Monday, 5 August 2013

Tale of two tugs

Today we were forecast strong SW winds with a change to N winds on Tuesday so unsurprisingly most of the gaffers chose to have a rest day in port.  There are two old steam tugs in Ramsgate undergoing restoration which illustrate the difficulties inherent in preserving old boats, particularly large ones. 

Portwey is a twin screw coal fired steam tug built in Glasgow in 1927. She is the last of her type in the UK and one of very few in the world. She is being restored with lottery money and is on the slipway with new patches welded onto the dodgy bits of the hull, paint being applied and other purposeful activity going on.

Cervia is a 1,000 horsepower steam tug built in 1946. There is a tragic story attached to her early years: she was attending a large ship in the London docks when she was rolled over and sunk, drowning her crew of five. She was raised a few days later and eventually put back into service. Being 'girt' by the towline and capsized is a well recognised danger for tugs when turning or slowing a large ship if the towing hawser takes load at right angles to the  long axis of the tug. With the tug being towed sideways by the ship there is not much the tug skipper can do to get out of the situation except by releasing the towline. Today this can be done remotely from the bridge but in Cervia's day it could only be done by a crew member striking the release lever on the tow hook with a sledge hammer; difficult to do with the tug being towed sideways and heeled over at an angle.

Cervia has more flags but rather less new paint than Portwey. She is being worked on intermittently by a small but dedicated band of volunteers. Sadly Cervia gives the impression that, despite their hard work, she may well be deteriorating more quickly than she is being restored, and unless she can get a heritage lottery grant it's difficult to see much of a future for her. 

How many vintage steam tugs are needed - even in a country which is sympathetic to both steam power and picturesque old boats?  Restoring these tired old workhorses to a safe condition costs a lot and their ability to earn money through tourism and film work must be limited.

On a more positive note, our plans today are to lock out of the inner harbour around midnight with a hope of an early start with a fair tide tomorrow.