The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society Ltd


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October 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on November 7, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

We moved into October with match in hand and furnaces to be lit ahead of our trip up the Manchester Ship Canal and Weaver Navigation for the annual Leigh Arms Steam Party at Acton Bridge. Warming fires over the next few days saw steam raised for a rather choppy departure from Canning Half Tide Dock into the Mersey on Wednesday 4th October. Unusually, there was a bit of traffic awaiting entry into Eastham Lock, Kerne finding herself fourth in a queue for entry, so we amused ourselves for an hour or so with a few circuits round the channel coupled with a number of running adjustments and a few cups of tea. Once into the Ship Canal we had a good run up to Marsh Lock and into the Weaver, where apart from our usual ‘grounding’ in the mud by Dutton Lock, we made good time to Acton Bridge. However the delay at Eastham resulted in our arriving at Acton Swing Bridge after the bridge staff had finished for the day. This was all a little frustrating as our designated mooring was, literally, ten yards upstream of the bridge meaning an ‘out of steam’ move the following day. Not to be daunted by this inconvenience, the crew followed the same routine as we have over the last 40 years or so: – clean up, wash up, lock up and up to the pub.

The next two days were spent cleaning and bulling-up the vessel ahead of public opening on the Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th October, with special attention being paid, as usual, to the Engine and Boiler Rooms.

The Leigh Arms Steam Party is very much an informal event, greatly enjoyed by the crews of ships, boats, steam engines and other vintage vehicles alike, and in the spirit of the event several of us arranged accommodation so that we could fully appreciate the fun and camaraderie of the Friday evening. After a hearty breakfast on Saturday and a touch more spit and polish we started to welcome visitors aboard, who were able to witness the lighting of small fires in the boiler to keep the boiler hot over the weekend and be given explanatory tours round the vessel by the crew. All things went well with a good number of visitors aboard and onlookers on the quay, but things suddenly changed as the rain started to come down with a vengeance. Suddenly the warm dry Boiler Room of a steamship became a very desirable place to be as the quay emptied and the vessel filled up. Sunday dawned with fine weather and good crowds in attendance, over 500 visitors being counted aboard with several hundred others meeting and talking to the crew quayside.

For a number of logistical reasons we had decided to delay our return sailing to our winter mooring at Liverpool’s Sandon Dock until Tuesday 10th October, the voyage going without a hitch and without the delays at the various bridges and locks that often seem to have a habit of holding us up.

So, that was it for the 2017 steaming season, the following weekend seeing the start of winter lay-up. The boiler water has now been drained, the fire bars removed, the boiler tubes swept, furnaces and combustion chamber cleaning commenced. The carpentry team are back down the Forward Cabin where the final bench carcase has been installed and the facing and bench top added, leaving the forward bulkhead to be constructed (CAD drawings having been completed) and the new stove installed.

Hopefully we can have a nice warm cabin to enjoy our lunches as the winter weather begins to bite.


September 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on October 2, 2017 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The new month dawned with fires in the furnaces and steam being raised in preparation for our sailing from Sandon Dock to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port via a run up the Manchester Ship Canal to Runcorn. Engine trials were carried out on 1st September in order to test the work to resolve the low vacuum issue with the condenser, which we seemed to have resolved. The following day, ropes were cast as we left our Sandon Dock berth, heading north up the dock system to Langton Lock and the river. Two things happened during this short leg of our voyage-

Firstly, vacuum pressure dropped again which produced a lot of head-scratching. We felt we had covered every base in our efforts to find the cause, so what could it be? Every possible reason was investigated and to our relief we found the simple answer – the recently refurbished tail valve was not fully shut off, so a twist of the wrist and the vacuum was up again.

Secondly, we have discovered a new unit of measure. As Kerne was built over 100 years ago all her dimensions were recorded in Imperial measure, as are thread sizes, so we tend to talk in feet and inches not metres and parts thereof. It could be said therefore that Kerne has effectively been an active participant in Brexit before Brexit was even thought of! To return to our ‘new’ measurement, this came about as we discussed docking at Ellesmere Post and the length of our gangplank. Various lengths were suggested, 10 feet, 11 feet etc. ‘I’ll get the tape measure’ was my suggestion, and as I proceeded down the portside deck to the Engine Room I had to stride over the figure of Dave Lowndes who was lying on the deck inspecting the steering gear adjacent to the stored gangplank. As he slid further up the deck I noticed that the gangplank was exactly twice his prone length and knowing that he is 6 feet tall the gangplank is therefore 12 feet or 2 Lowndes in length. I knew he would come into use for something!

On arrival at the bottom lock entrance at Ellesmere Port we had four successful days of public opening before we set sail back down the Ship Canal and into Canning Dock on Wednesday 6th September. Whilst we usually berth adjacent to the Pumphouse pub (which has its obvious advantages) on this occasion we were allocated the prime position on the quay along Strand Street where we were on full view to the passing public.

