SS Robin returns proudly to London

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ss robin arrives at Tilbury

SS Robin arrives at Tilbury

SS Robin leaving Lowestoft SS Robin tied up at Tilbury SS Robin in her prime

SS Robin leaves Lowestoft; tied up at Tilbury; in her glory days

The SS Robin has arrived at her temporary berth at the Port of Tilbury after the trading port stepped in to offer the newly restored ship a home.

After delays due to bad weather, on Friday she left Lowestoft, where she has undergone two years of conservation and conversion works to create a floating museum for London funded by the Crossrail project, and arrived at Tilbury on Saturday 18 September having celebrated her 120th birthday last week.

SS Robin is one of only three Historic Ships Register core collection ships based in London, and is our last remaining steam coaster. For more posts on the SS Robin, click here; also see the project website here.

Project manager David Kampfner said the floating museum would display the entire ship to the world for the first time, and that he and his colleagues were very excited to finally bring the important historic vessel back to the Thames.

Port of Tilbury MD Perry Glading added that it was a a great opportunity for the port to play its part in ensuring the SS Robin can bring the history of merchant shipping alive for future generations. The Port of Tilbury opened in 1886, just four years before the SS Robin was launched.

PS – We’ve also heard that the 1938 pilot vessel MV Bembridge has been taken to Poland to be restored and used as a shipping company office. Sailors will know her as the vessel that until a short while ago was the floating club house of the Essex Yacht Club. There’s more about her at the Ships Nostalgia forum.

PPS – We have also received an appeal for help in restoring the SS Kyle, built on the Tyne, England, in 1913. The appeal came from Libby Earle, daughter of the ship’s last skipper, Captain Guy Earle – for the past 43 years the vessel herself has lain on a mussel bed at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, where she arrived after colliding with an iceberg.

If you’re interested in British coasters, at the time of writing Amazon has three copies of Charles V Waine’s book Steam Coasters and Short Sea Traders.

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The new James Caird at the Beale Park Thames Boat Show this weekend

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The new James Caird, photographed a few days ago

If you’re wondering what to do this weekend – perhaps now’s the time to decide, for Friday sees the first day of the three-day Beale Park Thames Boat Show at Pangbourne!

An important attraction of the show this year is a recreation of the small ship’s boat that Sir Ernest Shackleton and his small crew used to reach Elephant Island, the James Caird, which is currently being built by students of the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) at Lowestoft. We saw it during a brief visit to the college last week, and were made very welcome – the college is always pleased to receive visitors.

I was particularly amazed by the scale and diversity of the traditional boatbuilding projects under way at the IBTC, and will be writing more about it shortly.

At the Beale Park show students are scheduled to work on the James Caird’s deck beams and caulking. If you don’t know the story, after Shackleton’s expedition ship Endurance became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea he and 28 men crossed a chaotic maze of ice in three salvaged boats and finally a small group including Shackleton sailed across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia to safety and to organise the rescue of the rest of the crew. The successful journey stands as one of the most impressive small boat voyages ever made – there were gales almost all the way, and it took 17 days of constant constant pumping and chipping ice from the hull and rig to prevent capsize before the little boat landed at South Georgia.

Three of the crew then climbed a four thousand foot mountain climb before staggering into Stromness whaling station to raise the alarm.

Commissioned by The Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, the new James Caird is to be used by by an expedition to re-create the voyage and mountain climb led by environmentalist and explorer Tim Jarvis.

The original boat was constructed of Baltic pine on steamed elm frames; in the absence of these, the students are using European larch on steamed oak. She is copper fastened with keel stem and a stern of grown oak. The students have planked her to the same original sheer and then built up with a further three planks in the same way as the original James Caird, and she will be decked in and canvassed. Caulking will be with cotton and she will be paid up with white lead putty, and then the whole boat will be painted white.

For more intheboatshed.net posts on the James Caird voyage and project including stunning photos of South Georgia, click here.

For more intheboatshed.net posts relating to the Beale Park Thames Boat Show, click here.

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F B Cooke falls a little in love

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Drawings of T Harrison Butler’s single-handed cruiser

Like many of us, F B Cooke was clearly a bit of a boat dreamer, and in the early 1920s seems to have fallen very much under the spell of  T Harrison Butler’s pretty Single-Handed Cruiser.

‘I, like many other sailing men, have long searched in vain for the ideal small single-hander, but I think I have found her, or rather her lines… She is a perfect love of a boat, and when my ship comes home I shall be tempted to have her built.’

The boat is just 18ft 6in in length. ‘The underwater lines suggest  weatherliness, and with a good length of keel she should be very steady on her helm.’

Again: She strikes me as just the thing for knocking about in the estuaries and creeks of the East Coast at week-ends, whilst a trip up to Lowestoft would be quite within her capabilities in any ordinary summer weather. Dr Butler has given the boat a very snug sail plan, but in that I think he is right, for it is a mistake to over-canvas  a boat intended for single-handed work.’

I should explain that the boat in these drawings looks significantly bigger than 18ft 6in because H-B has drawn her with a Laws lifting cabin roof.

Did the Single-Handed Cruiser ever catch on? I’d very much like to know. And I can’t help thinking that an inexpensive small boat along these classic lines and as pretty as this one might be an interesting proposition for a boatbuilder to offer in wood or plastic in times like these.

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