Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat.

** Updated 27/05/2019**

Last month, when I was in South Africa, I bought a small plastic tugboat at the local el-cheapo shoppe. It was a simple bathtub type boat with waterjet style propulsion, and stickers stuck on it and with the propensity to listing and sinking. It does not have enough of a draught to stay upright without batteries in and it leaks like crazy. It is not a very successful tugboat, it’s more of a typical cheap and nasty toy designed for a few days enjoyment and then a swift final voyage to the dustbin or under the bed.

Now you may ask what this has to do with the price of eggs? People who know me are aware that I am a ship enthusiast, and once upon a time I used to have a large fleet of ships, of which two were radio controlled. 

My first RC boat was a “Damen Stantug” made by Veron and she had a 29″ fibreglass hull and was quite a large vessel with lots of space in the hull for a small model engine of the glowplug design. Naturally these were not available on my budget so a large electric motor was substituted instead. I also purchased a 2 channel radio and a set of motorbike batteries to run the motor off. Unfortunately a reliable speed control was very difficult to find and I ended up with a large wire wound potentiometer affair that used to run very hot and tended to be somewhat unreliable. 

Once the motor, prop shaft and bulkheads were installed I was ready for a test run and a friend and I headed off to the Blue Dam in Mayfair late one evening with the hull ready to launch. I had installed simple navigation lights and a search light on it so we could see it in the dark and we launched the hull with much trepidation. If something failed I would literally be up the creek without a paddle because retrieving the boat would have been very difficult. Lo and behold everything worked and the hull tore across the water at maximum revs. It was working remarkably well and so far no leaks had shown up although the speed control was running very hot. 

Wind forward many moths later and my tug was finished as per the plans. And, by some strange miracle I have pics of her. She carried the moniker “Dildo” and I am not even going to try explain it. She also flew a small red flag with “Enjoy your pizza” on it, just another quirk that I added. 

Unfortunately the speed control was a major bugbear and charging arrangements for the motorbike batteries were less than ideal. The big motor drew a lot of current and the bike battery worked well enough. The hull was buoyant enough that I ended up adding extra lead ballast in it to bring down the draught. I also managed to score 10 model truck tyres that I wired as fenders along the rubbing strake, and later on I added a small crane, zodiac, electric searchlights, internal lights and navigation lights. I was proud of my tug, she was awesome. 

I also bought a small centre island container ship that could be converted into a superstructure aft configuration made by Graupner under the unlikely name of Neptun. She too was radio controlled and was very fast on the water, too fast in fact and she really had to be reigned in or she would try to imitate a speedboat. Her motor was much smaller and more efficient and I had better battery life with her, although the limitation of both boats was the life of the penlights that were used in the radio receiver (4) and transmitter (8); back then rechargeable batteries were not as readily available as they are now.  

Superstructure midships configuration
Superstructure aft configuration

Of course back then I was living close to a large body of water, albeit a very polluted body of water, so could put a boat under my arm and head out for a quick sail. When I moved from Homestead Park in 1985 I no longer had anywhere to sail my boats and of course not having a car meant that their days of sailing had come to an end, I used the tug once or twice when I was involved with the disastrous attempt at restoring the models ships at Santarama, Alas the person in charge was more of a hindrance than anything else so that all came to nought. Interestingly enough Santarama had a number of radio controlled ships that were probably in operation when the place opened, but they had been laid up and became scrap.  

At some point I had managed to pick up a very nice trawler by Veron too, and sort of completed her but the wood was very dry and the superstructure cracked badly. It was a nice model though and it would have made a nice conversion into a short seas trader. She too was sold in a semi rebuilt state. I recall using her as a demonstration model on navigation lights at a meeting the Titanic Society of South Africa under the name SS Lamptest. 

I sold my large ships in 1999 and I like to think that my tug is still out there somewhere and that she occasionally hits the water and has a blast. I always regretted selling her as she was an awesome boat, but at the time it was more or less a sound idea. I still collect ships though and have a large collection of 1/1250 and 1/1200 waterline vessels, although none can float. And, I have just gotten this poor imitation of a toy boat that I am tempted to refit, although fittings appear to cost more than the boat did. Much to my dismay there is not much of a selection of toy boats suitable for the bath out there, and that is quite sad because occasionally you really need to mess about with boats. 

**Update**

Yesterday while browsing the local overpriced antique emporium I chanced upon a model I have been after for quite some time. Produced by Triang I have seen these on ebay, usually at a horrible price and a poor condition.

The one I picked up is reasonably intact but is in need of attention (and a hair dryer to sort out the warped hull). It has a clockwork motor in it and the key comes out the funnel.

As far as I can see there were 2 in the ocean liner series: Pretoria Castle and Orcades although the only difference between the two was the paint job and Orcades may have been battery powered. I wanted the UC ship because of my interest in Union-Castle. Sizewise it is 50cm long, and surprisingly heavy. The warped superstructure seems to have been common problem with them though and many Triang products from that era suffered from the same problem. Triang also produced a tanker, police launch, tug boat and a drifter but I have not seen them on ebay as yet.  I may have to fabricate masts and booms for her and unfortunately the 1 set of lifeboats is missing, however the motor works and that huge prop spins like mad. As a curiosity this ship is really great, and I believe you could get them in South Africa too and they have outlived the real ship by many years. Nowadays they are really relics of a bygone age of toys.