We opened the vessel to the public on numerous occasions during our stay, and we had many interested folk aboard with particular interest being shown in our impressively clean Engine and Boiler Rooms. Our public opening didn’t entirely stop work, some painting was done in the Engine Room, a number of traditional Liverpool Lighterage fenders were manufactured, (old tyres with holes cut out for rope lines to be attached) and some further work on the Forward Cabin reinstatement.

We are now preparing for our last (and arguably our most enjoyable) event of the year – the Leigh Arms Annual Steam Party held at Acton Bridge on the River Weaver, south of Warrington on the A49. The vessel was turned by hand on Saturday 30th September; boiler and fresh water were taken on board. Fires were lit the following day in readiness for our trip up the Ship Canal and River Weaver on Wednesday 4th October ready for public opening at the Leigh Arms on Sat/Sunday 7th/8th October. As in previous years there will be ourselves and the Daniel Adamson on the river in the company of numerous other boats, whilst in the pub car park there will be an array of steam rollers and traction engines, vintage tractors, cars and commercials. Make sure you can make it down to see us before we return to Sandon Dock on Tuesday 10th October.

August 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on September 7, 2017 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Attention on deck continued in August with the de-rusting of the anchor chain and the overhaul of the cat davit on the starboard side of the forward deck, which is used to lift and swing the anchor overside and to retrieve same when the anchor is lifted. The davit is not an original fitting for Kerne, but was salvaged from the 1936 former Isle of Man Harbour Board steam dredger ‘Mannin II’. Having been purchased for preservation in the 1980’s, she spent several years moored alongside Kerne in the basin of Ellesmere Port Boat Museum. Although in working condition, she became somewhat neglected and was moved to Weston Marsh Docks in the early 2000’s and sadly sank at her moorings in 2003. She finally succumbed to the cutter’s torch in 2009 - useful equipment, (including the davit) having been removed.

Also on deck, some needed modifications to the steering gear have been carried out arising from the replacement of the steering chains and repairs to the rudder quadrant. Whilst every care was taken to ensure that the chains were of identical length as the original and that the quadrant had the same profile, when steering hard to port, the starboard side aft shackle connecting the chain to the side rod, via the adjusting turn buckle, was fouling the guiding sheave. After much messing about repositioning and adjusting the chains with little success, we concluded that the easiest solution was to move the sheave. This was cut from its’ original position and welded to the bulwark some 18inches aft of its’ previous position. Problem solved!

In the Engine Room, after much cursing and groaning, the aft condenser door was carefully lowered down to the rear of the engine and offered up to the condenser itself. After attention to the condenser face, the door, together with Dave’s finally-finished rubber joint, was bolted into position and fingers crossed that the low vacuum issued was now solved. Time and engine trials would tell!

Work still carries on apace in the Forward Cabin. At the outset, it was decided that for ease of future maintenance and to achieve the best access to the forward bilges, the seating would be constructed in removable sections. To achieve this it would be necessary to construct seven separate seating sections, and just to make things a little more difficult, they would all be different due to the changing curvature of the hull and the sloping nature of the Forward Cabin floor. Each section frame was made off-site at Bob Stead’s workshop/garage and transferred to the ship where final adjustments were carried out before securing via removable stainless steel pins to the floor structure. The facing panels and removable tops were then made to fit in-situ. To date six of the seven sections have been fitted, leaving the final section and the backing boards to be fitted. To further complicate matters, when the cabin was stripped out in Cammell Lairds yard, we had also to remove our small pot-bellied coal stove, which, on inspection, was condemned, and the decision taken to replace with a more substantial unit. Accordingly, a new ‘Boatman’s Stove’ unit was ordered from Northern Fabrications and once this is trial fitted, the final seating section can be designed.

On Monday 28th August fires were lit with a view to carrying out engine trials on 1st September ahead of a trip up the Manchester Ship Canal for display at the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port and then on to Canning Dock Liverpool.

Check out our Calendar for details.

July 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on August 7, 2017 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Another busy month with our Tuesday/Saturday work parties as we strive to complete the various outstanding jobs scheduled for this year before the end of the steaming season. As with any piece of machinery of Kerne’s vintage, there is always something that crops up that throws a spanner in the works, and this time it is the condenser.

