Saturday, 26 March 2016


While I struggle with the Byzantine machinations of Swanson/Thompson during the 1962 GBOK period, when they were trying to make Lady Dixon into a pirate radio station, Simon has been making great strides cleaning up below deck (Photo 1411). 
    He has abandoned the air-driven nail gun and settled for a drill-driven wire brush. The result is a clean, but not rust-free surface, which is all that is required for the application of foam insulation. The drill is heavy and it is very arm-aching work (as was the nail gun).

      It also produces a lot of dust and Simon has rigged up a ‘curtain’ to keep the dust from drifting up the spiral staircase into the kitchen. The curtain is one of several side panels from a marquee which he acquired for free some time ago and has been keeping just in case they proved useful. They have! (Photo 1412)  Very sensibly he is also wearing a face mask, but from time to time he has to take a break and let the dust settle so that he can see!!

     When he reached the stern post, where for a long time he has had a large sheet of plastic in place to catch the condensation drips (no longer required now that the deck is insulated), he was very disconcerted to find a very damp area where the two transoms at deck level came together. They were joined by a large ‘nose piece’ of what was once solid oak, but now was black, rotten, smelly wood.  To investigate further he levered at this block to remove it, but stopped when water oozed out from beneath. This being below water level, he paused for thought and sought advice. He had a very uneasy night and had dreams about being trapped in a room rapidly filling with water!

   The next day, with a fellow boat owner, he waited until the tide was out and the ship safely settled on the mud, then levered out that block. Yes there was water trapped below it, but cleaning and drying out the cavity showed that there was no obvious ‘hole’ in the hull. It seems that, in the two years since Simon bought the ship and put the plastic sheet there, all the condensation had run off and gathered in that area from whence there was no escape. We do not think the block rotted that quickly, but being bathed in water must have added to existing damage and created that worrying impression that there was a leak beneath.
     Having eased his mind on that area, Simon then worried about more dampness nearby on the port quarter, which could not be blamed on the plastic sheet. Investigating the underneath of the upper deck, he found that where the old frame met the new steel plating, there was a cirular hole about 5 inches in diameter. It was plugged and had not been noticed when the steel plating was done. Taking out the crumbling plug revealed the underneath of the upper deck insulating sheets and the position was right up against the port gunwhale. (Photo 1414)   A bucket is there to catch the water - evidence.

As the gunwhale has crumbled with rot in places and ‘repaired’ with cement, we guess that rain water gets through voids in the wood/concrete mixture, into the area between the deck plating and the insulation/ roofing felt layer. Some of this (most we hope!) escapes down the mystery hole. Due to the run of the iron ribs, the water has not contributed to the pool where the transoms meet, but wets the sides and the deck where it runs down into the bilges.
    The leaky area of the gunwhale must be traced and sealed of course, but why is there a circular hole in the deck?  I thought at first it was a deck light, but there were none in that area of the deck. There is a clue down below.  Exactly below the deck hole is a concrete block set rather awkwardly into the ribs (Photo 1415) and it has a hole in it which is the same size as the deck hole. 
    So something like a long, circular pole has been added to the structure at some stage, but there is no trace of any likely pole in the 1943 plans or any of the photographs of the ship over the years.  Any ideas anyone?

Saturday, 19 March 2016


More detective work. I am trying to pin down the movements of the 'Lady Dixon' during her brief, failed dash to become the very first UK pirate radio station. There are a few pieces of evidence.
1.  Chris Edwards sent me a copy of a letter from Rex Gilder, O.C. of the London S.I.O. (whatever that is) to the I.O.W.T. (whoever that is) dated 28 Feb 62.  Mr Gilder states “The Lady Dixon is 'neaped at Pitsea and it is not anticipated that the vessel will be moved until March 6th approximately”.  A boat that is neaped has gone aground on a mild tide and needs a spring tide or stormy waters to float it off. The boat is only barely aground, as opposed to being hard aground. As there are only two extra high tides each month, you do not moor a boat where it can be neaped, unless you do not intend to shift it for some time. However, Mr Gilder's wording indicates that LD got caught, rather than a deliberate positioning. Hence other reports saying that LD was stuck in the mud at Pitsea and needed two attempts to be towed off.
Why was LD taken to Pitsea?  Pitsea Creek is a very narrow, muddy creek with no apparent facilities to moor a 90ft ship, let alone to do serious conversion work on her.  Further down towards the Thames the waterway does get wider, but by then it ceases to be Pitsea Creek and becomes Vange Creek and then Holehaven Creek as it reaches Canvey Island. There are plenty of places to be neaped but few, if any, to be converted.
2. I have a photo from the Times newspaper of 10 March 1962, captioned “The Lady Dixon, an old lightship, which is being towed from Pitsea to Sheerness for refitting. She is to be used to transmit radio programmes from outside the three mile limit.” The photo shows LD under tow in what appears to be very shallow water judging by the water weeds visible close by.  I am not allowed to share the photo with you (unless I pay a £75 fee), but it is the clearest photograph I have of LD during this period. Was this her being extracted from the mud? If this was at or near Sheerness, why did the Times mention Pitsea?
3. Chris also sent me two good photographs (courtesy the National Archives) of LD moored in a small dock, believed to be in Sheerness.  I included one in my last post, but the other photo gives a better indication of the size and shape of the lock. I looked at maps and on Google Earth for a dock with a similar layout, without success. However, Google Earth has an historical overlay facility and there was an aerial view of Sheerness dated 1960.  Comparing that with the modern day view, offered a strong candidate for the dock, which had obviously been filled in and built on since 1960 (Photo 1401 courtesy Google).  X marks the spot.