Does she float? yes she does although I am wary of letting her run amok in the murky floodwaters in town.

The white string is my last resort if she starts to sink.

DRW © 2019 -2020. Created 14/03/2019, updated 27/05/2019

Swanning it in Swansea

Twas one of those last minute things, a friend had to drop off a wallet in Swansea, and I got to go along; sure sounds good to me, especially seeing as the rain was no longer on the plain. Where is Swansea? I had to look it up myself, Swansea is a coastal city and county in Wales and lies within the historic county boundaries of Glamorgan and on the southwest coast. For the curious it is at Google Earth co-ordinates  51.621526°,  -3.942860°.  From Tewkesbury it is 131 km as the crow flies, although we would not be flying Crow Air Charters on this day. The weather had been rainy since the Saturday but it started to clear shortly before we got under way and by the time we hit the road the sun was coming out, although there was still a nip in the air.

I have no idea what the tunnel is called, but we reached the sign below about 6 minutes later. Out of curiosity, I discovered on our way back that Tewkesbury was 50 ft above sea level, So we were really heading downhill, but not by much. 

And then we arrived.

First priority was meeting the person who needed his wallet, and we eventually managed to co-ordinate things that we met him in town. Fortunately he was not far from where we were and once the wallet had changed hands it was time for lunch.

Having tended to lunch I branched off from my friends as I wanted to go have a look at the waterfront in the hope that there was something interesting afloat. I more or less knew which direction the sea was and headed that way, eventually arriving at my destination. It was outstanding! the last time I had seen a beach like this was in Weymouth way back in 2013

(1500 x 625)

Oh drat, I had left my knotted hankie and bucket ‘n spade in the car. The tide was out and the beach was vast. Theoretically I was facing more or less South East when I took these 2 images for the pano above. Looking South West the view was equally good. I was hoping to spot the Cenotaph from where I was standing but at full zoom I could not really make out much detail in the distance.

(1500 x 533)

On the image above you can see it sticking out to the left of the middle of the image… the small white object sticking up. When I had arrived at the water the question I asked myself was whether to try reach the Cenotaph or try for the ships?

(1500 x 710)

The Cenotaph was roughly 1,5 km away whereas the ships were much less so they were the obvious choice, so I turned left at this point and clambered down the stairs onto the virtually deserted beach and headed towards the basin where ships should have been. From what I could see on Google Earth there were 3 vessels moored inside the small craft basin. The commercial harbour was much further on and I was not going to walk to it because it was probable that access would be closed off anyway.

There is some very expensive real estate along this beach front, but what a view these pads must have.

It was time to cut inland to look for that basin and I waved goodbye to the beach and swapped my knotted hankie for my ship watchers hat.  

Actually I was a bit too far off in my reckoning and ended up at the wrong basin. 

The statue reminded me a lot of Captain Haddock of Tintin fame. It is actually called “Captain Cat” By Robert Thomas.

My ships were in sight at last! 

The 1954 built Canning is an oil-burning steam tug built by  Cochrane & Sons of Selby for the Alexandra Towing Company and was based at Liverpool until being transferred to Swansea in 1966.  She became the last steam tug to operate in the Bristol Channel, serving until 1974. She was retired to the Museum in 1975. (https://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/register/4/canning)

In front of her is berthed the former Lightship 91, known as ‘Helwick’. She was built for the Corporation of Trinity House by Philip and Son Ltd. of Dartmouth in 1937, and deployed on various stations, her first being the Humber from 1937 to 1942. She moved to her final station, the Helwick, off the Worm’s Head, for the last six years of her sea-service from 1971 to 1977. Swansea Museum acquired LV 91 in 1977.  (https://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/register/137/light-vessel-91-humber) Unfortunately I was unable to get all of her into one image as the pontoon was closed and it prevented me from getting far away enough to get an overall image of her. 

I felt happier now that I had seen ships, I just regret not being able to get a complete image of Helwick, she looks fascinating. I will do a complete page on both these ships at a later date.

It was time to head back towards town as there was a church I wanted to take a look at so I headed more or less in that direction, photographing as I walked.

Dylan Thomas Theatre

Dylan Thomas. 1914-1953
Sculptor: John Doubleday

The bell tower of St Mary, Central Swansea, stuck out above it’s surroundings, but the church was all but hidden by trees. 

There appeared to be choir practise in progress when I was there but I was able to photograph it from outside the glass doors. 

It was time to find a loo, the bane of my life. Fortunately I was in a mall now so there was bound to be one somewhere.  My phone also rang and I arranged to meet my friend so that we could do more looking around. We then tried to get into the commercial harbour but decided that security would not let us in so I had to be satisfied with the upperworks of a ship (cargo of turbine blades),

And, hull down and half hidden by a fence and other detritus, the tug Christos XXIV (Built as Fairplay IX in 1971 by Schleppdampfsschiffs-Reederei, Bremerhaven). I would have loved to have been able to get a full hull image of this old classic. 