Last month I reported on our sailing out into the river – a most enjoyable trip marred only by a mysterious drop in condenser vacuum from our normal 22-24 inches of vacuum down to 17 inches. This not only unbalances and reduces engine efficiency, but also signals that something is amiss. Could it be a leaking condenser tube, failure of the condenser door joints, debris in the air-pump valves, obstruction of the saltwater circulator? Regular readers will know that it costs in excess of £500 in coal to raise steam, so we cannot afford to try each potential remedy in turn – we need to check each possible cause and deal as necessary before we raise steam and try the engines out. So if was off with both condenser doors, pressure check the tubes, strip down the pumps and valves, and generally check the ‘plumbing’. The aft condenser door, cast by Harland and Wolff in 1966 was found to be a potential cause, the flanges being somewhat corroded, so after much heaving and straining, this was hauled out of the Engine Room, on to Roger Dibnah’s pickup and away to have a new deflector plate welded into place and the flange built up with weld and milled flat before being returned to the vessel for a thorough needle-gunning and painting. All that remains is the simple job of making a new joint out of sheet rubber, but Dave seems intent on making a meal of it with snips and drills instead of using a hammer and wad punch like the rest of us do. Stupid boy!

A couple of potentially leaking tubes were tightened, and the pumps and valves inspected, cleaned and serviced so we hope that will be problem solved, but we will not known for sure until steam is raised.

Elsewhere aboard, the anchor has received some long-awaited attention, the needle gun coming into play again together with chipping hammer, rust inhibitor and paint restoring it to good working condition. It was somewhat poignant that we should work on this at the time of release of the excellent film ‘Dunkirk’. Whilst this film deals with the wholesale evacuation of British and Allied troops in May/June 1940, it is believed that our anchor may be an artefact from the movement of troops in the other direction as part of Operation Overlord some 4 years later. The connection being that the anchor came from the Naval tug TID 16 (subsequently acquired by Liverpool Lighterage, re-named ‘Bonita’ and scrapped in 1963), which is thought to have been used to move the Mulberry Harbours used in the invasion.

On the ships hull, the interior surfaces of the new port side deck has been treated and painted, and the aft peak tank has been de-scaled and cement washed, which effectively means that, apart for the forward chain locker, all areas of the hull and decks have now been scaled, rust-treated and painted.

Up forward, good progress has been made in the Forward Cabin, with both side panels having been re-assembled and refitted, and areas of new seating fitted. Still a lot to do, but considering that the whole cabin area had been stripped out to the bare hull shell, we are doing well.

Finally, for those of you who don’t look at our Facebook page, we have a very interesting piece of equipment available for sale for a suitable donation, viz. a 1950’s or 1960’s two-stroke welder. It actually works, and when you start it up, it just sounds like the scooters on Brighton Promenade in the 60’s, but you have to buy your own Parka coat to get the full effect!

June 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on July 6, 2017 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

As reported in March, the efforts of our volunteer force aboard Kerne has once again been recognised by the Transport Trust in the form of this years Restoration Award, and our enthusiastic Mate, Paul Kirkbride, had the honour of attending the Presentation Ceremony at Brooklands Museum to receive the cheque and award from HRH Prince Michael of Kent. It was good to see that Paul had appropriately swapped his usual paint-splattered boiler suit for the kind of suit that comes with a collar and tie. He scrubbed up well!

Our attention quickly turned to our next ‘outing’ – a joint event on 18th June to celebrate Father’s Day and the 198th Anniversary (or maybe a practise run for the Bi-Centenary?) of the arrival of the first Trans-Atlantic sailing by a steamship, namely the S.S. Savannah that arrived in Liverpool on the 20th June 1819. Her engines were built by Speedwell Ironworks of Morristown USA who had an associated company in Scotland also known as Speedwell Ironworks, where Kerne’s engines were built. Preparation for the trip out into the Mersey began with the delivery of 10 tonnes of Russian coal. This arrived in half-tonne builders sacks, which, with the aid of a Hiab were emptied directly into the bunkers rather than on the quay for shovelling and barrowing. Much easier on the old aching limbs! Fires were lit and the boiler gently warmed through over the next three days when steam was available for warming the engines through for the Sunday trip. Painting of the interior of the Wheelhouse was completed and brass polished and general cleaning down gave the vessel a smart appearance for the trip. We also were very pleased and grateful to receive sponsorship from Morris Lubricants, the UK’s premier vintage machinery oil manufacturers who delivered aboard a supply of their steam and lubricating oils ahead of our trip. Apart from some confusion on timings with a number of the sailing contingent who had to be ferried out to the vessel by one of our members in his RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat for the uninitiated). A great day was had by all in the summer sunshine and flat-calm seas.

The RIB also came into play to ferry a number of our members to view the wreck of the S.S. Pegu. Built in 1921 for Burma Steamship Co, this 8084grt steamer was bound for Rangoon when on the night of 24th November 1939 she went aground off Formby and during savage attempts, she broke up. The wartime blackout of Navigation Buoys was blamed for the ships loss. All 103 passengers and crew were rescued.

Arriving back at Sandon Dock in the late evening, this voyage was marked by one of our newer members, Stuart Hall, being passed out as fireman by the Chief Engineer, having received the requisite instruction and training by experienced Engineering Crewmembers.

