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Saturday, 16 February 2019

January 2019

January saw the Kerne team press on with our two major projects; the Boiler re-tubing and the Wheelhouse rebuild.

In respect of the former, progress has been slow and steady with our younger volunteers providing much of the muscle whilst we older hands provide the encouragement and advice. To assist with this somewhat strenuous job, we are hoping to procure a hydraulic drive that can be used to rotate the taps in the tube holes to clean out the threads to receive the new tubes. The benefit of a hydraulic drive rather than a pneumatic or electric drive is that this can be set to a pre-determined tension which greatly minimises the risk of damage to the taps if they over-tighten or jam in the threads. As these taps were bespoke to our boiler and would cost in the order of £1000 to replace the pair, we are keen to make sure they do not get damaged!

Turning to the Wheelhouse, the new steelwork has been treated and painted, and the joinery manufacturers who are building the new structure have carried out their initial inspection to measure the steelwork. This is to establish the correct profile of the curvature of the top of the Boiler casing and to check the measurements between the welded uprights to which the Wheelhouse will be secured, as these may now differ from the original diagram measurements. Meanwhile the wheelhouse door has been stripped and varnished and the bilges beneath the Boiler have been cleaned to remove the dust and debris that accumulated during the replacement of the casing top. In a similar vein, the anchor chain has been hauled out of the fore peak locker for cleaning. This compartment required the air within to be pumped out before volunteers wearing protective clothing and masks could inspect and clean the space. Apart from some rust and sludge, the compartment was in surprisingly good condition, the platework and bulkhead having been daubed with grease last time it was inspected. It will be similarly treated before the chain is lowered back down.

The cutting and welding that has taken place over the last few weeks has not done much to preserve our lovely clean decks that had been freshly painted for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service Ceremony, so it was out with the power washer which removed much of the debris, but it looks like a re-paint will be required.

Down in the Engine Room, work has re-commenced on the Low Pressure Slide Valve, scraping and filing being carried out on the face of the engine casting to remove the wear and tear, and labelling of the Engine Room cupboard is in progress which, hopefully, will mean we will now know where the various tools are!

Moving  to the Aft Cabin/Galley, we are looking again at the small, but annoying, leak into the bilge. The aft peak tank has been filled with a testing dye, and we are now looking to see if there is any seepage from there into the bilge.

Ever eager to expand our Kerne archives, we have recently purchased a fantastic colour photograph of the vessel taken in June 1964, whilst towing a barge on the Mersey – this can be viewed on our Facebook page.

On a sad note, we aboard Kerne were deeply saddened to hear of the death of the popular BBC North West presenter Dianne Oxberry. To celebrate Kerne’s Centenary in 2013 we sailed to Manchester, berthing at Salford Quays for several days. On the second day we were approached by a BBC producer who suggested that they could incorporate a piece on the vessel within the Weather Forecast slot. Dianne and her crew duly turned up and she apologised and explained that due to an additional article they had to run, the piece involving Kerne would be shorter than planned. Keen to give us the best coverage in the time allowed Dianne asked me to give her a history of Kerne that she could open the piece with. I gave her a quick run-down, after which she said ‘Got it’. She kicked of her shoes, walked up and down the deck, and on cue, she started by reprimanding Roger Johnson for his introduction, in which he referred to Kerne as ‘a trawler’ rather than a tug. She then repeated my history to camera before moving on to the weather; all done without notes. As the crew were packing up she told me that she was now finished for the day, and was going home, but had misplaced her mobile phone, suspecting that she had left it on her desk. I held out my phone and suggested she ring her number as if it was on her desk, someone would answer it. She said ‘You ring - my number is....’ I stopped her at that point and said that she shouldn’t tell someone she doesn’t know what her number was, to which she laughed, took my phone and rang her number. The phone was on her desk, and after thanking me for my time, and complimenting us for keeping the vessel going, she put on her shoes and left with a cheery smile. She came over as an extremely natural, pleasant person without airs and graces, and from the volume of messages of condolence that the BBC received, that is how her audience viewed her.

We were touched that part of the piece filmed aboard Kerne was used in the BBC’s own tribute to her.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

December 2018

Happy New Year to all our Friends and followers.

In the month of Christmas cheer, working on our fine vessel had to make way for the festivities; but not entirely. After all there is a limit to the amount of food, drink and jollifications one can cram into a calendar month, so work continued, with the odd short periods of respite.