It was time that we headed to our next destination: Mumbles Pier. And I will continue that over the page.

forwardbut

DRW © 2018 – 2019. Created 24/09/2018

Driving Goliath

Last year ’round about this time, Tewkesbury was holding what it calls “The Big Weekend” although last year it was probably more like “The Overcast Big Weekend”. What does happen is that quite a lot of activity centres around the bank of the Avon by the Tewkesbury Lock. It doesn’t really interest me though because it is really geared towards kids and families, and of course there are boats of all shapes and sizes. I am a ship enthusiast as opposed to a boat enthusiast, but I always have en eye open for something of interest. Last year my eye was drawn towards what looked like a telephone booth on a hull, but was actually a small tug that was berthed alongside and I did get pics but they really turned out poor because of the weather. This year it was a whole new ballgame because the weather was excellent.

The “vessel” in question was alongside again, her bow firmly shoved into the rear end of a barge/landing craft. 

I decided that when I got back from Evesham I would pop in and see whether I could get pics of her moving. 

Wind forward to 12H30 and I was back in town and headed down to the locks. By now things had woken up and the usual tables and rides had been set up. They did not interest me because I was after that tug. Unfortunately she was not where I had seen her that morning so I went and asked somebody at the Avon Navigation Trust (aka ANT) . She took me to a friendly fellow who said he would be happy to show me the tug and we could even go for a ride.

The tug was berthed on the opposite side of the bank and her barge from the morning was berthed nearby. And here she is:-

She is what is known as a  “Bantam Tug” and she is a pusher tug as opposed to one that tows. They were used extensively on inland waterways moving barges and small craft around. This particular vessel carries the name “City” on it and a bit of digging reveals that she was built in 1951 for the  Docks & Inland Waterways Executive in Watford and used on on the Thames at one point. Her builders were E C Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd and she was number 17 out of 89 (number 13 and 15 did not exist). She was acquired by ANT in 1963. Her skipper proudly showed me her new engine which sits underneath the raised hatch area.

Apparently she was built with a 2 cylinder Lister engine and was not very manoeuvrable and took ages to go astern. She was rated at 30 BHP when built. The current engine is produced for IVECO and is a major improvement. 

Further looking would reveal her builders plate in the “wheelhouse”, and that ties into the information I did manage to pick up while researching her. 

Wheelhouse? its more like a telephone booth and was crowded with 2 of us in it, its actually crowded with 1 person in it. What I found interesting is that her helm drives the rudder through a chain system. No fancy hydraulics here I am afraid. If anything she is very minimalist and functional

And then we were letting go from alongside and the skipper took us out, handing her over to me. I will be honest, I did badly at making her go in a straight line because she steers very differently to a car and I was not too sure of how many spokes to give her to achieve a desired direction. And of course I wanted pics! I also learnt a bit more about this particular stretch of waterway that I did not understand before and really need to make a few changes in my pages to reflect what I now know. 

Here we are sailing up the River Severn toward the Mythe Bridge. The gin palace ahead of us crossed our bows as we were coming out of the Avon into the Severn and she threw up a large wake that made our little vessel rock ‘n roll. I think I prefer the tug to the gin palace. I really wanted to film this part of the trip but my camera steadfastly refused to work in video mode. The skipper also showed me what she was capable of speedwise when he opened the throttle and it was literally one of those thrown back into your seat moments.  ANT seems to be very satisfied with the performance of her new engine.

I am afraid that she does not have space for anything else down there except engine, no wardroom table, or heads or even a galley. She is literally a hull with an engine. 

And then we were coming alongside again, my short trip completed, and a smile on my dial.

There is a lot that can be done to “give her character” but these were not built for the tourist trade or leisure activities, they are purely working vessels, and function over form is the watchword. I asked what her name was and was told it was “Goliath” but I do not see a name board reflecting that name, maybe it is more of a description? At any rate her original name is still displayed on the wheelhouse.

I was chuffed and gave a donation and continued on my my rounds, satisfied that I could add her to my list of ships that I have experienced. 

On the Sunday I was down at the event again, to see if she was moving at all, and to my satisfaction she was. Apparently the reason the barge looks like a landing craft is because it was a landing craft and belonged to the Royal Marines who donated it. I believe that one of her sisters is at the Gloucester Inland Waterways Museum so I may go look her up if I get there again. I certainly do not recall seeing one when I visited originally 

And that concludes my short look at one the peculiarities that live in the water. I believe she lives at Wyre Piddle near to Pershore. I wonder what else they have there of interest? I have seen a dredger before. She goes by the name of Canopus.

And that was my day. What a score it was too. My special thanks to the gent who took me for a spin, and for ANT who look after the waterways. They are always looking for volunteers so if you are interested drop them a line via their webpage

Photographed in November 2019

Update: 16/11/2019

Another Bantam? I spotted another small craft berthed at this mooring in 2019, carrying the name “Eric” I could not find any confirmed info on her. 

The best source of information on the tugs was by Jim Shead

The list of Bantam tugs is available at the Canal Museum Website

DRW © 2018 – 2020. Created 21/05/2018, updated 16/11/2019