 Taking the National Archive photo and the 1960 Google view, I identified salient features and there is no doubt that LD was moored in that dock in Sheerness (Photo 1402). 

A – rounded jetty
B – dockside with crane/bridge
C – Lady Dixon’s mooring
D – large building with chimney on roof
E – mooring for large ship

I am trying to find a date for the National Archive photos, but my current theory is that LD was taken to the Pitsea/Vange/Holehaven creek to await docking facilities to be arranged at Sheerness for the conversion. It would be inexpensive or even free parking, but getting ‘neaped’ was not part of the plan.
The investigation continues.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


Lots of tit-bits lately concerning the Cormorant’s, or as she was by then, the Lady Dixon’s short-lived venture into pirate radio.  These items come from Mervyn Hagger, Chris Edwards and their colleagues, who are working very hard to unearth the true story of the pirate radio era. Apparently much of what is commonly accepted as the truth is actually far from it. The items include reports from local newspapers and other publications.  From the WPN & Advertisers’ Review, 16 Feb 1962:-

Radio Station GBOK – located in international waters at the Nore in the Thames Estuary – is to start 24-hour broadcasting to an area within a 150-mile radius of the transmitter on February 28th.
    The company is headed by 56-year-old Canadian-born Arnold Swanson, who was originally technical adviser to “Voice of Slough”, a similar radio station planned by 42-year-old John Thompson, ex-journalist and Canadian broadcaster, He has now shelved his own plans to concentrate with Mr Swanson on GBOK.
    GBOK will be situated on a Pilot Station and Lightship which will perform all the normal functions and duties of a lightship to sea traffic.

    That ‘Pilot Station and Lightship’ was the Lady Dixon and, as we know, she never made it. I do wonder how she was going to ‘perform all the normal functions and duties of a lightship to sea traffic’ when her main mast, lantern and all heavy equipment were due to be removed as part of her preparation. Chris has sent me a photo from the National Archives of Lady Dixon waiting at the dockside for that conversion, (Photo 1391) which is the first photo I have come across of the ship between her working in Belfast Lough in 1957 and that 1991 photo of her painted bright red at Sittingbourne. She still has PILOT painted on her sides and sits low in the water, indicating that not only is the lantern still there but all the heavy machinery and anchor chains are down below. Thank you Chris (and the National Archives).
   Just after receiving that photo, I learned of a photo of the Lady Dixon, which was published in the Times newspaper on 10th March 1962, just before she got stuck in the Pitsea mud. It cost me £33 to buy a copy and it should be here soon, but I will not be sharing it with you as they want another £75 to waive the copyright.  Strange that it should cost anything to share a photograph of something you actually own!
    George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces team has contacted Simon to ask whether he wants his project to appear on the program. Simon is already two years into the project and will probably be still going in another two years, so it is likely to be too long a timespan for television. 
    Finally, Simon has been advised by an experienced ‘wet-blaster’ that he would be better off getting a small team of labourers in for a week to strip the below-deck area by hand, rather than any sort of blasting. He would have to take a week off from his wallpapering business to supervise, but any lost revenue would probably be off-set by the difference in costs between manual scraping and wet-blasting.

Saturday, 5 March 2016


It has been a bad couple of weeks for Simon, culminating in the loss of his dog Molly. She was about 14, although as he rescued her (Battersea Dogs’ Home), her exact age was uncertain. His laptop also bit the dust. It never rains……
   Meanwhile he hopes to see a very confident wet-blaster, who declares that he can overcome any problem to get below decks cleaned up.  I hope that does not mean that he expects Simon to pay ‘whatever it takes’!!
     More history. The Andrew N. Thomas I spoke of last time, joined Arnold Swanson and John Thompson on the "Voice of Slough" project. At that time Thompson had a small boat called 'Ellen' in Scotland.  Then Swanson broke away - with Andrew N. Thomas - and set up Adanac using Lady Dixon and a former WWII 'N' series 5kW transmitter as later used by BBC Third Programme. This venture crashed with the 'invasion' of the GPO who confiscated all the radio equipment. That was the end of the Lady Dixon’s pirate radio career.  I have not yet ascertained what she looked like at this stage in her life, but 30 years later she still had her mizzen and was painted bright red – not to be confused with the red of Trinity House lightships (Photo 1381). 

Incidentally, I do wonder why Irish Lights insisted in painting their lightships black – not a colour easily seen on a dark, foggy night!!