Sunday, 26 October 2014


Well my right hand man in Dublin - David Ryan - is going from strength to strength! After finding those 1908 photos of Cormorant and Torch, both with a fixed lantern and one other mast, he has now discovered photos showing a 'hoistable' lantern and one other mast. The Barrels Rock vessel is Torch, but we do not know the name of the other. There are no dates attached, but they must be earlier than 1908.

As if that wasn't enough, David has also unearthed even earlier photos showing two other masts
There is not much information about these vessels, so I cannot say what their names are, but I think it is worth another 60 euros to get hi-res copies to see if they have a name anywhere on them, or at least to compare features with other photos that are identified.  

David has done exceedingly well -some people have all the fun - while I slave away on Simon's boat, helping to recover and insulate the deck.  More on this next time.

Monday, 20 October 2014


The discovery of the 1908 photograph, showing Cormorant with a fixed lantern and only one other mast, has rather skewed the discussions about sails. When she was ‘upgraded’ from the 1880 specification, who knows what other alterations took place?  Anyway I have been playing with computer images of Cormorant 1908 and Cormorant 1957 to make sure we are looking at the same ship. Allowing for the fact that Cormorant 1908 is heeling slightly to port and has had her lantern modernised, and Cormorant 1957 has a boat landing platform tacked on the stern, the similarities are very evident when I superimpose one on the other. Luckily the two photos were taken at roughly the same angle.

    I also compared the main and mizzen mast combination over the years – although by 1997 the main mast had been chopped off at deck level. It looks highly likely that the original main mast (or most of it) was used throughout, with the access holes plated over as we found very early on in this story when we examined the base of the main mast stump.

   The mizzen was probably replaced or lengthened when the ‘hoistable’ lantern on the main was replaced by a fixed lantern.  In reply to a question asked, I believe that ‘ball’ on the 1908 mizzen is to inform other ships that this vessel is anchored/not under way.

    One interesting technique from the 1880 specification was rust prevention for the main steel mast. Everything had to be “… thoroughly cleansed from rust, and in this state it is to be thoroughly and uniformly heated, and while hot, to be coated with boiled linseed oil, and after it has cooled and the coat hardened, it is to be painted two good coats in pure red lead paint.”  Quite a task with a 70ft mast!


Sunday, 19 October 2014


Looking closely at that lovely old oil painting I bought late last year ....."Is that a lugyard I see before me?" (to misquote Macbeth)



In an idle moment (I do have them), I have tried to rig the Puffin (rotten photo) with all the sails listed in the 1880 spec. I wonder though whether they would all be up at the same time. It all seems a bit excessive just to hold the ship steady, or to keep her into the wind. If they were all up, the ship would be under way surely. Emergencies only - if the anchor chain breaks?


Saturday, 18 October 2014


In response to me plea for a helper in Dublin, David Ryan has volunteered to trawl through the collection in the National Library which was deposited there by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Already he has found a photo of Cormorant and one of Torch dated 1908, when CIL sent a team around photographing all their lightships and lighthouses. There are a lot more albums to search through, but as each copy costs 30 euros, I am going to have to be selective if David finds any more.
  Anyway, back to the exciting finds. Cormorant and Torch (and the ill-fated Puffin) were all built with a slender main mast carrying the ‘hoistable’ lantern, with a fore and a mizzen mast as well. This is what I have been asking David to look for. Well shiver me timbers and bamboozle me barnacles, look what he found.

