Saturday, 27 February 2016


Oh dear. That which we were all dreading has come to pass.  Ena has departed to the ship’s graveyard (Photo 1371).   

Old age and neglect have ruined a once proud vessel and with nobody willing to come to the rescue, she has been doomed for some time.  It is awful to think that she was the subject of an expensive TV restoration within the last decade and was up for sale more recently for £85,000.  The graveyard and a gradual disintegration is her future, surrounded by the other wrecks on the shore of the Medway Estuary (Photo 1372 and 1373).
  You can see where she was patched up to keep enough water out for long enough to dump her.

    On a more cheerful note, I have written to eight possible grant makers, just to see whether this project fits their ‘philanthropic profile’.  If there are any positive responses I will agree with Simon a list of work packages. I do not think that we will be fortunate enough to find a single donor who will take on the bulk of the project, so there will have to be a series of applications, tailored to each donor. Notice the optimist belief that there will be multiple donors! The priority order will need some thought, but dry docking and hull maintenance must be high on the list. Wet blasting the inner hull below deck will be another package and Simon is in contact with a boatyard in Chatham who reckon there will be no problem doing the blasting 150 yards from shore. The spray insulation down below is another package. Fingers crossed. 
     Mervyn Hagger has come up with another historical snippet. On October 10, 1961 the 'Voice of Slough' project was reported by a newspaper account. However, by December 1961,  Arnold Swanson moved in on the Voice of Slough and then started his own GBOK project (on cormorant/Lady Dixon) which was announced in the Southend Standard on 15th February 1962.  This stated that the station would be broadcasting music, features and advertising 24 hours a day from a former lightship anchored near The Nore -  the same location as had been planned for the Voice of Slough's broadcasting vessel, starting on 28th February 1962.  When GBOK was raided the original Voice of Slough re-emerged under the new name of GBLN. While the GBOK project did not succeed, Andrew N. Thomas, top ex-BBC transmitter engineer had been behind the engineering side.

STOP PRESS:  Our first funder response arrived today – positive but not until next year.

Friday, 19 February 2016


We may be getting somewhere, on funding; history; and blasting.  Several people have kindly offered suggestions on these topics.
     I have a short list of possible funders, which I will contact. However, having run a small charity for a number of years and having been Trustee of a grant-making foundation, I know just how difficult it is to make a connection between the two.  Cormorant / Lady Dixon / The Lightship is way past any hope of restoring her as a lightship and anyway, which of her incarnations should be recreated if we had unlimited funds?  The best we can do is to preserve what is there and extend her working life – as a houseboat.  This will preserve an important piece of maritime history (she is one of only four large ‘composite’ ships still in existence) and save her from the fate that awaits Ena, sadly being prepared for her last journey to the wooden ships’ graveyard nearby (Photo 1361). 

    Mervyn Hagger sent snippets of information from George Saunders who said that A. N. Thomas, the BBC's Head of Planning and Installation Department,  retired from a lifetime of BBC service around 1960 and began advising the embryonic offshore stations such as VRN,  CNBC and GBOK (Lady Dixon).  He seems to have equipped the Lady Dixon with an old BBC 5kW Marconi transmitter (Photo 1362) while the ship was 'stuck in the mud' at Pitsea. 

The GPO who were monitoring every move, then pounced and removed all the equipment. Under the 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act it was illegal to install a transmitter without a license. Which just goes to show it doesn’t do to be a stick-in-the-mud!
   We have found a wet-blasting firm who can indeed stretch out 150 yards to the ship with their blasts. The large compressor will have to stay on terra firma, but the blast machine is small enough to move along the walkway and be put aboard. So either air is pumped out to it via a long air hose, or it stays with the compressor and the blast hose is the one that stretches. Either way it is not an inexpensive hire – about £1,200 per week not counting expendables.  I had better get going on those funding requests!

Saturday, 13 February 2016


Blast it!  I’m not swearing, I’m just identifying the problem.  We have moved forward a little in that there seems to be little doubt that the best way to remove the peeling paint and loose rust down below, is to wet blast it.  For those of you who have not come across this method, crushed glass is mixed with water and the slurry is propelled against the surface to be cleaned. On impact the glass breaks up further and is carried away, with the paint and rust particles, by the water. There is no need to wear a full breathing outfit as you have to do with dry blasting – a face mask will do.  On the ship the used slurry/paint/rust mixture will find its way into the bilges.  The bilge pump will have to put in some overtime, but at least there will be no sweeping and shovelling.

    If that sounds too good to be true, it is! The blasting needs a compressor delivering over 150 cfm, which is far more than my DIY compressor can manage (14cfm).  This job needs a trailer mounted compressor such as you see being used when the council digs up the road with pneumatic drills. Getting one of those out to the ship along the narrow walkway (Photo 1351) is out of the question. Does anyone know of a boat mounted compressor?

    The obvious way to get round this problem would be to get the ship into a dry dock where the compressor trailer could come alongside.  While it is in the dock we could apply some TLC the hull. There is a dry dock about 7 miles upstream from Simon, but the economics are daunting. In addition to the tug fees there and back, it costs about £400 to enter the dock, £400 a week while it’s in there and £400 to get out again and that’s before any work is done!!  Does anyone know of an historic ship preservation fund?

Saturday, 6 February 2016


Have you all hibernated for the winter?  I wouldn’t blame you actually - rain, rain, rain and cold, cold, cold. If this is global warming, please can we go back to the old climate?
     I have had a couple of supportive comments about the blasting machine, but nothing in the way of advice or information, except for the retailer who suggested a straightforward 20 gallon blaster (i.e. without the vacuum facility).  It will be quicker and use less abrasive, but cleaning up the mess will be horrific. The lower deck stops where the ribs begin and there is a gap down to the bilges (Photo 1341).
   In its prime there was a wall of tongue & groove planks from floor to ceiling covering the ribs – and the gap. I am not sure we want the bilges to have even more crud down there. I suppose it would be possible to stuff each gap as we progressed along, with something to catch the debris.  Whichever machine we choose it is going to take time and effort. Is there anyone reading this who would like to volunteer a few days labour to help preserve this historic vessel?
     There is a deafening silence from my ‘contact’ at the National Archives. Perhaps he is away on a research project.  What a pity Kew is such a long way from N Wales and you could say the same about the ship!!