Life at the end of the road

October 30, 2012

The ‘Henry Frederick Swan’

Filed under: boats, daily doings, New hybrid ferry, South Shields — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 10:27 pm

Well it has been an interesting day today, for I now know what the front, back, sides, walls, ceilings, seats, left, right and middle of a ship are called Smile Fortunately our tutor realizes that all of us have already been at sea for years and makes the lessons as painless as possible with frequent tales of the Tyne and the tug boats he skippered. Having said that ‘you’re never too old to learn’ and I now know what a ‘manrope’ is


[man-rohp] Show IPA

noun Nautical .

a rope placed at the side of a gangway, ladder, or the like, to serve as a rail.

though even the tutor had to go and ask so I don’t feel so bad about that Smile

Considering the clock changing fiasco and the fact that I’ve been awake since 4:30, or is it 3:30 it’s a miracle I stayed awake but ‘Tug boat Tommy’ is quite entertaining Smile Especially when you consider he was pulled out of retirement at short notice when the regular teacher got hauled off from college in an ambulance last week Sad smile You really could not make this up Smile


However, as well as an understanding lecturer we have an awesome view of the river and it’s traffic, this being the ‘City of Rome’ a car carrier full of Nissans bound for Amsterdam and as I plonk away on here at 19:30 she’s just east of Hull.



Here’s one of the only three tugs on the Tyne, the ‘Svitzer Sun’ of at one time there were as many as twenty tugs working this great river.



Here she is a little later ‘standing by’ the huge car carrier ‘City of St Petersburg’ heading for Nissan from ‘who knows where’ because this ship does not seem to exist on or



which is kind of strange because it can carry 2000 cars!!!



Just as the ‘monster’ was steaming up the river ‘HMS Trumpeter’ was steaming down

these ‘Archer class’   patrol vessels have always been a bit of a mystery to me for they built 16 of them with twin Rolls Royce V12 engines of some 1590hp. All 49tons, all with the same HP, all with the same hull but each with top speeds varying from 14 to 30knots ????? on a hull that was designed for 45, very strange.

The ‘North East Maritime Trust’

Anyway, being seasoned seamen we got through the syllabus so quickly that our lecturer arranged a visit to just 100 yards up Wapping street from the college. The NEMT is a group of enthusiasts dedicated to saving wooden boats and the traditional skills associated with building and restoring them. Manned mainly by retired people with a love of wooden boats the trust seeks to repair and maintain old craft that could well be lost.

Coincidentally it’s situated right next door to the last wooden boat builder on the Tyne,


and he too had an old RNLI boat in his workshop.



The old Seaham lifeboat ‘RNLB George Elmy’ who’s gallant crew perished almost 50 years ago to the day.

  At 4:10 p.m. on Saturday the17th of November 1962,the Seaham lifeboat,George Elmy, was activated to search for the missing fishing coble, ( Economy ). Within minutes of receiving the alert, George Elmy and her crew of five, disappeared down the slipway into the darkness, never to return.  The lifeboat had put to sea in appalling weather conditions but at about 4:30 p.m. they pulled alongside the coble and miraculously rescued four men and a nine year old boy. The lifeboat and it’s courageous crew battled against mountainous seas in an attempt to get back to the safety of the port, but at 5:20 p.m., just yards from the harbour entrance, she was struck by a gigantic wave and capsized, with the loss of her entire crew and all but one of the people they had rescued from the coble. After the capsize, the lifeboat was washed up on the Chemical beach with one survivor who had been clinging to the upturned boat but there was no other signs of life.

Just a few yards along the street the NEMT are working on another significant RNLI vessel the ‘Henry Frederick Swan’ which for many years served as the Tynemouth lifeboat and is probably the longest serving lifeboat on record. Built in 1917 she was put into reserve in 1939 when a more modern craft arrived.


henry frederick swan

Here she is in her new station prior to WW2 with her bogie and £3000 electric winch, sadly, not that long after she left, Mr Hitler demolished the replacement,

the ‘John Pymont’ . Henry Frederick Swan returned to the Tyne and went on to serve until 1947 well worth reading that link Smile

Now, after a spell with

the sea cadets and some years of neglect in private ownership she’s in the capable hands of the NEMT



One thing about the RNLI, they ‘cut no corners’ this hundred year old design was ‘cutting edge’ at the time and cost just didn’t enter into it. Constructed from ‘double diagonal’ mahogany planks on oak and larch frames it was the ‘carbon fibre’ of it’s day, light, strong and very expensive. With inbuilt buoyancy and a 3ton iron keel the 40’ boat would ‘self right’ if she capsized.



