Tag Archives: royal navy

1917 distance control boat restoration under way at Avonmouth

There are restorations – and then there are restorations so challenging and rarified that the very thought of them makes my teeth rattle and the fluid surrounding my brain boil. this is one of those…

Here’s what my correspondent Helen Aldom has to say about it…

‘One of 12 40ft fast torpedo boats built in 1917, CMB9 was discovered by marine surveyor [and my correspondent's brother] Robert Morley, who found her lying in a boatyard where she had been neglected for 40 years and was due to be broken up.

‘A crude attempt had been made at some stage to convert her into a cabin cruiser.

‘It is remarkable that she survived so long in those circumstances, and fortunate that Mr Morley was able to recoginise the hull shape straight away having worked on the restoration of a 55ft torpedo boat of the same era.

‘He had the boat transported to his yard at Avonnmouth, and while he feared she could break her back in the process, the boat had been so well made by the original builders, Thorneycroft, that she didnt even creak or groan.

‘This strength is partly due to the remarkable number of ribs placed close together.

‘She has a stepped hydroplane hull and is of double diagonal mahogany construction. Boats of this type were capable of 40 knots propelled by a single screw, and carried one 18 inch torpedo.

‘At present power is provided by two Leyland 400 diesels dating back to the 50s.  Subsequent research has confirmed the identity of the boat. The records show she served with the Navy during WW1 and was based at Osea Island and at the Dover Patrol’s advance base at Dunkirk.

‘What adds to the historical importance of this boat is that in 1918 she was converted into a top-secret distance control boat and designated DCB1. In this role she was fitted with twin screws, bilge keels, radio masts and a small bridge with wireless controls – unfortunately, details of the tests remain classified.

‘She is the only surviving example of this type of boat. The unusual square super-structure that CMB9/DCB1 now has was added with the purpose of protecting the radio control equipment.

‘During the war she saw action at Zeebrugge and escaped unharmed from a German torpedo attack – CMB1 took a direct hit and blew up.

‘She is now registered with National Historic Ships and recently received an award from the Transport Trust.

‘Mr Morley hopes to get her back on water by next year in order to take part in events marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.’

The National Historic Ships page describing the vessel explains that distance control boats were under radio control from an aircraft some distance away – the vessels’ speed made them difficult targets to hit. The single torpedo was fired from the stern.

I don’t have access to classified records, but I’d suggest that DCBs would be unmanned and that they would have to be regarded as a kind of early drone.

DCB1 remained in service with the Royal Navy until the early 1950s and it is believed that it is the only surviving boat of its type. It would be interesting to know what role the boats may have played during World War II.

There is a Facebook page showing the restoration and recording interesting facts – see and ‘like’ it here.

Thanks Helen!

The sinking of HMS Implacable in 1949

This film of the destruction of HMS Implacable is extraordinary. Almost unbelievably, this vessel was originally a French naval ship that fought at the battle of Trafalgar, and was later captured at the battle of Cape Ortegal.

According to the Wikipedia account, in British service she was involved in capturing the Imperial Russian Navy 74-gun ship Vsevolod in 1808 during the Anglo-Russian War.

Later, Implacable became a training ship and for a time was the second oldest ship in the Royal Navy after Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, HMS Victory. It seems unthinkable that a ship in today’s Navy could stay in service for so long.

As the film shows, she flew both the French tricolour as well as the White Duster on the day she was scuttled by the Navy.

Steam pinnace 199 open day at Gosport, 2nd February

Pinnace 199

The Steam pinnace 199 project is holding an open day this Saturday at the Maritime Workshop, Gosport, Hampshire, from 10am to 3pm – she’s been undergoing a refit at the workshop since February 2012.

Built in 1911, Steam pinnace 199 is a wooden-hulled picket boat powered by steam machinery and is the sole operational survivor out of 634 vessels of her type. Picket boats were essential to the effective operation of the Royal Navy: their role was to defend capital ships while anchored.

Steam pinnace 199 is thought to have served alongside HMS Monarch at Jutland during the First World War, and is operated and maintained for her owners, the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Throughout Saturday there will be opportunities to learn about her history as well as to talk with volunteers who have undertaken over 3,000 hours of work so far.

The current group of volunteers were recently awarded a highly commended certificate  for their preservation work by National Historic Ships.

Entry is free, but I’m sure donations large and small will be very welcome!

To date the volunteers have raised £86,500 of the £97,500 required for the restoration project, including a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £30,000 from the Friends of the National Museum of the Royal Navy and £1,000 from National Historic Ships.

Directions: approach via Forton Road and Mill Lane. Take the third right turn into St Vincent College grounds and proceed down to the end where there is a parking area next to some moorings. Note that the workshop’s official address is 50 Ferrol Road but this through the old shipyard entrance and access is very restricted unless you are on foot.

Sea songs from Gavin Davenport’s new CD


Gavin Davenport concertina and sea songs

My musician and singer friend Gavin Davenport has kindly agreed to let me publish a couple of MP3s of two sea songs from his new album Brief Lives, which is available from the shop section of his website. In each he accompanies himself using a beautiful old ebony-ended Wheatstone anglo concertina.