Such pleasurable activity did not halt ongoing works; a length of Forward Cabin bench seating having been manufactured and installed, a new section of steel deck has been installed on the port side and modifications have been carried out to the auxiliary generator casing to improve weatherproofing and vibration.

Away from the vessel, we had our Display Stand out at Lymm Transport Day on 25th June, this mixed event attracting good crowds that kept us occupied throughout the day.

And finally, for all you boat modellers out there, can I recommend July’s edition of the ‘Model Boats’ magazine, which not only features an article by our volunteer Matthew Jackson on his scratch-built model of Kerne, a feature on Mountfleet Models new commercially available kit of the vessel, not to mention a good article by my old work buddy Phil Scales on Hong Kong Empire Tugs.

May 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on June 5, 2017 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)

We left the month of May with a newly issued Boiler Certificate, coal aboard and all required documentation for a short trip from our winter home to Canning Half Tide Dock for the Steam on the Dock weekend. The few days lull until we were due to sail enabled us to get some cleaning done, particularly down below in the Engine and Boiler Rooms where we ‘bulled’ up the machinery, washed down the bulkheads and polished the brass to good effect.

A leisurely trip down Crosby Channel towards the Bar on Wednesday 3rd May, whilst waiting for our high-water entrance to Canning, gave us the opportunity to give the engines a run and give Dave chance to practise his newly acquired skills as Engineer-on-Watch. All went well until we approached the dock entrance at a somewhat tight angle requiring Skipper Nigel to do an astern manoeuvre to straighten her up. The telegraph rang ‘Full Astern’; there was a hiss of steam from the engine and then – Nothing. Dave had managed to get the engine stuck on dead-centre and whilst he was moving the engine round by applying steam to the low pressure cylinder via the impulse valve, we glanced off the knuckle of the dock entrance which put us back on course. No harm done, (apart from the paint) but a chorus of ‘Stupid Boy!’ buffeted Dave’s ears. Lesson learned – he wouldn’t do that again.

We tied up at our designated position alongside the pontoon at the head of the dock in good time for us to shut the boiler down, lock up and get a drink before heading off home for tea, just leaving the job of rigging the gangway for the weekend ahead. Or so we thought.

Access to the pontoon is via a set of stone steps at the head of the dock, and on the Friday evening, the day before the event, officials of Gower Estates who are responsible for the Dock, deemed the steps unsafe for public access, and if we wanted public access, we would have to move. There lay the problem; after two days of being tied up we were without power (now being out of steam) and other vessels took up all the available quay space. Fortunately, at the eleventh hour, the event organisers and our friends on the Daniel Adamson agreed that we could moor alongside the Danny, and they would rig a gangway between the two vessels. This provided the only viable solution, but as it would have taken us over 24 hours to raise steam again, we still had to find a way to move her back down the dock. The strong prevailing wind provided the answer as this, together with human muscle power hauling on ropes, moved Kerne down the dock to her new position on the last minute. Phew!

There followed a superb weekend of maritime, railway and road steam attended by over 60,000 souls who enjoyed these and the many other attractions on offer. Despite being somewhat hidden by the larger tugs ‘Brocklebank’ and ‘Daniel Adamson’ we were kept on our toes by a constant steam of visitors numbering in excess of three thousand who came aboard. Our efforts in cleaning down below were rewarded by the disbelief of some of our visitors who simply could not believe that a coal burner could be so clean.

Monday 8th May saw us with full boiler pressure as, along with the Motor Tug Brocklebank, we left Canning for our short hop up the river to the Gladstone Lock and back into Sandon Dock.

Once the boiler had cooled down, ash was removed from the furnaces, and work resumed down in the Forward Cabin where we have started to re-construct the seating. Painting of the outstanding deck areas has progressed, the Wheelhouse floor has also seen the paintbrushes out, and we have carried out some modifications to the gangway and replaced the aluminium stanchions with more substantial tubular ones.

At the end of the month, we once again, attended the Bolton Steam Museum Open Days on 28th and 29th May with our Exhibition Stand. Whilst some people think the Kerne’s engine is big, the Mill Engines in the Museum make our WVV Lidgerwood example look a little on the small side!

April 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on May 5, 2017 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

With ‘Steam on the Dock’ on the horizon, April was a month of intense activity. This important event is the second since our return to steam in September 2016 following completion of the Lottery Hull Project, and whilst that in itself was something of a triumph, there was still a lot of do to get the vessel into the condition we would wish her to be in. Followers of this Newsletter and our Facebook page will have gathered that two-day volunteer working has continued throughout the winter, increasing to 3, 4 and 5 days as we neared our target steaming date.

Chipping and painting of the decks and superstructure continued apace to get her external appearance up to standard, with Paul, our Mate once again showing the power of the chipping hammer by putting it through the port side aft water tank vent, a replacement being speedily fashioned from screwed pipe fittings which was welded into place by Roger Dibnah. Several of the crew suggested to Paul that we might have to find a new home about his person for the chipping hammer if he did it again!

