Sunday, 10 July 2016

This is a letter from David's son Simon, owner of the Lightship .
I'll keep this brief, but i just wanted to inform you all that the reason for the sudden end to his blogs is that 8 weeks ago he fell off a ladder at home in Wales and suffered irreversible brain damage and has been in a coma on and off since. After a brief spell when he seemed to be making a miraculous recovery. He spoke a few sentences and even stood with help, he then got an infection, suffered multiple seizures and is now back to where he was 6/7 weeks ago. He is not expected to survive the next infection and we are bracing ourselves for the inevitable. Thank you all for your interest and support for the project, i know he got a great deal of satisfaction helping me with my restoration. It now seems much more of a daunting task without him around for help. He will be sorely missed... Simon.

Saturday, 30 April 2016


Well, progress on the historical front at last. Regular readers will remember that I have been trying to fill in some gaps in Lady Dixon’s history between the time she was retired by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners in 1960, to the time she ended up in the marina at Hoo in 1991. G.A. Lee Ltd of Belfast bought her from the Commissioners and the next thing we know is that a Peter Horlock owned her, moored at Mistley.  The Peter Horlock I found and wrote to has kindly phoned me to say he is not the chap I am looking for.
    Then a reader suggested I contact the owners of a mill at Mistley, which he referred to as the Horlocks Mill (did he mean Horlicks?). I got nowhere with this but it did prompt me to e-mail the Mistley Parish Council and they gave me a crucial link. They suggested contacting Bob Horlock of Mistley and they even gave me his e-mail address. Bob replied to my query and BINGO !!  I am not yet sure if they are related, but he confirmed that Peter Horlock did own the Lady Dixon and indeed lived aboard her at Mistley.  This probably explains why he did not break her, although he was in the ship-breaking business. Unfortunately Peter is in Australia and not at all well at the moment, so I must be patient. I would really like to ask him from whom he bought the ship – was it from G.A. Lee of Belfast;  was it the mystery dealer at Pitsea;  was it the mortgage company who repossessed her when the GBOK enterprise folded?  When did he sell her to Graham Reeves?
    I have still received only one reply to my letters to the seven Graham Reeves in the area. So I must assume that none of them are the right person. My letter to the next owner, Terry Middleton, has been returned (“Gone away”).  So dead-ends there for the moment.
   Simon has been very busy wallpapering recently, so there is not much progress on his preservation.  He has had time to try and cure the ingress of water on the port rear quarter (see Chapter 141).  The bulwark there has seen better times and needs replacing, but for the moment Simon is trying to block the rain from penetrating the fissures in the wood by pouring melted tar into every crack and cranny.
   Meanwhile, the views across the Medway Estuary continue to delight (Photo 1461).


Saturday, 23 April 2016


As part of my research into the 1961/62 period of the lightship’s life – the period when she nearly became the first pirate radio ship in the UK, I have been trying to discover who brought her over from Belfast.  The information I have is that at some stage she was owned by Peter Horlock and moored at Mistley on the River Orwell.  Well that’s a bad start as Mistley is on the River Stour, not the Orwell.  I wrote to the only Peter Horlock I could find in the area, but have had no response.

     In the early 1990s the ship was owned by Graham Reeve and moored at Milton Creek, near Sittingbourne.  This is credible as we have photos of her moored there – one showing her painted bright red (Photo 1451) and one from a Google aerial photo taken in 1991 (Photo 1452).   

 Now I found seven Graham Reeves in the area and I wrote to all of them!
I have had only one reply and although the chap is very interested, he is not THE Graham Reeves.

Next came Terry J Middleton who took the ship to its current mooring at Hoo. He lived on the ship for a while and later on another vessel, Scorpio at the same Marina. His last known address is in Sevenoaks, but when I sent a letter there, it was returned ‘gone away’.

   So my fellow sleuths in the South East of England, can you find any of these gentlemen living in your area?  Peter Horlock would really be a prize as he might have bought the ship from the GBOK people and that might lead to who bought the ship from G.A. Lee Ltd of Belfast.

    Meanwhile Simon popped over to Chatham to see how LV16 is getting on. Readers will remember the big hole in the stern which had been made by gouging out rotten timbers. Repairs are in hand, but instead of felling an ancient oak and employing woodcarvers at 3p a day, a rather more modern technique is being used (Photo 1453).

    The planks are caulked; the bolt holes sealed (Photo 1454); and then, before the copper plating is applied, Hessian and tar seal the whole thing in (Photo 1455).

   I think Simon is hoping that all this will not be necessary when it’s his turn to put his ship into dry-dock!!