    Torch on station at the Three Barrels Rock and Cormorant on station at the Kish Bank – both with fixed lanterns and no foremast!  “Quelle surprise!”  Although these photos pose questions, they do also answer a few. Referring to recent posts about sails, Torch has a furled sail on the mizzen, which looks as though it is loose-footed (no boom at the bottom). The high-res photo shows that Cormorant has the same. Both ships are flying an ensign, but the one on Torch is fixed to the stay and wrapped around it! Cormorant has a normal staff on the stern.  The back end (tack or clew?) of the sails are fixed to what would have been a bowsprit at the other end, but must be the boomkin mentioned in the 1880 spec.  Torch has a fog-horn, but Cormorant has a bell. But enough of the detail for now – shall we just speculate why these 1908 photos are different from what we expected?
   When the Puffin was lost with all hands in 1896, the enquiry decided that her mast (‘hoistable’) had been wrenched off, taking a large section of deck with it, precipitating the catastrophe. A two-ton lantern 30ft above the deck would not have helped matters.  So perhaps it was decided that the design was unsafe and all the lightships of the ‘hoistable’ design were converted to fixed lanterns.  There may of course have been other changes made at the time, so the details mentioned above may have changed from the 1880 spec.
    This would undoubtedly have been a Board decision at both CIL and Trinity House. I intend to search for Board minutes of this period, but I am not hopeful any still exist. CIL have already told me that they do not have any, but perhaps they passed them on to the National Library with all those photo albums and they are another thing David can look for. I will ask Trinity House also.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


This for Anthony.
This system refuses to let me respond to your last message in the comments bit.
Could I copy your last two excellent contributions and post them here for the benefit of everyone, along with my replies?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014


Having had a sneak preview of a lightship dated 1907/8 (which I cannot share yet), I can, with the aid of a skilfully traced diagram reveal the set-up (Photo).

This shows the mizzen/lug/aft/whatever sail furled and there is no boom visible for the foot of the sail. So if all that had to be done is to unfurl the sail and hoist the head with the block and tackle that is visible there, then perhaps this sail looked something like this (Photo).

As the sail is not for propulsion, I assume that normal rules of mounting it do not apply.
Over to you experts.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


The general concensus seems to be that the function of the sail/sails is to steady the ship in a rough sea and perhaps to keep her heading into wind.  However, there is some discussion as to the configuration. I had a go at interpreting the 1880 specification and produced a diagram (Photo). 

However Patroclus (I am sure that is not his real name), a much better informed chap than I on nautical matters, has offered the following comments:

1. The lug yard belongs to the mainmast, not the mizzen (the head of the main lug sail is bent to it) - and the reference to “main lug” is a real problem. If the mainmast carried the light and paraphernalia as shown in the painting of the Daunt’s Rock lightvessel with the RNLI lifeboat alongside, how did they rig a lugsail on it? Perhaps we should be looking at a different type of three-masted lightvessel?
2. The ensign staff would be mounted at the stern in the normal place.
3. The mizzen boom would probably be hooped to the mizzen mast say 8 feet above the deck.

There is little doubt that the mainmast was too cluttered to have sails anywhere near it. Using a photograph of Cormorant as she is now (it’s a bit fragmented as I had to take several shots along the length), and knowing exactly where the main mast and the mizzen emerged from the superstructure, I have ‘resurrected’ these two masts. The hawsers (shrouds?) which supported the main mast had substantial anchoring points on both sides of the ship and these are still there, so I was able to approximate the run of these hawsers (Photo). I have left out any fore and aft supports and all those for the mizzen, but I have shown what I believe to be the boomkin with its sheave  (for hoisting things on board?) and what I thought was the lugyard. There is no mention of a hoop on the mizzen.

Translating this to the grotty photo I have of Cormorant’s sister ship, Puffin, does I think give a good impression of what these vessels looked like (Photo), but I acknowledge that Patroclus is correct to worry about the reference to ‘main lug’.

 I can add to that disquiet as the 1880 spec also refers to one fore and two main stay sails (one spare I assume) and two jib-headed mizzens (again I assume one spare). Where were these placed?

One more clue (or red herring?) is in the structure of the mizzen base unit (Photo).  There is a substantial ‘boom-hinge’ mounted fore and aft on that unit. Is one for the boomkin and one for the lugyard?  Please ignore the hanging nameplate. I made it to reflect my first impressions of the ship and Simon displays it.  I wonder what those three rings were for.

Finally, although Patroclus thinks the ensign would be mounted at the stern, if that mizzen sail boom/lugyard is in the correct place, at 24ft it would extend about 6ft over the stern and preclude any ensign staff there.  Perhaps the picture of LV72 at Juno beach in WWII shows where an ensign could be (Photo).  Her mizzen is further back, but the ensign is definitely up top there. It is not possible to see whether it is attached to the mizzen or to a staff.