Also ‘up-top’ the nicely repaired domestic water tank has now been re-installed in its’ new angle iron frame – nice to have fresh water to be able to brew up again. The Port side Boiler Room ventilator, now fully restored is in place, a stainless steel exhaust system has been fitted to the auxiliary diesel generator, and a new collar and bracket has been fitted to the Galley stovepipe, enabling quick release and removal if and when we tow from the central towing hooks.

As part of our program to improve and update our safety equipment, we have acquired two new life rafts, which include hydrostatic release units, these being frame mounted fore and aft, and at this point I am forced to make an admission-

Whilst drilling appropriate holes in the Engine Room casing to take the life raft frame I managed to break a drill bit. Ordinarily such a minor mishap would go un-noticed, but Dave Lowndes (who is often reported in these pages for his various and frequent misdemeanours) witness the event, and to make things worse the drill bit was of the carbide tungsten tipped variety from the Chief’s personal collection. Dave was quick to draw the Chief’s attention to my clumsiness, (which will clearly cost me a few pints) before accusingly suggesting that I wouldn’t make any reference to it in these pages. Satisfied Dave?

Down below in the Forward Cabin, steady progress has been made with the difficult task of installing new flooring, which was finished just a few short days before we were due to sail. We now have to work towards the reinstatement of the original recessed panelling, seating and solid fuel stove. In the Engine and Boiler Rooms, lagging of hot surfaces has continued, the engine has been cleaned and painted, and modifications to floor plating levels have been carried out in order to reduce trip hazards.

A visit from the Boiler Inspector for the dry survey went as planned, after which 8 tons of water was piped into the boiler, fire bars were replaced, smokebox doors were shut, the top manhole door was screwed down, the cover plate bolted into place on the new welded studs and coal loaded into the bunkers before fires were lit on Wednesday 24th April. Heat and pressure were slowly raised and on Friday 28th April, boiler pressure was raised to the full working pressure of 180 lbs per sq inch for the Boiler Inspector to witness the lifting of the safety valves, and sign off the Boiler Certificate. We were now ready for our trip out in the river up to Canning Dock for ‘Steam in the Dock’ and I hope you can come and see us there over this weekend, the 6th & 7th May - it promises to be a great do.


March 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on April 5, 2017 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Roll back the calendar to 1st March 1913, the day the Steam Tug Viking left her birthplace of Montrose for her delivery voyage to Chatham. The crew that day could hardly have believed what was in store for this lovely little ship over the next few short weeks and years to come, never mind that 104 years later, a current member of her crew would be writing about the last month of the ship’s continued operating life – but here I am, doing just that. Their first shock would be that on arrival at Chatham, she would not be handed to commercial owners, but would be joining the Royal Naval list as HMT Terrier. The rest, they say, is history.

Work has carried on apace aboard the good ship, helped by the occasional glimpses of sun, and the warming of the cold steel of the vessel. This has enabled the chipping and painting gang to make good progress on, as well as, below decks. The painting job extended to the newly installed starboard Boiler Room ventilator that is now fully restored and back in position, and very good it looks too. Work on the port side vent is following in similar fashion.

The paint brushes have also been out in the Engine Room where the main engine bedplate has been scraped and painted, and the newly installed silver coated steam pipe lagging has been painted in white in order to give it a ‘period’ look.

The water tank has been repaired, returned to the vessel, painted and is now ready for re-installation, and wiring conduit ducts have been welded into position at several points on the deck in readiness for the wiring of the vessel for power from our auxiliary generator. Work has also been carried out to improve the generator housing.

In the Forward Cabin, significant strides have been made in the installation of the new flooring as a matter of some urgency. Such is the need to press on with this job that it has been necessary for me to move from my comfort zone of the Engine and Boiler Rooms to assist with matters involving wood. This is a strange world where there are no spanners, saws don’t have removable blades, chisels have wooden handles, and hammers have these odd claws. All this, coupled with the fact that you can work all day and not get dirty, and sometimes you don’t even need to wash your hands before driving home! All very strange, but needs must as we press on to be ready for our first steaming to Liverpool’s ‘Steam on the Dock’ on the 6th and 7th May.

On a serious note, work in the Forward Cabin is progressing well despite the difficulties of trying to achieve the original floor level, where all previous evidence of this had hastily been stripped out. The great news is that following excellent work by the Mate, Paul Kirkbride, we have secured a Restoration Award of £1500 from the Transport Trust to restore the remainder of the cabin. Paul has accepted the invitation to attend the Award Ceremony at Brooklands where he will receive the award from HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

March also saw our Exhibition Stand out at the National Waterways Museum’s Model Boat Show at Ellesmere Port, an event that saw the launching of Mountfleet Models prototype commercial kit model of Kerne which created a great deal of interest. The model is the result of close cooperation between Mountfleet and our Society and is now on sale as a single kit, from which the vessel can be created as either the Naval tug ‘Terrier’ or the commercial tug ‘Kerne’. Several orders were placed on the day for this very impressive model, which comes with one year’s free ‘Friends’ membership of The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society Ltd.

