Friday, 31 July 2015


I had a long and interesting phone call recently with Anthony Lane, who wrote that excellent book on Lightships ‘Guiding Lights’.  Tony visited Simon’s ship back in 2000 at Hoo. She was then called ‘Lady December’; still had her mizzen; and was still partially painted red. He says it was difficult to see much as the ship was very cluttered, but he did send me one photo of the starboard stern lead (Photo 1071). 

     This relates to Steve’s question about stern hawes pipes, so it set me thinking.  Although these vessels were not anchored by the stern whilst on station, they did need some form of mooring when in harbour, whether they were tied up alongside, or stern first.  The ropes, which I assume were fed through leads, had to be secured to something substantial on the ship. The stern leads on Cormorant have long since disappeared, but there are twin bollards on either side (as shown in my last post). Her bow leads (Photo 1072) are still in use.

     However I cannot find much evidence of bollards on similar vessels, mainly because the photos I do have were mostly taken from other craft and any bollards are hidden by the gunwales. That is not to say there were no bollards there, but nor can I find any evidence of stern leads or gaps in the gunwales where the bollards would be.

There are two exceptions – Gull and the ill-fated Puffin (Photo 1073) –  the bollards are visible, but both vessels were in a very poor state when the photos were taken and the gunwales have disintegrated in more than one spot.

     How did the ropes leave these vessels? Not over the top of the rail surely! Tony Lane pointed out a likely candidate in the photo of Guillemot I sent him, but a better resolution picture (Photo 1074) showed that it was more of a projection than a hole and Tony correctly deduced that it was the signalling cannon. 

The model of the Seagull in the Dublin Maritime Museum (Photo 1075) has the canon in just the right place and also has bollards.  But where are the leads or gaps in the gunwales? Of course a model is just an artist’s impression of what he sees – or to which photographs and documents he has access. 

   This is more fun than a Telegraph crossword !


PS:  Is ‘gunwale’ the correct term for the ‘fence’ that goes round the ship between the deck and the rail? Nobody has answered this question which I also put in my last post.

Friday, 24 July 2015


In an idle moment I used Photoshop to reinstate the gunwale/side strakes on the ship (and paint her sides) to see what she could look like if Simon won the Lottery (Photo 1061).   

She obviously looks a lot smarter than the photos in my last post, but also I think better proportioned. Well we can dream.
   Back to reality and unretouched photos.  The stern is as imposing as the bow (Photo 1062) 

And up on top there the bollards, having lost the mooring lines of the hangers-on, have been cleaned and painted to match the restored gunwale (Photo 1063).

   Perhaps I should not be calling it the gunwale. If the side strakes were in place (have I got that right?), surely the gunwale would sit on top of them – the bit you lean on when admiring the view?
   Grabbing the odd spare hour or two and tackling small jobs like this does keep up the momentum I suppose and they all have to be done sooner or later.  But below deck a far bigger challenge awaits and cannot be put off forever. (Photo 1064).

For a start the inner sides/walls (?) and ceiling/overhead (?) must be de-rusted and painted - about 2,400 sq ft at a rough guess, three weeks hard work for a three man labour force. For one man working very part time ………

Thursday, 16 July 2015


Until now Simon had never seen the starboard side of his ship and his ship’s starboard side had not seen the light of day for many years! With the removal of the two ‘hangers-on’, all that has changed. A fellow owner took Simon out in his motor boat to take photographs, but they had to be quick as the tide was going out and the weather closing in!  A closer inspection and more detailed photographs will be possible soon.

Photo 1051 shows the whole vessel.  Originally the stanchions were not visible, being boarded over with 2-inch English oak around bow and stern and teak amidships. All that has long gone and I doubt whether Simon will be able to afford replacement.

Photo 1052 shows the bows, with the prominent Knight-heads. The hawse-pipes look as if they would let in water but of course they slope sharply upwards to deck level.

