Southampton Maritime Festival. Day 1

I was very happy when I saw them advertising the Maritime Festival for 5 and 6 May in Southampton. Not only did it give me a chance to see a lot of interesting vessels, but also portions of the port that are generally closed to people not going on a cruise or physically working there. I also was hoping to get a trip out on board Shieldhall before I left Southampton, and this was my opportunity. 

The festival was held at the Ocean Terminal and the area surrounding what is left of the old Trafalgar dry dock, and it was expected that we would have visits from some of the Dunkirk little ships as well as traction engines and vintage/exotic motor vehicles. Being held over two days I have split the festival into 3 pieces. The first being Day 1, then Day 2, then the trip on Shieldhall. The posts will be very graphics heavy so a cup of tea may help pass the time while the images are loading. However, watch this space. My first inkling of things to come was the appearance of buses from a different era at the bus stop nearby. I am used to the look of the Southampton buses by now, so anything different catches my eye. I cannot ID any though because I am not too familiar with buses. 


Of course being stopped by the Red Caps just inside the harbour gates made me feel right at home. I believe the Military Police here were called “Pebble Bashers”, although we preferred to call them  “Meat Pies”. 

While this nice VAD Nurse was quick to point out that she had an enema kit and knew how to use it.  There were  a number of people wearing period uniforms and displaying World War 2 related equipment, and they really helped to generate interest.

No festival is complete without at least one pipe band. And we had one of them, although they did not seem to play enough for my liking.

Just past the Calshot Spit Lightship was where the “little ships” were to berth. I found a nice empty spot and decided I would hang around there to see what happened. It turns out it was one of the best spots to be because the ships would come around Shieldhall’s bow and come alongside more or less where I was standing. The first major arrival was the preserved Thames steam tug Challenge which is going to be based in Southampton from now on. 

She has a real oldtime look about her, although I was missing the roiling clouds of smoke that should have been coming from her traditional funnel.  Still, she is a pretty one and I enjoyed looking over her later that day. She is a Dunkirk survivor, and was launched in 1931.Then there were the “little ships”, the most menacing being the harbour defence launch ML1387 “Medusa”

Also attending was RAF Rescue Launch 102, that I had recently seen in Portsmouth. The motto of the RAF Air Sea Rescue Service was “The Sea Shall Not Have Them”, and many aircrew owed their lives to these vessels and their crew.


MTB 102 was also present. She too served at Dunkirk, and holds the distinction of being the fastest wartime British Naval vessel (48 knots). The Abdiel Class minelayers could reach 39.75 knots, so they would not be able to outrun this MTB.

But as far as I am concerned one of the real beauties was the Victorian steam yacht Amazon, a true timeless classic that just draws the eye. She dates from 1885 and was probably the oldest vessel in the flotilla of ships attending the festival.

There were other things to see/do on the day.  For starters there were some traction engines (in lieu of real steam engines I guess). An extremely shiney Sentinel Steam Wagon caught my eye, and I could not help but mentally compare it to the neglected steam traction that we have back home.

A very nice Aveling & Porter that reminded me a lot of the steam roller “Judy” that was in steam at the James Hall Museum of Transport during the late 80’s.

And finally there was a very nice Fowler traction engine that had lots of moving bits and turning flywheels and an active whistle too. Sadly though none really went anywhere, but then I suppose H&S would have had to do a risk assessment and issue guidelines and generate reams of paperwork.
And while on the subject of Whistles. There was supposed to be a steam whistle challenge between Shieldhall and Challenge that did not really happen. I suspect one or both did not quite have enough puff left. But once they rectified that it was a different story. 

The bell mouthed object is the siren, and makes the odd noises, while the long pipe is the proper ships whistle which is beautiful to hear but not really preferred it seems. 

Even the Navy was present, although they did seem a bit lost without a ship. There were members of HMS Collingwood helping out at the festival wearing their best outfits and I was almost green with envy.
There was one highlight that everybody was waiting for, eyes glued to the sky, cameras at the ready. The last remaining flying Lancaster PA474 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was scheduled to do a flyover at roughly 16H00. It was a long wait because we did not know if the weather would keep her down, or if she was coming at all, or which direction she was coming from. However, I soon heard an unfamiliar noise and saw a speck tracking across the sky. She had arrived!

It was one of those oooh moments. And I could not decide whether to film it, photograph it, or watch it. I finally decided on a combination of all three. The noise is so unfamiliar, and I could not but help think that if you multiplied it by 1000 then you may have known what a 1000 bomber raid must have sounded like during World War 2.

The one area where I did spend a lot of time was at the “army” display. And it was quite nostalgic too, especially when I ended up comparing notes about being a conscript with somebody that had been a conscript in the UK. Strangely enough a lot of their experiences were the same as mine, except mine were in Afrikaans. I did get to try out a Sten which was probably one of those guns from my childhood that I really wanted to try out (thank you Battle Picture Library
And of course there was a Thompson Machine Gun (aka Tommy Gun) which is another weapon I drooled about as a youngster, except it did require a violin case to carry it in.
Neither could I assist with their broken staff car….

And, the army had brought along a searchlight, and I could not help remember the old Rand East Show when the SADF used to shine the searchlights from the Milner Park Showgrounds. I suppose these are all obsolete now, and would not conform to some obscure EU directive anyway.
Naturally much of this is out of sequence, because I ended the day on board SS Shieldhall, and after spending quite a lot of time on board her departed with a ticket in my grubby hands for a cruise on board on the next day.  

She is a magnificent vessel, with no pretensions about being anything but a working vessel. She has all the required shiplike appurtenances and tiddly bits. She is well maintained and well loved too, and is probably one of the most loved preserved vessels in the United Kingdom. I will cover her in a separate blogpost  because there is so much to say and see about her.

Inside the Ocean terminal there were a lot of organisations touting for business, and I had lots of chats with some of the stall holders, you just can’t help reminiscing about the “good ole’ days when the QE2 was ‘ere”. Southampton has a rich passenger ship heritage that is part of the history of the port. And while the Titanic does seem to attract most of the attention most ship buffs do recall the many other ships that called Southampton their home.

Then it was time to go home. It had been an awesome day. I cannot even begin to cover most of what I saw, I believe there were over 5000 people on that day, and the warm weather meant that many shed their drab winter gear. So, to close off the first day I will leave you with an image of a child in a gas mask. Now wasn’t that a great idea? I am sure his mum will come and fetch him eventually. But until she does, continue onwards to Day 2 of the Maritime Festival

DRW © 2013-2022. Images recreated 04/04/2016

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