The songs, British Man Of War and On Board Of A Ninety-Eight come from the Navy’s wooden walls era, are striking and are really two sides of the same coin.

In the first, a swaggering and excited young tells his worried lover that he’s joining the Navy and will return covered in glory; in the second an old sailor tells the story of his heroic career as a sailor in the Navy, and finishes by explaining that he has been well looked after, and is now nearly 98. The ninety-eight of the title is a ship with 98 guns, by the way.

Neither really engage with the downsides of war and, like many sea songs, contain strong elements of boasting and wishful thinking. Well, I guess they had to have something to keep them going.

A 1900s RN sailing cutter converted to a yacht


Converted RN sailing cutter So Long

Ben Wales (check the recent post about his motor launch restoration) has sent in a photo of a most interesting two-masted yacht that he says has lived on Oxey Lake, near Lymington, for over 20 years.

This boat is named So Long and Ben says she was built originally as a 32ft Royal Navy sailing cutter, which he believes were built around the turn of the century and often called DH boats.

This particular boat was built around 1908 and originally had a gun placement on her fordeck. She was sold to her present owner in the 1960s; he carried out a major refit with new decking and cabin, and a ketch rig. What a gorgeous little boat he created! If anyone has information to add, do please let us know – either using the comment button below, by registering with the forum (right) or by emailing me at gmatkin@gmail.com.

Thanks Ben. I now know what kind of boat I’ll sail if I ever get to heaven.

Introducing jig doll Sailor Jan


I’d like to introduce this engaging little dancing chap. He’s a jig doll, his name is Sailor Jan, and he was made by Harry Price, who was a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy.

Born in 1877, Price lived until 1965, and made his home for many years at Fingle Bridge, near Drewsteignton in Devon.

The young man in the video is noted Dartmoor-style melodeon player Mark Bazeley, who is the grandson of the legendary local dance musician and caller Bob Cann.

I’d just like to drop a name, if I may – I met Bob once or twice in music sessions in the 1970s, and as well as great player I must say he was a most charming and kind gentleman.

I should also add that the music here comes from banjo whizz Rob Murch, and Matt and Dan Quinn. (Everyone involved has given me permission to put this up, by the way.)

Here’s how Mark tells the story:

‘The doll was given to my grandfather at least 30 years ago, probably more, by Harry’s family. Bob always said it was around 100 years old.

‘We later heard from someone else that it was carved from wood from the old de-commissioned ship HMS Warspite. I’ve not been able to confirm this though.’

According to the Wikipedia, there have been quite a few vessels with the name HMS Warspite, but I’d like to think the ship in question was this one, and I wonder whether little Jan was made from a piece of furniture – perhaps a table –  that came from one of the messes.

Alternatively, it may have come from one of the two HMS Warspites that were destroyed by fire. However, I gather that a family joke has it that HMS Warspite’s days came to an end because someone cut a hole in her planking that just happened to be the size and shape of a jig doll just like Sailor Jan himself. Of course that couldn’t possibly be true – or could it?

400 18th and 19th century drawings now at the National Maritime Museum website


Storm at Mazatlan, Mexico, painted by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe, 1851. As usual, click on the images for a closer look – but expect this one to send a shiver up your spine!

national maritime museum, mutiny on the bounty edward gennys fanshawe schetky, gabriel bray,  website, royal navy,  national maritime museum, mutiny on the bounty edward gennys fanshawe schetky, gabriel bray,  website, royal navy,

Two male figures, one with a large cocked hat and a quizzing glass painted by Gabriel Bray; Ovolu [Ovolau], Feejee Islands painted by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe 1849

A grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation has allowed the National Maritime Museum to make part of its collection of 70,000 prints and drawings available online for the first time.

The newly digitised drawings are mainly by Royal Navy officers in the 18th and 19th centuries, and give a glimpse of tropical islands, exotic cities and indigenous peoples at a time when the ability to draw a landscape was not just a pastime but also a means of intelligence gathering.

Highlights from material recently added to the NMM’s online collection include over 100 working sketches by John Christian Schetky (1778-1874), an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray recording his voyage as second lieutenant of HMS Pallas to West Africa in 1775, and over 100 watercolours from albums by Admiral Sir Edward Gennys Fanshawe (1814-1906), covering his service in the Pacific from 1849-52, in the Baltic during the Crimean War, and in the Mediterranean.

Schetky and Bray’s works are very rare drawings of everyday shipboard life in the age of Cook and Nelson as well as some unique depictions of street-life ashore, while the much less well known Fanshawe was an amateur artist who recorded his varied and distinguished career with a skilled hand in highly finished watercolours.

The journeys Fanshawe depicts include an investigative diplomatic voyage during which he visited Pitcairn, where he met the last survivor of the Bounty mutineers, Susan Young, and heard first hand the account of how she killed the last Tahitian crew member with an axe during the island’s conflict; Fiji, where he drew what are possibly the earliest portraits of Seru Thakombau, founder of the modern state of Fiji; and Samoa, where his drawings of women show the enduring influence of English fashions on their Sunday-best costume.

The prints, along with commentary, can be accessed through the relevant pages of the museum’s website.