Photo 1053 is a close-up of the ship’s side. The teak planking is very obvious, as is that port which looks as though it has been (partially) bunged up with expanding foam!  Less obvious, just below this port, is the Muntz metal sheathing. Comparing this with old photographs of Cormorant, I estimate that she is riding about a foot higher in the water these days and the Muntz was mostly under water back then.

So, along with the excitement and pleasure of uninterrupted views across the Medway estuary, Simon now has an uninterrupted view of the work required on the starboard hull. I suppose after 137 years of sea and weather, it’s not looking too bad !

Friday, 10 July 2015


Pursuing the ‘prison ship’ line of enquiry, I looked for the naval officer who requisitioned Cormorant and stored prisoners aboard for one night – 1 May 1916. Signatures are often hard to decipher, which is why many people print their names beneath their scrawl. The letter I showed in June from the ‘Captain in Charge’ of the Kingstown Naval Base, saying ‘thank you for the loan of Cormorant, you can have her back now’,  had no printed name beneath the scrawl (Photo 1041). 

His appointment also proved difficult as the man in charge of the base at that time was no less than Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly – rather more elevated than a Captain.  I am sure my naval readers will be able to explain that apparent anomaly.
    So, concentrating on the signature I searched the National Archives, first trying J Aplin, then H Aplin and scored a hit – Henry F Aplin, born 9 June 1862; commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant  22 March 1882; Commander 31 December 1897; and retired as Captain 23 June 1908. I thought I had reached a dead end.  Well it cost me £3.30 to download his service record but it was worth it.  He was recalled, as many retired officers were, when war loomed and was posted to ‘Boadicea II’ (Kingstown Naval Base) in December 1915, which puts him at the right place at the right time to do that bit of requisitioning (Photo 1042).

   Aplin is not a common name, so if anyone out there knows the family, perhaps enquiries could be made to see if Captain Aplin left any memoires. He passed away in 1927 and his brothers Charles and Stephen were appointed executors. The address at that time was in the Kilburn area of London.

   Great news (at last!).  The second ‘hanger-on’ has been moved to another mooring after 18 months of asking. Pumping out the hold and using a bigger tug obviously worked. The shore view on the starboard side was blocked (Photo 1043) 

and is now uninterrupted (Photo 1044).

Simon reports that he cannot stop looking out of the kitchen, sorry galley, window (Photo 1045). 

« Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre »


Friday, 3 July 2015


My enquiries into Cormorant’s brief episode as a prison ship have not got very far. I am exploring three avenues – the Ministry of Defence because they probably ordered the dirty work;  the Royal Navy because they did the dirty work;  and the Irish organisation who celebrate the memory of the rebels, who were the dirty work!  Nothing heard yet from Ireland, but I have had a reply from the National Maritime Museum. However we had crossed wires somehow and I received information about HMS Cormorant and how to find out about her RN crew, so I have gone back with clarification. The other avenue I could try is  the National Archives at Kew.  Annoyingly, last year at a car rally lunch I sat next to a young chap who works there and I did not make a note of his contact details. Long term readers may remember that I obtained from Kew copies of the blueprints which were sent down from Belfast to Dublin in 1942, specifying what was to be done to Cormorant in her transformation from lightship to Pilot Station. So I am quite hopeful that they may have records about this Royal Navy activity in 1916.
   One question has been answered (thank you Jim) – how to get the cutter/lifeboat from inboard the davits to outboard. The sequence is quite straightforward, although the dimensions of the davits and the boat need to be well thought out.  I have even tried out the sequence, albeit on paper (Photos 1031 - 1034).

   Meanwhile, back on the Medway, that second vessel hanging onto Simon’s starboard side was not moved when promised (surprise, surprise!). Excuses included too much wind on Friday and not enough water on Saturday. However, there was movement in that the ‘tug’ was moored alongside ready for action. Now that I see the size of the ‘tug’, I can sympathise with the Marina’s desire for absolutely perfect conditions! (Photo 1035).  

 The latest news is that an attempt was actually made to move her but the hold was full of water and so she did not come far enough out of her mud bed with the tide.  The bilge pump has been working overtime and a bigger ‘tug’ engaged. Watch this space!