The two major projects of Boiler and Wheelhouse remained the focus of our attention throughout December. Following the erection of the protective and weatherproofing ‘Scaffolding tent’ over the wheelhouse area, the corroded sections of the casing were carefully cut away with an angle grinder. Whilst this is a slower procedure than using an oxy-acetylene torch, it gives a cleaner, more accurate, edge to which the new plating can be welded. Ultimately, only a small section of the original platework around the steering windlass was deemed to be in sufficiently good condition to be retained, this area having been protected by the years of lubricating oil that has been applied to the windlass and run off onto the plates. Welding of the new plating is not a simple task due to the curvature of the casing, which is directly above the Boiler. It is a case of welding one edge of the new plate down and gradually bending and welding to the adjacent curved platework. Thereafter, upright metal strips to the four sides of the casing had to be welded into place, these being the anchors to which the timber wheelhouse will be secured in due course. The finished platework is a fantastic piece of welding skill and should see most of us out. It was then time to get out the mag-drill in order to drill out holes for the various wheelhouse fittings. Other wheelhouse items, such as navigation light boxes that require attention have been distributed to volunteer’s home workshops for refurbishment, and we have had a further clear-out of various stored items that required disposal. The scrap timber from the wheelhouse structure has been cut down to manageable size, that size being the door of a certain volunteer’s wood-burning stove! The work on the wheelhouse has resulted in quite an accumulation of debris on top of the boiler and in the Boiler Room bilges which we now need to remove (lovely job) as well as the decks and vessel in general, so a clean down is on-going.

Below in the Boiler Room work on the re-taping of the tube hole threads is progressing, albeit somewhat slowly. It is a hard manual task and to help with this we acquired a piece of hydraulic kit to assist in the turning of the tread-cutting taps, but sadly this gave up the ghost and is now away for repair. We have also taken the opportunity to send the taps away for sharpening and to do other preparation work for installing the new tubes. The main issue is that the new tubes are some 8 feet long and the distance between the tubeplate and the bunkers at its’ maximum is only about 7 feet. In her commercial days, the boiler would have been lifted out for re-tubing, but for us this is not an option, so we have cut out sections of the bunker bulkheads to give us the space required.

We have now passed the dismantling stage on both these major projects, and we now progressing to the next stage – re-assembly. Exciting times!




Thursday, 6 December 2018

November 2018

In the month when the Nation remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War of 1914 -1918, we paid our own respects, particularly to those who served aboard HM Tug Terrier (as Kerne was named in Admiralty Service) and other members of the Admiralty Yard Craft Service who served in the conflict.


Despite the on-set of winter, there has been no let-up aboard the good ship Kerne.

As reported in last month’s entry, we have been fortunate indeed to have received several generous grants, and we have wasted no time in pressing on with the work these grants support. Starting down below, with expert assistance from Rory with the cutting torch, our Engineers and new engineering volunteers have really got stuck-in with the onerous task of removing the 60 stay tubes, all of which are now out, despite the fact that we had to remove a number of plain tubes to get the cut stay tubes out of the water space. Other than the problems with the treaded areas on a small number of the stay tubes, they are in remarkably good condition. Work now progresses with the dressing and re-cutting the threads in the 120 holes in the smokebox and combustion chamber tubeplates. This is not a job for the faint-hearted; it is skilled but hard, time consuming manual labour, but we are up to the task and this is going well.

Moving to the Aft Cabin/Galley, fitting of the new sink has been completed, with  appropriate modifications to the fresh-water and Aft Peak taps, welding of an overboard discharge and installation of an electric ‘Gulper’ waste pump. We are fortunate, that as Kerne has a 24 volt electrical system, we are able to utilise narrow-boat technology in the form of this pump and the Aft Cabin automatic bilge pump, which are ‘off-the-shelf’ items, saving a lot of time and effort.


Topsides, the wheelhouse project has also moved on apace. Firstly, all the navigation and ancillary equipment comprising compass, VHF radio, satellite navigation and distress system, echo sounder, navigation lights, the electrical installation etc. was removed to safe storage together with the ship’s wheel, furniture, chart table, telegraph and various fixings. Thereafter, glazing was carefully removed together with the drop-down windows that were once fitted to British Rail Mk 1 carriages following which we were then able to start dismantling the wheelhouse structure.

Having carefully removed all that could be used in the re-built structure, we set about the skeletal remains with bow and chainsaws, crowbars and sledge hammers. Despite the age and apparent poor condition of some parts of the wheelhouse, it certainly was reluctant to leave the vessel!