Lovingly restored plank by plank with help from the original drawings

014 015 016

the old girl is perhaps some eighteen months away from completion.

The photographs just don’t do her justice but the attention to detail on this boat is incredible



from this picture it’s just impossible to visualize the work, craftsmanship and effort that has gone into siting the propeller within this wooden tunnel. It provides the maximum thrust with the minimum exposure to rope and rocks.


Not only that, but within the confines of the vessel is the provision of a watertight enclosure for removing anything that may become fouled around the prop. In the infancy of the ‘internal combustion engine’ it was also provided with sails and oars.



Just behind that reel in the picture you can see the slot for the ‘drop down keel’ that would have aided sailing, pure genius Smile

What you have in this boat is the marrying of cutting edge state of the art technology with ancient skills and craft, something that the RNLI has never been afraid of doing. Something that this dedicated bunch of ‘anoraks’ at want to keep alive, the world needs more ‘anoraks’ Smile



And I need my bed, it’s well after 22:00 which is really 23:00, so without doing the NEMT justice I’m going to call it a day, methinks I’ll be returning shortly to check up on progress Smile

Meanwhile in Gdansk

Though I couldn’t possibly leave you without the latest developments from the ‘Hallaig’


the FWD ramp of our new hybrid ferry arriving at Ferguson’s


I have a ‘soft spot’ for Gdansk, my first ever girl friend was Polish and my last from that very city Smile


  1. Blimey, Paul, seeing the front ramp really shows how much wider the “Hallaig” will be, it really brings it home!!
    Have you heard anything about the improvements at Sconser?


    Comment by George — October 30, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

  2. We used the marine sites recently while ferrying from Tilbury to Gothenburg on DFDS Ro-Ro Selandia Seaways. Frequently we were seemingly in some sort of North Sea Triangle, with no entry online and nowhere to be seen, virtually! Bizarre.

    Comment by Iain — October 30, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

    • Morning Iain, you should try putting in ‘Loch Striven’ occasionally it turns up in Portsmouth doing 22 knots down the Solent 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 31, 2012 @ 7:23 am

  3. Paul, I may be guilty of not having read all the comments carefully enough but I thought the point of this course you’re on is to train you in the new technology involved in the Hallaig. Instead, it seems you’re just on a general “how to be a crew member of a ferry whether it’s powered by oars sails or a nuclear reactor” course. I’m sure it’s very interesting all the same but apart from the disruption it’s causing to your life, presumably it’s costing the tax-payer a mint not only teaching you what you already do but also paying your replacement on the Loch Striv while you’re away. Did I miss something?

    Comment by Neil King — October 30, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

    • No Neil you missed nothing, though there is a week in Holland to look forward to that is ‘Hallaig specific’ and six weeks back down here next year 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 31, 2012 @ 7:21 am

  4. As always love to hear about the RNLI and its history. Having had family members in the past who where seafarers I have always admired the RNLI Crews who at the drop of a hat will head out in all weather to help those in distress, my Uncle Boyce lives in Norfolk and has helped teach youngsters the art of sailing in all sizes of craft and has on more than one occasion had to call on the brave lads to tow him home when he has had problems. A few years ago now he organised a charity sail on the broads to raise money for the cause and was astounded when the total raised in two days boosted the fund by £1500. He was awarded a Plaque by the local RNLI and it has pride of place in his home.
    God bless the RNLI and all who work to keep them.

    Comment by Thomson Caravans — October 31, 2012 @ 1:17 am

    • I was lucky enough to be part fo teh crew of the P2000 HMS Smiter when at Uni and the story was that the shaft design had been messed up and so they were limited to 12-14kts. Some of the boats had a retofit and modified design – hence the higher speeds. This wasn’t rolled out on all the boats due to cost.