Saturday, 16 April 2016


It turns out that LV16 needs rather more TLC than a bit of caulking. Isn’t it always the way – you start on a job and it turns into several, especially when you inevitably uncover something you were not expecting.  That stern area looks quite serious to me, but then I am not a nautical man at all (Photo 1441).
    Back to my research role, I have elicited from Southend Council, who are the guardians of the archives of the Southend Standard (long defunct), three important press cuttings which pinpoint certain dates concerning Lady Dixon and her GBOK experience.
 15 Feb  -  Mr Arnold Swanson (sponsor of the project) states that broadcasts will begin on 28th Feb from an old lightship, presently at Pitsea.  The vessel is to be towed to Dagenham Dock to have a transmitter and other equipment loaded. The report also states that plans are being made to use the pier head or the berthing pier for staff going out to the vessel. (it is not clear whether these piers are in Pitsea or Dagenham, or indeed wherever). Mr Swanson stated that the response from the advertising world had been overwhelming.
22 Feb  -  A photo of Lady Dixon alongside a pier (elsewhere reported to be a 'dealer's pier').  The caption says that the vessel is at Pitsea Marshes - wherever that is/was.
1 Mar  -  The report states that LD is still stuck in the mud in spite of two tugs trying to free her 'last week' (the last week in Feb).  Another attempt was to be made on the high tides early in March but broadcasts were unlikely to start before 11 Mar.  Once free the report states that the vessel will be taken to Sheerness. The transmitter has yet to be fitted and the ship furnished.  Swanson states that the station has enough advertising to run for a year and he wished he had eight stations. If you believe that ……….
    All of which leads me to certain assumptions. The first news of Lady Dixon being in England is that report about her being in Pitsea.  One of the items has a photograph of her moored at a pier of some sort which is also shown in a similar photograph I have which the caption describes as 'a dealer's jetty' (Photo 1442).  

    I very much doubt that Thompson/Swanson would pay for LD to be towed way up the Vange Creek just to have somewhere to store her.  My theory is that the dealer who bought LD from Belfast, had his business there and that is where Thompson and Co found and bought her - only to find it difficult to move her to Dagenham/Sheerness for fitting out.
Exploring further, someone managed to get LV44 right up as far as what is now the Wat Tyler Centre (she was dumped and abandoned nearby in 1990) and there is a jetty there which I believe belongs now to the Essex Power Boat School (Photo 1443).  Therefore getting LD there was certainly possible.

So now I am looking for a boat/ship dealership there in the 1960s.

Saturday, 9 April 2016


You learn something new every day.  I thought that ‘caulking’ a ship was just stuffing tarred rope into the cracks between boards. It’s a lot more complicated than that!  To start with you have to remove what is left of the old stuff and that involves running an angle grinder along the gaps plus a bit of sanding. Then, to stop gaps closing up and boards perhaps shifting, pegs are driven into the gaps at intervals (Photo 1431).   

Hessian rope is twisted into a series of ‘figure of eight’ and then forced into the gaps. Red lead paint is applied because putty comes next and the paint stops the hessian rope sucking the oil out of the putty (Photo 1432).   

The whole lot is then covered with tar-soaked hessian sheet which protects the copper plating (the flattened domestic hot water tanks!).  Then the large bolts which hold everything together have to be supplemented, or even replaced (some have crumbled to dust).
    Another large vessel has been brought into the dry dock and is of great interest to Simon because it is having its insides coated with the foam insulation which Simon wants to use on his ship. It certainly transforms the look of old structures and walls (Photo 1433). Simon has of course made contact.

    Meanwhile I am chasing details of Lady Dixon’s brief career as a pirate radio ship. In particular I am trying, through contacts in N Ireland and the USA, to find out who bought her from G.A. Lee and Co of Belfast in 1961 and how she ended up in the Thames Estuary belonging to John Thompson/Arnold Swanson. Then, when they abandoned the enterprise, who bought her and where she went.  She was reported as being owned at some stage by Peter Horlock and moored at Mistley on the River Orwell in England. Actually, Mistley is on the River Stour, not the Orwell, which does not help my investigation! Does anyone know Mr Horlock?

Friday, 1 April 2016


Don’t worry – this is not an April Fool trick!
Simon has taken a couple of weeks off (from his day job and the boat), to help out a fellow lightship owner.  LV16 is even older than Cormorant/Lady Dixon and is currently in dry dock in Chatham having her hull renovated (Photo 1421).   

That is a very smart (covered) dry dock, more like an aircraft hangar than a boat shed!
   The hull had been re-sheathed down to the waterline before she came in and, would you believe, because sheet copper is so expensive, the new sheathing is made from flattened domestic copper hot water tanks (Photo 1422).

The old sheathing is being removed and is copper because the cheaper Munz metal that clads Cormorant was not invented at the time LV16 was built (1839). The pile of scraps is growing, but perhaps scraps is the wrong word as there is about £1,000 worth of copper there already (Photo 1423)

   Meanwhile my research into Cormorant’s pirate radio phase intensifies, with the help of stalwarts like Mervyn Hagger, Chris Edwards and Co.  The period is 1961/62 and it was all over, bar the shouting, by March 1962. We are trying to find out who bought the ship from G.A. Lee Ltd of Belfast; when it arrived in the Thames and where; and where it went after the pirate radio idea (GBOK) was abandoned.  Watch this space.