Contact details for Mountfleet are as follows – Tel 01977 620386.

Sadly, I must conclude this Newsletter by reporting the passing of our long-standing Member Gwil Williams who died after a along illness on 18th March.

Born outside Caernarfon, North Wales, Gwil was a Welsh-speaking former Merchant Seaman who went to sea in his late teens, unable at that stage to speak English. He joined our group after his retirement, and was able to use his skills to make fenders, splice ropes and generally keep things ship-shape. A fun-loving, generous guy who was always ‘up for it’ he brought many a smile to our faces with tales from his sea-going days.

An episode that springs to mind happened in 2003 when we sailed to Conway, and spent a week or so moored on the quay. Gwil and Dave Lowndes stayed aboard for the week and managed to make a name for themselves as Kerne’s answer to Morecambe and Wise. Dave, tall and gangling and Gwil, short and stocky, they entertained the visitors to the vessel with their banter and mock insults – Gwil always craving for a curry and Dave having none of it, hating anything with the slightest hint of spice. But Gwil used his charm and his native tongue to secure for the crew Honorary Membership of the local Yacht Club, not only securing the all-important access to the bar, but also acquiring the key to enable us to use the showers and toilet, very much ‘at our convenience!’

Several of our crew attended his funeral, his coffin fittingly being draped in the Red Ensign. He will be sadly missed. 

February 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on March 17, 2017 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (1)

Firstly, apologies for the late publication of February’s News, my excuse being a busman’s holiday away from ships in Liverpool – by spending a couple of weeks on the Celebrity Eclipse in the Caribbean. This ship is a little under 122,000 tons and her three Wartsila diesel engines produce some 90,000 Horse Power, compared with Kerne’s 153 tons and our W.V.V. Lidgerwood steam engine’s output of some 300 Horse Power. This means of course that Kerne is more powerful than the Eclipse with a power to weight ratio of approx. 2 HP per ton compared with the Eclipse’s ratio of 0.74HP per ton, which only goes to prove that there are lies, damn lies and statistics!


Back aboard Kerne, work has started on the Forward Cabin floor, which is quite challenging, as without a floor you are standing (or trying to stand) on the near vertical curved hull plates as you work, holding on to the frames to stop you slipping down into the bilge. All very comical if you are not down there!

Lagging of the various steam lines has progressed, but this has not been without some difficulties due to location of pipework above the boiler and the lack of clearance between this and the Boiler Room casing, which was proving very frustrating. At one point Dave called me to have a look at a section of the main steam line, where the clearances were very tight. I duly climbed down the starboard Boiler Room skylight onto the smokebox door, which was opened to the horizontal to give us a platform to work from. As I climbed down I noticed what appeared to be a spectacle lens by my foot. I picked this up and as I turned to Dave I noticed that one of the lenses of his glasses was missing. ‘I can’t see how we are going to get the lagging in there’ says Dave. ‘Try putting this in and taking another look’ says I handing him the lens. I won’t repeat his reply.

Also down below, the Main Engine Stop Valve has been overhauled and re-fitted, Engine Room bilges have been dried out and painted and a major sort-out of the Engine Room tool cupboard is underway.

On Deck, the towing bows over the Engine Room casing have been chipped and painted, the fresh water tank located between the casing and the Aft Cabin hatch received similar treatment, but the supporting frame did not survive the hammer test. Unfortunately, the tank itself fared little better and will have to be repaired in order to remove its’ sieve-like properties. Removal of the tank did however give us access to an area of deck that is rarely seen, and this has now been chipped and painted.

Work has progressed away from the vessel on the Boiler Room vents, and the bottom cylindrical sections have had a trial fitting before the trumpet sections are fitted. So far so good with these.

Work continues as we get ever nearer to our first event of the year – Steam on the Dock, to be held in the Albert Dock, Liverpool on Saturday & Sunday 6th & 7th May 2017.




January 2017

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on February 6, 2017 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Once recovered from the excesses of the Festive Season, it was back to work in the bilges.

The stokehold floor plates were lifted, and the hull plating and bilges were scaled as required and painted; the tunnel between the Boiler and Engine Rooms receiving similar treatment. Our enthusiastic volunteers then moved forward and attacked the platework below the boiler, and up to the deck. An additional job in this area related to horizontal stringers welded to the frames by Cammell Lairds to strengthen the hull as plates were cut away. These canted towards the hull plates forming a water trap, so marine filler has been applied to the angle so any moisture will run off into the bilges. Lovely jobs in cramped surroundings, which ensures that you and your boiler suit emerge sporting a different colour scheme than you started the job with. That said, the lads have done a cracking job, which shouldn’t need repeating for some time.