PS:  Petroclus/Patroclus was a friend of Achilles, of uncertain parentage, killed a friend over a dice game and died when he disobeyed a direct order from Achilles.

Saturday, 11 October 2014


The 1880 specification document is proving to be a rich source of information and revelation! I was certainly not aware that these old lightships had sails. I knew that they did not have engines for propulsion and had to be towed everywhere, but sails?
   Well now all you mariners, here is your challenge – or as they used to say in that TV program, “Your mission, should you accept it”,  to produce a sketch of the sail arrangement from the description given in the document”.  The document describes all three masts, but details of sails etc refer only to the mizzen or, as they spell it, mizen.
The dimensions of the mast are as follows:
Heel to deck …….10ft
Deck to hounds….31ft
Hounds to truck….13ft
Extreme length ….54ft
The mizen mast to be fitted with an iron hoop on masthead, with outrigger to take jackstay of mizen;  one 12ft boomkin for mizen, fitted with one four-eyed hoop on outer end, also fitted with an iron sheave;  one 17ft ensign-staff.  One 24ft lug yard, fitted with all necessary iron work.
Sails of best quality No2 coker-canvas:-  1 main lug;  1 fore and 2 main stay-sails; 2 jib-head mizens.

I have discovered that an outrigger is a boom or spar;  a jack-stay is something the sail is fastened to;  a boomkin is a short spar (why not a boomette?); a sheave is a wheel or roller; and a lug yard is a spar hung obliquely on a mast. But I am sure you know all that!

The final question is what’s it all for?  I cannot imagine this small amount of sail would propel a 150 ton ship anywhere. Unfortunately I have only one photo of such a ship (Puffin) and it is of very poor quality and probably no use to you at all.

Friday, 10 October 2014


When I realised that Puffin could be called the sister ship of Cormorant, I studied the Board of Trade wreck report for Puffin even more closely. One item that I had missed was the statement “ ….facsimile masts had been used in the Cormorant ….(no wonder the two sets of measurements were so similar) and the Torch (I don’t remember coming across this name in my research on lightships).  So now we have three sister ships – Cormorant, Puffin and Torch. However, the name Torch puzzled me as all these Irish light vessels were usually named after seabirds, which showed a bit more imagination than the Trinity House plain numbering system! Never having heard of a Torch bird, I asked the Internet. Guess what – nobody else had heard of one either, so I trawled for Irish lightships (as I have done many times before) and found Torch – built by Milford Haven Co., in 1881 and with overall dimensions and construction the same as Cormorant, albeit costing £600 more. She was withdrawn from service in 1945, sold and scrapped.  
     Having three trails to follow in my search for likenesses of pre-1943 Cormorant does not make me feel more hopeful. But many lines catch more fish – or at least they should. In my search for Torch, I came across the genealogy of the Douglass family and W Douglass supervised the building of the Torch and the Puffin. You may remember that the 1880 Specification for a Lightship had W Douglass signing off the lantern mast details. It is the same man.
     William Douglass was born in London in 1831. Apprenticed to Robert Stephenson & Co, Newcastle-on-Tyne, he studied under Robert, the son of George Stephenson. In 1852 he replaced his brother James as Assistant Engineer to his father on the construction of Bishop Rock Lighthouse.
     On completion of the Little Basses Reef Lighthouse in 1878 William was appointed Engineer to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, succeeding John H. Morant. Thus, the Douglass brothers achieved the unique distinction of serving simultaneously as Engineer-in-Chief to two lighthouse authorities. Both made their distinctive contribution to their respective organisation. James introduced electricity as a lighthouse illuminant while William perfected the efficiency of oil and gas as illuminants.
     Over the next 22 years William's engineering design and administration output in the service of Irish Lights was equally as dynamic as the 26 years he spent in the construction of lighthouses for Trinity House. His tenure as the Commissioners' Engineer ended a relatively dormant engineering period in Irish Lights.
Many major works were carried out under the direction of William Douglass and from my point of view the following are pertinent:-
Built the beacon on Muglins Rock.
New lightship Torch built.
Calf Rock station demolished by a storm-erected a temporary light on Dursey Head.
New lightship Puffin built.

    So another line of enquiry opens up. I wonder if his descendants have any records of the great man’s achievements.