Preserved ships: Steam Tug Challenge.

One of the more interesting ships in Southampton is the steam tug Challenge; that made its home in the port after the Maritime Festival in May.  The first glimpse I had of her was while she was moving prior to the Maritime Festival.

A ship from a different age? Definitely. I won’t go into the history of the tug, that’s something best left to her own website.  In short she was built in 1931, and is actually one of the few Dunkirk survivors that still exists today.  Originally coal burning, she has been converted to burn oil and she has had a lot of work done on her to keep her afloat. Her berth at the Maritime Festival just happened to be where I was standing, so I got some really strange images of her as she came around Shieldhall’s bow, leading a flotilla of small boats and other vessels participating in the festival.   

Like Shieldhall she was a working vessel, and as such has all the appurtenances associated with being a working ship. I was hoping to get on board her at least once during the festival, and in the program it was mentioned that she would be blowing her whistle on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, her arrival whistle blow did not impress at all.


Later that afternoon I got on board, and she is much smaller than I expected so photography was cramped and difficult.

Her wheelhouse is small and cramped and with more than two people inside must have really been a squeeze. She has this large helm with a smaller on a shaft, and these are both connected to a steering engine directly behind the wheelhouse. Originally the wheelhouse would not have been enclosed, and she would have had a pair of lifeboats, instead of the one she now has.

It is hard to believe that she survived that period in her life, far from the sheltered waters of the Thames, although she was no stranger to cross channel voyages. However, I don’t think those voyages were as comfortable as life on the Thames.  

Most of her machinery is still steam powered, and the new oil burning boilers ensure that she will not suffer an embarrassing stoppage due to a lack of coal; something that is facing heritage rail operators.   

Her aft deck is taken up by the engine room skylight and even here there isn’t too much space. The equipment associated with her towage duties consists of a twin hook assembly between the two companionways. I am not sure whether were larger strongbacks across her aft deck, they may have been removed at some point 

I did take another image that I was looking at and there may be a set of hooks between the companionways leading to the upper deck.

She has a triple expansion 1150hp steam plant below decks, and it was running rather slowly so we could see it in motion, however, getting any photographs was impossible as the engine room was blocked with people gazing at that beating heart of hers.

Her modern boilers perform the same function as her original coal fired boilers, but probably much more efficiently and with much less smoke or crew required. I must admit I would have liked to have seen her belching smoke, but I expect that there is some strange health and safety regulation that prevents it from entering the atmosphere. 

Sadly this magnificent whistle did not perform to my expectations, but at least she doesn’t have that strange siren like Shieldhall has.   

I do regret not being able to get more images of her interiors, but given the crowds swarming over her and their inability to actually stop blocking the view I missed quite a lot. But then, as I mentioned before, she is a working vessel so luxury and frivolity were left out in favour of function and purpose. 

Sometime during the last week of May, they shifted her to just before the City Terminal, bordering Mayflower Park and she is snoozing there now, a pretty relic from an age gone by quietly enjoying her retirement. 


*Update 2020*

Challenge ended up rotting in a small enclosed part of the former Test Quays (close to where the Titanic almost collided with the New York). I lost track of her after I left Hampshire and she gradually ended up in a very poor state. Plans were made for her to return to London and she was slipped at Hythe in preparation for the move. Covid-19 sent those plans into the dustbin and she ended up once again in trouble. By the beginning of July 2020 hopes were high that a solution to her problem have been found, although a leak that was missed during the bottom cleaning has meant she has had to be reslipped for repair. Her website is  

Challenge in July 2014

DRW © 2013-2022. Images recreated 08/04/2016. Updated 09/07/2020

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