Category Archives: Steam power

British Pathé film: Grimsby’s Trade Stimulant (1934)

My thanks to Liam Robinson for passing on the link to this video about the openin of a new fish dock to boost Grimsby’s fishing industry.

Digging about on YouTube also reveals the following British Pathé clips.

National Historic Ships annual photographic competition 2014

Once again, National Historic Ships UK is running its annual photography competition for this year, and offering a range of equipment and cash prizes to be won.

There are categories for all ages, including one for young photographers under 18.

Entries must be in by the 31 August – the collection above represent some of the judges’ favourites submitted so far this month.

To enter in any of the competition categories, fill in an online entry form and upload your images to the National Historic Ships UK competition webpage at

There are rules and so on to check on the site also, as well as a handy web gizmo to enable photographers to identify historic ships that local to them and which might provide suitable subjects. (I think non-photographers will find that interesting too!)

Still more, the site has a set of tips for photographers working with marine topics – and one of them says that you deon’t have to have a special camera and that you’re more likely to have a small camera with you when the moment arises. So I guess my little Panasonic will do.

By the way, I’m not a judge but I’m going off the very processed multi-exposure shots we’ve seen so often in recent years, and – bravo! – I’m delighted to see that the judges’ favourites submitted so far during April don’t fall into that category.

PS – The Marsh Awards for volunteers - National Historic Ships is also calling for nominations of volunteers for the Marsh awards, which recognise those who have made a significant contribution to the conservation or operation of historic vessels in the UK.

There is an overall prize of £1,000 to be won for the Marsh Volunteer Award, and £500 for the young volunteer of the year, which is available to nominees aged 25 or under. Both prizes are donated by the Marsh Christian Trust.

Both awards will be presented at our National Historic Ships UK Awards Ceremony, being held in October on HQS Wellington.

Last year’s winners included James Dulson and George Collinson, who have volunteered for a number of years at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, helping to conserve historic vessels including Edmund Gardner, and Isabelle Law who has volunteered as crew on the ferry Glenachulish for the past five years despite having only recently turned 16 years old.

The closing date for nomination is 31 August. Read what to do and about the Marsh awards here.


Dazzle-painted warships of World War I


From the wonderful Retronaut – these fantastic geometric paint schemes used during World War I were not designed to hide the ships as to make range-finding difficult and make it more difficult for enemy gunners to find their target.

Read about dazzle-painted warships here. Google finds a many examples here.

My thanks to Malcolm Woods for spotting this one!

PS – Inspired by his discoveries, Malcolm went on to find more examples of dazzle in art and elsewhere, including this painting of the Olympic, paintings by John  Everett, and examples of a very demure 1919 fashion for dazzle swimsuits published by the weblog Camoupedia.

There are still more here, including an article headed ‘Camouflage Sylphs on Coney Island an Optical Illusion: Stripes of Bathing Costumes Used by Plump Persons to Conceal Full Extent of Their Plumpness’ – this concludes thus:

‘Following the service yesterday of fourteen summons upon persons who appeared in the streets in uncovered bathing suits the suggestion was made that camouflage might be perfected to the point where it would hide offenders from the eagle-eyed Coney Island police.’

Elsewhere, a fashion writer puts it this way:

‘If you see coming toward you a woman who in some unaccountable way seems to melt into a sort of rainbow mass above the shoulders, don’t be alarmed; try to find her hat.’

Gosh. Swimming costumes are a bit of a departure for this weblog. If you need more images of dazzle-painted ships to return things to their usual calm order, there are many more examples on the Google Image search.

How steam turbines work

From 1946, this British Council explained something to me about the genius of Parson’s invention that I hadn’t previously grasped – the role of the fixed vanes in the steam turbines that used to power mighty liners and other ships. And of course it’s yet another wonderful example of how differently we spoke in those days…

My thanks to Andrew Craig-Bennett for spotting this one.

Ex-Thames steamer Belle urgently needs a new owner


The lovely 1894 Kingston-built steam launch Belle, which plied the Thames for many years, is in urgent need of a new owner.

SL Belle’s present owner can’t afford to keep the National Historic Ships-registered vessel any longer and is reluctantly considering an offer of £6,500 from someone who wishes to strip her fittings and scrap the rest of her.

Read the story at River Thames News.

PS – Another, rather more cheerful if entertainingly loop story from the River Thames News folks reveals that Olympian John Pritchard is to lead a group of rowers in 2,500-mile trip down the Mississippi from Minnesota to New Orleans in two 26ft fixed-seat traditional Thames skiffs. The boats are now under construction at the Stanley and Thomas boatyard at Windsor, and the plan is to raise a million dollars for the charity Right To Play, which educates children in developing countries through play.

The rotting ghost ships of Mallows Bay

Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, Maryland

This is an extraordinary story. When the USA entered the World War I in 1917, it had warships by lacked transport vessels – so President Woodrow Wilson ordered the building of 1,000 300-ft long steamships to be built in just 18 months. Because the job had to be done in a hurry and to keep costs down, the ships were built in wood rather than expensive steel – but even then by the time the Germans surrendered in November 1918 only 76 of the 130 completed vessels had been used to carry cargo as intended.

The moment the peace was declared, the vessels became redundant – but production continued for a period. In the end some 264 were completed, and many ended up in Mallows bay. Read the whole sorry tale here.

The astonishing whaleback steamships


Whaleback steamship – photo courtesy of Retronaut

Imagine a steam ship designed with minimum superstructure to allow seas to slip over it… and there you have the whaleback, a type originally developed by a Scottish-born Great Lakes seaman and ship’s master Captain Alexander McDougall (1845–1923).

Some 44 of these striking half-submarine-half-ship vessels are said to have been built between 1887 and 1898. Some 42 were built for use carrying freight on the North American Great Lakes, some for towing but many were steamships with their own propulsive power.

In use, it’s said they were both handy and quick, and they certainly an example of shipbuilding’s quickly forgotten mistakes.

One example, was built at Sunderland, in England, apparently without the designer’s permission, though this seems to be an area of doubt. I wonder what her story might have been? I’d guess that a vessel designed for the short sharp waves of the Great Lakes might also make sense in the similar waves of the relatively 0shallow North Sea.

Another, the SS Christopher Columbus was built to carry passengers on the Great Lakes instead of freight. This had a considerable amount of superstructure and seems quite at odds with the whaleback principle – though it was designed by MacDougall himself.

The whaleback SS Meteor built in 1896 remained in service until 1969 and is now a museum ship – she’s the only surviving example of this strange and remarkable series of vessels.

Read more about the whalebacks at the Wikipedia pages Whaleback, SS Christopher Columbus and SS Meteor. There are also outstanding photographs at the Retronaut website and at the Sunderland Site pages here and here.

My thanks to Malcolm Woods for tipping me off about there striking vessels.