The pressure gauge job has been completed, with both lines suitably extended and successfully hydraulically tested before a tick was put in the box for this job. The pressure gauge pipe serving the Engine Room runs across the top of the starboard bunker together with the main steam line to the engine, the voice tube from Wheelhouse to the Engine Room, the telegraph chains and exhaust lines from the pumps and generator. These are protected by a U-shaped steel ‘tube’ for which Stuart has now fashioned a removable top cover plate. Previously, the cover was only of light plywood but a more substantial cover was needed due to a change in our bunkering procedures. When we first acquired the tug, coal and coke were the fuels of choice for the ordinary household, the local coal man (of which there were many) had his wagon loaded with hundredweight sacks that they would carry on their backs and tip into the coal sheds of the domestic properties. It was therefore a simple matter in our case for the coal man to merely drop the sacks onto the deck, and a crewmember would tip the coal down the manhole in the deck, before throwing the bag onto the quay. With the severe decline in the domestic market, if you require bulk fuel as we do, it arrives on a tipper and is tipped onto the quay, leaving the crew to shovel if aboard. Whilst we were energetic 30 and 40 year olds, this was not a problem, but shovelling up to 12 tons or more at a time is now something of an effort. Despite now having several younger volunteers in our midst, to alleviate the problem of keeping the bunker lids tight to prevent sea and rainwater seepage, we have sealed the lid s down and now take bunkers via the covers on top of the bunker casing. This is achieved by buying our coal in the large half tonne sacks of the kind used by builders for sand, which are craned over the covers, the bottom of the sack released and half a tonne of coal is loaded in seconds. Much easier!

Above deck, the Stuart has completed the restoration of the towing hooks to operating condition and deck scaling and painting continues as weather permits. Despite attention to our wind generator, it has remained somewhat out of balance in strong winds and the rotor has managed to shake itself off its shaft on two occasions, once almost giving Paul a very short cut of what little hair he still possesses. It is therefore clear that we need some very fine-tuning of the balance of the rotor and it was left to Dave to resolve. Ever resourceful, Dave concluded that the most accurate scales he could think of were at the local Post Office, so he does no more than visit said Office and weigh each blade by hand, then noting the weight on each blade. The Counter Clerk asked -

‘Where to you want to send them?’

‘Liverpool’ replies Dave, ‘but I think I’ll deliver them by hand’ he added before leaving. Nothing like barefaced cheek to get the job done!

Having noted that one blade was a few grams heavier than the other five, a bit of judicious filing will hopefully sort the problem out and when we get a wind-free day we will get the thing back up again.

The necessary timber to re-floor the forward cabin has now been purchased, cut to working lengths and delivered down to the vessel where we hope to start fitting in the next week or two.


December 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on January 9, 2017 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Happy New Year to All.

December’s workload carried on where November’s left off – bilges. This month we added Aft Cabin and Boiler Room to the list. The former is suffering from seepage from the Engine Room,  we had lying oily water instead of salt water, so it appears that the plug in the lower section of the bulkhead is not watertight, or the gland is leaking. Nothing critical, but another job to add to the list. In the Boiler Room, the bilges have been cleaned and dried out, and vacuumed clean of ash and other dust and soot from the tube and furnace cleaning to prepare for painting. Whilst grovelling behind the boiler it was noticed that the portside steering chain was twisted, so this has been rectified. Much easier to do when out of steam and cold – not pleasant at all when we are in steam, unless you like being drenched in sweat and acquiring the colour and complexion of a boiled lobster!

Also in the Boiler Room, we took the decision to tidy up the pipe runs of the Boiler Room and Engine Room pressure gauges, which have been a little untidy for some time. This also gives us the opportunity to encase these in the lagging for the main steam line, but to achieve this we have to lengthen both pipes by cutting and inserting extra lengths and this is now work in progress. Above the Boiler Room are the large trumpet ventilators, which are very prominent in giving Kerne her distinctive period appearance. These were rebuilt some 15 years or so ago by Bob Stead and the late Geoff Johnson and are now very much in need of some TLC. They were duly removed and temporarily replaced by two rather fetching blue plastic drums. Once Bob got them home to his workshop, it quickly became apparent that beneath the 15 or so layers of paint, the rust-moths have been very active to such an extent that major reconstruction is now required. Also atop the Boiler Room casing is the removable cover plate giving access to the boiler top door, this plate being secured by approximately 45 bolts, which unfortunately allow water to penetrate the threads and run down the boiler sides. Not something we want to continue, so the threaded holes in the casing have been drilled out as required, and rethreaded to take new tight-fitting studs to cure the leakage problem.