      Comment by Richard Haydock — October 31, 2012 @ 2:05 am

      • Morning Richard and welcome aboard,

        thanks for that little gem of info, makes perfect sense now, you weren’t on the Smiter on 5th April 2010 were you 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 31, 2012 @ 7:52 am

      • Sadly not Paul – my Smiter days were in the late 90’s. I have to say I do remember a fair amount of singing and bagpipe playing – especially when entering ports on the continent!!!

        Comment by Richard Haydock — November 2, 2012 @ 3:09 am

      • Morning Richard, funny you should say that, it really was quite bizarre to the ‘racket’ in the quiet waters of Loch Arnish 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 2, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  5. Incredible workmanship as you say,particularly the prop housing.Can remember as a kid,in North Wales, my Dad employing a local shipwright to make a set of complex conical wooden shutters,for use in the construction of a new sewage works,because of their skill with curves/shapes etc.

    Comment by Andy — October 31, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

  6. always interesting to take a tour with an expert. thank you for the pix and explanations of what everything is and how they conflate the frontier between old and new.

    Comment by jeannettesmyth — October 31, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

  7. Lovely stuff, particularly about the RNLI. We have a coffee table partly made from diagonal mahogany planking from a steam pinnace came ashore on Hoy from a wreck, poss WW1 but not sure… Fpu was in Whitby with Reaper in August. Grand part of the world.

    Comment by Kingdomcat — October 31, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

    • You were caught on camera KC 🙂


      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 31, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

  8. Paul,
    Another excellent post, worth taking time to reflect on all that the RNLI do for no financial gain.

    Great to see the craftsmanship and attention to detail involved in those early boats. Not as much mahogany on the ‘Hallaig’???. Were you able to design the kitchen?
    You would have thought the ramps could have been manufactured in the UK though.

    Comment by Arthur T Bomber Harris — November 1, 2012 @ 6:54 am

  9. Great article. I always have the highest respect for the RNLI and their equivalents abroad. Great to see not all the old skills have been lost – NEMT. It takes such a lot of funding to save these old vessels. Too bad they could not have got the SS ‘Carrick’ (Irvine harbour) back to Sunderland to be done up. I think she is heading for Australia. Now I know what a ‘man rope’ is, I wonder what the women hang on to? 🙂

    Comment by Heiskir — November 1, 2012 @ 10:51 am

    • Morning Heisker,

      I wonder what the women hang on to?

      a ‘granny knot’???

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 2, 2012 @ 7:45 am

  10. Notices up at Sconser to say work is to start on the first stage of the revamp of the ferry terminal on Monday..traffic speed restrictions etc !

    Comment by SOTW — November 1, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

    • Good, at least someone looks at my answers….pulling you leg, Paul, my first post on this reply…..but are they going to put in a dolphin??

      Comment by George — November 1, 2012 @ 8:22 pm

      • Morning George, I think the dolphin/extension is a condition of the ferry coming, it’s already a little short for the Striven. Any more pics for the homesick 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 2, 2012 @ 7:42 am

      • Sorry Paul, no more pictures at the mo as back in Dunfermline for a bit, not back up till Christmas I suspect.. Catch up then perhaps!!…
        Re the dolphin, at the last presentation in the village hall it was suggested the dolphin’s construction was dependant on funds being available…..never a good sign in this economic climate!
        Be interested if youx hear more on the grapevine.

        Comment by George — November 2, 2012 @ 8:52 am

    • Thinking of you specially today She with Bella’s funeral and all XXX from us all

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 2, 2012 @ 7:43 am

    • Yes they have already started rolling in with the first excavator.

      Comment by Carole and Finnie — November 2, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

      • It’s not the only thing that’s ‘rolling’ into Sconser Carole, on Wednesday a cement lorry nearly rolled into the sea 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 3, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

  11. Oh wow, how was that? Les working at Sconser never heard about that some coconut radio you have ! :):):)

    Comment by Carole and Finnie — November 4, 2012 @ 9:04 am

  12. Actually Les did know about it he said there were a few incidents with them trying to take 2 lorries across at a time. He said the lorry in question was in the water above the engine level. It would have been cheaper using the ferry 🙂

    Comment by Carole and Finnie — November 4, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    • Hi Carole,
      the lorry in question was in the water above the engine level 😦 whoops

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 5, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

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