the best conditions – downhill slope and a small step. The temptation will be to remove and discard the heavy iron frame which houses the strings and make some sort of cupboard of the instrument!

Molly the dog seems to have taken to her new quarters without any persuasion or inducement (Photo 913). Its position at the foot of the gangway makes it ideal for a guard post, although Molly’s qualifications in this area are not proven. Not a good spot to be if pianos come tumbling down the gangway!
    What has all this got to do with the history or the renovation of the lightship? Not a lot. Progress has not been made on either front I regret to admit.  I have heard nothing about the Victoria Shipbuilding Company, West Passage, so either I do not have any readers in the Cork area, or the Company never existed – which I suspect is the truth. Where are the Irish historians when you need them?

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Being one of ‘the older generation’, I was brought up to appreciate that, when things are tight, you must concentrate on the essentials.  I obviously did not spend enough time instilling such philosophies in my sons – certainly not Simon. His trouble is that he cannot resist a bargain and probably gets that from his mother.  You know the saying “A woman will spend £1 on something she does not need worth £2, while a man will spend £2 on something he needs worth £1”.  Anyway, Simon’s recent acquisitions illustrate a peculiar sense of what the essentials of his ship restoration are at this point in time.

He does have a dog – Molly – and a suitably sized kennel on deck is probably a ‘nice to have’, but suitably sized it is not and essential it certainly isn’t.  It does have one redeeming feature – it was free!

Yes it is one of those items that every lightship should have, although I think he should have waited until he has somewhere to put it. Downstairs, sorry below deck, will not be habitable for another year or so, even if he has worked out a way of getting the piano down the spiral staircase, as well as how to transport it along the walkway. He has no musical ability either!

I rest my case.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


In a few weeks Simon will have owned the ship for two years. Doesn’t time fly when you are enjoying yourself? After his first night aboard (29 June 2013) he reported “Awesome, spent last night on board and yesterday and today clearing the decks for the welder. So peaceful down here, I love it!  BBQ last night and fed the swans the scraps, woke up to blue skies and the clang of lines on masts not sirens and traffic”. (Photo 901)  

    One of the (many) jobs that will have to be tackled when he does have more time is painting the hull. He recently spotted the owner of a neighbouring boat taking advantage of the tide being out to paint his hull (Photo 902). A facial mud-pack is one thing, but everything below the waist is a bit much I think!  Simon is determined to find a better way!

     This story is running on this Blog and three other appropriate web-sites.  A total of around 900 people view the posts each week and the overall figure has now passed 60,000.  Those of you who have followed from the start (or gone back to the beginning and caught up) will know that there have been highs, lows and plateaus (plateaux?), both in the renovation and the historical research. Patience has certainly been a virtue in both areas! At the moment both areas are in a plateau phase – Simon being inundated with wall-papering projects (he is happy about that of course) and I am searching for new avenues to explore, including those ‘inaccessible’ CIL records lurking somewhere in Dublin.
    In 1878 the Cormorant cost £7,500 which in today’s money amounts to over £600,000 calculated on purchasing power. That is roughly the cost of two Rolls-Royce Phantom cars!  I still have not yet discovered anything about the Victoria Shipbuilding Co., West Passage, Cork.  Every source I have found identifies this company as the builder of Cormorant in 1878, but I cannot trace it.  There was a great deal of shipbuilding around West Passage and there certainly was a Victoria Dock (later the Royal Victoria Dock), built by H&W Brown (Photo 903), but the only company I can find operating here in the 1860/70 period was the Passage Docks Shipbuilding Company. 

However, according to the Heritage Boat Association, the yard(s) weathered a general slump in ship-building in the 1870/80 period and changed hands a couple of times, so the name may well have changed as well.  I do believe Cormorant was built in the Victoria Dockyard, but by whom? Maybe someone over in Cork can find out the answer for me…..