Once this and the flooring was removed, was could make an inspection of the top of the Boiler Casing on which the wheelhouse was secured, and it was not a pretty sight. As we had suspected, the steelwork was in poor condition, and after some attention with the chipping hammer it was concluded that something in the order of 75% of the casing top beneath the wheelhouse should be replaced. To this end, and to provide protection to now-exposed areas, a scaffolding tent was been erected and the welding is now in progress.


Finally, the sterling work and dedication of our volunteers has been further recognised, as National Historic Ships UK has Certified the Society as ‘Highly Commended’ in the Marsh Volunteer Awards for Historic Vessel Conservation 2018.


Thursday, 1 November 2018

October 2018

Whilst October each year usually heralds the end of our steaming activities with the tugs attendance at the excellent Leigh Arms Steam Party, this year we were denied that pleasure, but we more than made up for it with two pieces of fantastic news.


Firstly, we were honoured and delighted to be advised by the Lord Lieutenant’s Office that the The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society has been awarded a grant of £3,000 from The Duchy of Lancaster Benevolent Fund. This is a Registered Charity set up with the consent of Her Majesty The Queen to benefit causes primarily within the Counties of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside. Founded in the 13th century, the Duchy of Lancaster is a unique portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign in Her role as Duke of Lancaster.


After several week of having to keep the secret, can now announce further fantastic news, that the Society has also been granted an award of £9,300 by The Heritage Lottery Fund under the “First World War Then and Now” scheme. In Kerne’s former guise as H.M.Tug Terrier she served the Royal Navy from 1913, playing a crucial role in HM Dockyard, Chatham during hostilities not only during the First World War, but also the Second World War before being sold into civilian service in 1948 and thereafter being transferred to Liverpool. This award will provide funds to replace boiler stay tubes in the vessel’s Royal Navy Chatham Dockyard- built boiler to enable her to steam to events as the last surviving operational ex Royal Navy steamship from the First World War. The work is being led by our volunteers who will also train young people in rare heritage boiler repair skills. The award will also assist us in researching and sharing the First World War heritage of Kerne as HM Tug Terrier and tell the story of her role in the naval dockyards, commemorate those who served in H.M.Tugs and enable visitors to enjoy Kerne at events and see what life was like aboard an ex Royal Navy coal fired steamship.


Following on from the Pilgrim Trust Award of £5,000 in June for essential Wheelhouse renovation and receiving The Queens Award for Voluntary Service, this has been an unbelievable year for the vessel and our committed band of volunteers.


Coming back down to earth, Kerne has been towed back to her usual berth at the eastern end of Sandon Dock by the World War II veteran tug ‘Seaport Alpha’ as work aboard continues. The news of the grant award has enabled us to put more resources into the boiler tube job, and now some 50 tubes have been removed, so this job is now well under way. Also below decks in the Engine Room, Dave has taken on the job of overhauling the suction valves which required some re-bushing and re-facing of the valve surfaces. He has also painted the valve wheels – very pretty! Whilst in the mood he has also overhauled the valves and linkages to the boiler water gauges. Moving to the Aft Cabin, the long-awaited sink is in the process of being fitted and plumbed in, and the microwave has been installed in the new portside cupboard. It is in danger of getting a bit too cosy and convenient down there! Following meetings with our joinery manufacturers and the clearing-out of the container to provide storage space, stripping-out of the wheelhouse has now started in earnest.


All-in-all, we have certainly had a few months to remember!


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

September 2018

September is usually a month of high activity and anticipation for the annual Leigh Arms Steam Party at Acton Bridge. Well, at least we had activity but the usual anticipation was sadly missing as we were unable to attend the event with the tug owing to the ongoing boiler work.

On this particular subject, work is progressing slowly but steadily, with some twenty tubes having now been carefully removed. It is hoped that the remaining tubes will be out by the end of October, but delays have the habit of thwarting the best of intentions!

As ever, there is always a rolling program of maintenance work that we have to keep pace with so the needle guns and de-scalers have been out with the after deck beneath the rope grating being the focus of attention, as has the aft peak tank which has been scaled and cement-washed. Strangely enough, this is not a job that is bristling with volunteers, in fact it is odd how we seem to find other important jobs to do, but to be fair, Mate Paul doesn’t shirk the challenge and once again tackled the job head on. The real trick is once out of the aft peak tank is to get the overalls off quickly before you ‘set’.

