Friday, 26 June 2015


 Well I had a different version of this post all ready to be published, including the answer to my davits question, when Brenden O’Connell contacted me. He first sent me a map from 1877 showing the Victoria Dock area (Photo 1021 courtesy Trinity College Dublin). 

This map was published at the time when Cormorant was being built and shows a lot of detail –the positions of cranes, capstans etc. It also shows (the three maps that make up this picture are high resolution) that the ‘fuzzy’ edges of the docks – something I had seen on other maps – are in fact a series of lines. All became clear when Brenden sent me his second consignment of delights – two wonderful old photos of the Victoria dock in action (Photos 1022 and 1023). 

   These make it clear that the sides of the dock were stepped, which accounted for those multiple lines on the map. Photo 1023 is of an unknown vessel, but 1022 shows the paddle steamer "America", which was the last tender to attend RMS Titanic off Roche's Point at the mouth of Cork Harbour.  
   The PS America and its twin PS Ireland were a pair of tenders at Cobh (then Queenstown) bringing passengers and baggage to and from the liners at the mouth of the harbour. So thank you Brenden for those nuggets.

   Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one of Simon’s two ‘hangers on’ has finally been moved. Quite ugly and obviously unloved, this abandoned project is now moored in front of Simon, beyond the end of the catwalk (Photo 1024). 

The second is due to be moved today or tomorrow …. we shall see!


Thursday, 18 June 2015


Very much heartened by the kind comments I have been receiving about the blog and the restoration/preservation work, on we go.
    A couple of posts ago I mentioned that Simon could paint only the areas of the hull that he could reach. A spell in dry dock would bring all areas within reach for painting and inspection, but out of reach financially!  So necessity being the mother of invention, he has devised a platform which will float on the water, or the mud (depending on the state of the tide) and give him access to the areas not within reach from the deck (Photo 1011).   

It is a large, thick slab of expanded polystyrene sandwiched between two aluminium plates. It floats well even with Simon on it – a bit wobbly at times he says.   “Rather him than me” I hear you cry.  I can but agree but you can’t tell your children anything they don’t want to hear, especially when they have passed 40.
   In my 6 June posting I mentioned that, at last, the two ships moored alongside Simon were going to be moved and he went off on holiday looking forward to them not being there when he returned.  Surprise, surprise they are still there.  Apparently there were gales in the Medway estuary every day last week, preventing any boat moving. That must have made flying difficult for all those pigs overhead!!  So I (Disgusted of North Wales) have been searching the Internet for another berth for him in the Medway area, but 100ft residential berths are hard to find.
   On the historical side I have sent a query to the National Maritime Museum to start the hunt for Royal Navy records of the 1916 requisition and another to an Irish commemorative group who keep alive the memory of the rebels who were executed in May 1916.  No response from either yet.

   Finally, a question for my nautical readers.  Photo 1012 (taken in about 1908) shows Cormorant’s lifeboat hanging on davits.  It is hanging inboard and the boat is longer than the space between the two davits.  How does it get outboard when being launched?

Saturday, 13 June 2015


When I started writing this story (September 2013), I hoped that people with knowledge and/or memories of lightships in general and Cormorant in particular, would get in touch and add to the story. I post each chapter on this blog and on three nautical-type websites. Over 1,000 people view each weekly chapter on the four sites and the 21 month total has passed 74,000.  In spite of this interest, the feedback has been rather sparse, but then I suppose that people with knowledge and/or memories of lightships prior to WWII must also be very sparse! I am very grateful to those who have responded. However, researchers and historians are continually delving into the past and unearthing previously lost or forgotten facts, which may or may not be relevant to their field. I did wonder when I found the Trinity House record of Winston Churchill being fined one shilling for smoking at a board meeting, whether any of his biographers knew of the incident.

   Well, out of the blue, I have been contacted by Dr Eoin Kinsella of the University College Dublin. He is currently working for the Commissioners of Irish Lights, putting together a history of the Commissioners during the revolutionary decade in Ireland (c.1912-22). It seems that, in 1916, Cormorant was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to temporarily house some rebel prisoners. It was for only one night and they were taken off to Dublin the next day. It does seem a lot of trouble to go to and I wonder if they were rebels of importance. The documentation found by Dr Kinsella was in the very formal style of the time – I wonder if anyone today uses the phrase “I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant” !    

Photo 101 shows one of the original documents and as it is quite faded I have transcribed it below.

                                                                                   Irish Light Stores


                                                                                  Co. Dublin

                                                                                        Date    3rd May 1916


                   I  beg  to  report  that  on  the  afternoon  of  1st inst,  I  received  a  visit  from the  Naval  Commander here  stating  that  the  Captain  in  Charge  of  the  Naval  Base  at  Kingstown  required  the  use  of  one  of  our  Lightships  in  the  Harbour  here  for  purposes  of  their  own  services.

                I  took  the  Officer  over  to  the  “Petrel”  and  “Cormorant”  and  he decided on the latter vessel and  asked that  a  few  small  matters  such  as  securing  latches  and  putting  some  loose  material  away  should  be  carried  out which  I  had  done.   Some few  men  were  sent  on  board  during the night  in charge of a Guard from  the  Naval  ship in the Harbour, and  next day  the  Prisoners  were  removed  and  the  vessel  was  not  further  required  as  will  be  seen by  the  enclosed  letter.

                                                          I  am,


                                              Your obedient Servant,


The Secretary,

   Irish Lights Office,


      The enclosed letter referred to by Mr Foot is a letter from the Navy saying they have no further use for Cormorant as the prisoners have been moved to Dublin (Photo 102).

   Next year is the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising and there will no doubt be a great deal of interest in that era which, I hope, will yield further revelations on Cormorant’s past. I intend to approach the Admiralty to see whether any records of that period still exist and whether the names of those special prisoners can be ascertained. A long shot?  Yes it is, but who would have thought that I would be able to find out the name of the tugboat skipper who towed Cormorant from Dublin to Belfast in 1943 ?  (Mr John Cooper).


Saturday, 6 June 2015


Simon has taken himself off on a short holiday – well deserved I must say. Before he left he found time to smarten up the repairs he has been doing on the stern bulwark (Photo 991). 

Of course painting at deck level is easy, but the hull needs some TLC as well. He can only do what is within reach from above (Photo 992).

    Eventually of course he will have to take to the water – hopefully not to the mud like the chap I showed up to his hips in it (April).
   The stern and the port side are accessible and there is good news about the starboard side access, currently blocked by not one, but two ‘hangers on’. After two years of asking, the marine owners have finally agreed to park these vessels elsewhere.  One actually belongs to them and the other is an abandoned restoration project – no sign of the owner (or mooring fees) for a year or more. It will be interesting to see the condition of that side of Simon’s ship.
   The other excitement to look forward to  is the de-rusting below deck – something which is badly needed (Photo 993).   

We are hoping that this will be by dry-ice blasting, which leaves no residue apart from rust dust. However, it is not going to be cheap, so if any of my readers know of a charitable person/trust/organisation which would like to help preserve one of the very few ‘composite’ ships still afloat, do get in touch!
   If we can get this work done it will mark the start of the below deck preservation. As long-term readers will remember, downstairs does need a great deal of work (Photo 994).   

When the rust has gone (well most of it anyway), the interior will be painted and/or sealed with sprayed insulating foam. Simon does not want a bland, smooth box, so we will have to devise some way of keeping the character, perhaps be leaving those frames partially exposed?