To the after end of the Boiler Room casing we have Kerne’s two main towing hooks. These are of the ‘Liverpool’ type fitted in the late 1940’s when the vessel came to the Mersey. The important feature of these hooks is that they can be quickly released in emergency, to detach Kerne from her tow. These have not been used in anger for some years and the numerous layers of paint have seized the working components. Stuart has taken on the task of stripping the hooks down and machining new pivots and pins so we are able to demonstrate the very important function of the hooks to our visitors.

Moving forward, quotes have been obtained for the supply of timber to facilitate the re-flooring of the Forward Cabin. We are keen to get on with this job if for no other reason than the Aft Cabin can become somewhat crowded on a cold day when there are eight or more souls trying to get seated and the ship’s dog (Max, Roger Dibnah’s lurcher) insisting on being in prime position sprawled in front of the lovely warm range.

Away from the vessel, we are very pleased to see that the Canal & River Trust are carrying out major works on the Weaver Navigation, which includes refurbishment to Marsh Lock (which gives access to the Manchester Ship Canal) and dredging to the shallower stretches. As Kerne followers will be aware, we have sailed up the Navigation on very many occasions over the last 40 years, but in recent times we have gone aground due to silting and other obstructions, making it necessary for us to rig an auxiliary pump to circulate the condenser. We have, on occasions, also needed the assistance of the C&RT’s tug to pull us free. It would be fantastic if we could, once again, sail up to Anderton and beyond unhindered.

That is all for the future, but in the meantime, plenty to do, so must press on. Who’s pinched my spanner!!!??









November 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on December 7, 2016 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

If October was a month of considerable achievements, November carried on where we left off as we reached a most important goal - the successful conclusion of the Heritage Lottery Fund Hull Repair Project. This came following many hours of work by the Projects ‘Admin Team’ for the submission of final documentation by Project Leader Peter Sutcliffe to the HLF. After several days of nail biting, we received the very welcome formal confirmation that our submissions were in order and that matters were complete to the HLF’s satisfaction.

The Project has, at times, been a testing exercise, but to see the condition that the vessel is now in, and the satisfaction and pride that the longer-term future of Kerne is now secure, totally justifies every single minute of the time put in. Not only have we secured the future of the vessel, but we now have better exhibition equipment and displays, a well researched and documented history of the vessel and we have attracted new volunteers to help with her future preservation and operation. And it is to the volunteers, new and old that we have to thank for the 9000+ hours of their time and labour that has been put in to ensure we met the targets agreed with the HLF during the project. So with grateful thanks to all concerned and particularly the officials of the HLF and the Management and Staff of Cammell Laird for the superb quality of their work and their help and understanding, we now move on as there is still much to do.

As with all the best-laid plans of mice and men, projects of this size and complexity are never without unforeseen consequences, and one of these related to the Forward Cabin. As the new steelwork was being welded in place up to the bulkhead between the Boiler Room and Forward Cabin it was necessary to remove the combustible lining and flooring abutting the Cabin bulkhead to negate any potential fire hazard. To cut a long story short, we got to the point that more was coming out than was staying in, so we decided to strip the entire Cabin out to enable us to access and treat areas of the inner hull that probably had not seen the light of day for a 100 years or so. No skeletons, contraband, treasure maps or valuable historical artefacts were found during the stripping out, only remarkably rust-free steel. A team of volunteers led by Paul Kirkbride have now power brushed all the steelwork and have applied a rust inhibitor and three coats of 2 pack epoxy paint, so all we now have to do is re-build the cabin floor, seating and fittings. No small job!!

Those who follow these News items and our Facebook page will probably have gathered that Paul is never short of and excuse to break out one or more of his array of noisy power de-scaling tools, and as reported last month, the needle gun was in action on the starboard deck, near deafening those of us trying to work below, whilst removing built up scale to good effect. Far be it for me to suggest that Paul can be somewhat over-zealous, but the fact that rain water was seen to be collecting in the Boiler Room precisely below the area that Paul had needle gunned seemed to lead us to only one conclusion…..

Suffice to say that following a couple of days work by a coded welder, with a large sheet of steel, a very large sledgehammer and a lot of flying sparks, we now have a very nice new section of deck and the rain ingress has miraculously ceased.

Down below, the firebars have been removed and, via human chain, have been hoisted out from the Boiler Room and stacked and sheeted up behind the funnel, fire tubes have been swept, furnace cleaning has commenced, lagging for the steam pipes has been purchased and installation commenced, bilges have been emptied and the towing hooks dismantled for overhaul.

Away from the vessel we again exhibited at the International Model Boat Show with a good number of visitors to our stand. Adam Slater from Mountfleet Models, who were also exhibiting, reported a great deal of interest in their forthcoming commercial kit of Kerne.

As we still have a rather large ‘To Do’ list to attack, work will continue up until Christmas when we will allow ourselves time to relax and enjoy the odd small libation and a mince pie or two, and trust you will join us in a toast to the achievements of 2016.

Merry Christmas to All.