As previously reported, the wheelhouse, which was re-built in 1977 from the 1950’s structure, has seen better days. We have been awarded a grant from the Pilgrim Trust to repair the structure, and Moorside Joinery have taken on the task of re-creating the structure using as much of the original as possible. The guys have been provided with a set of drawings of the original that were drawn in 1976 and we now have a plan of action to move the job forward. Firstly, we need to carefully strip out the existing wheelhouse and store the equipment therein, together with the re-usable elements of the structure. The slight stumbling block is that since our return from Cammell Lairds following the hull repairs, our storage container has become something of a dumping ground for all manner of bits and pieces – some useful and some not so useful. The decision was taken to erect additional shelving down one side of the container, but due to the clutter, there wasn’t room to install it. A co-ordinated ‘attack’ was needed. On the agreed date a good number of volunteers arrived, with the Chief Engineer appointed as the sole arbiter of what would stay and what would go. So, as items were removed from the container, the Chief would shout ‘Keep’, ‘Scrap’ or ‘Dump’. Despite there was no mechanism for appeal the exercise without any violence and if a strong case was proffered, it was a case of ‘Well you take it home then’. That seemed to concentrate the mind. The following week, the shelving was duly installed, and stowing of the kept items carried out.  

A very worthwhile job well done, but we would all really have preferred to have been preparing Kerne for a trip to Acton Bridge!

Monday, 10 September 2018

August 2018

August marked the awarding of The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which turned out to be all we had hoped it would be and more.

Cleaning, painting and general sprucing-up during the first week of the month had the vessel looking very smart indeed for the award ceremony on the 7th August, but ahead of the event itself we had a marquee to erect, tables, banners and bunting to be put in place, food and celebratory bubbly to be arranged, and regional TV and radio interviews to be recorded.


Monday 6th started early as Dave Guest, BBC North West’s Senior Reporter arrived with his cameraman on the quay to film a piece for the evening news. Over the next two hours Paul Kirkbride, myself and Chris Heyes were interviewed and filmed in the Wheelhouse, Boiler Room and Engine Room, shots were taken around the vessel, and information gathered for the commentary. This was duly broadcast during the North West Tonight, albeit that the two hours was condensed down to three minutes and Roger Johnson in the introduction pronounced ‘Kerne’ as ‘Kee-ern-ee’. That said, we had plenty of good feedback and responses to the piece. No sooner had we finished with the TV, than BBC Radio Merseyside’s Claire Minter arrived and recorded an interview with Paul that was broadcast on the Tuesday morning.


The crew arrived before noon on 7th and delivered the catering and made final preparations for the big day. United Utilities had very kindly offered to provide car-parking at the Liverpool Wastewater Treatment Works from where our volunteers (suitably dressed in ‘Kerne’ shirts) and guests were conveyed in a classic ex-Liverpool bus to the quayside for the ceremonial proceedings. The Queen’s official representatives were Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside Mr Mark Blundell, Deputy Lieutenant Sir Mark Hedley DL and Lieutenant Colonel Sean McEvoy BEM. The civic party was The Right Worshipful, The Lord Mayor of Liverpool Councillor Christine Banks. After official introductions and a visit aboard Kerne there followed official speeches including a welcoming address, a description of the award process and assessment, the presentation of the Award and signed Certificate of Authority. Obligatory photographs followed and a speech of thanks on behalf of the volunteers before all present enjoyed drinks and food in the marquee in a very relaxed and convivial atmosphere despite the somewhat cold and blustery conditions..


The Society are very honoured to receive this Award in recognition of the 47 years the group has preserved and operated the vessel, particularly as it is the first time the Queen has recognised a voluntary vessel preservation group in this way. Following the departure of the dignitaries and guests, the remaining crew were transported in the classic bus to The Lion Tavern for post event drinks. Unsurprisingly, this part of the proceedings lasted several hours! Even less surprisingly, the dismantling and clearing-up operation the following day was performed despite a number of very thick heads.


Work aboard had taken second stage to the Award Ceremony, but we are now on with jobs including the cleaning and cement washing of the aft peak tank and preparatory work on the Aft Cabin/Galley improvements. In the Boiler Room work has commenced on the removal of the 60 stay tubes, a job which will likely take us into next year. Normality service has returned!.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

July '18

This month was dominated by preparations for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service presentation held on 7th August, so it was all hands to make the Old Girl look at her best for the occasion.
Before we got too stuck into things, there was a change of scene and subject as some of us spend the first day of the month at the impromptu Road Run of Steam Engines around the lanes of Cheshire, loosely arranged by the Lancashire Traction Engine Club, which featured Kerne member George Coles’ 1913 Clayton & Shuttleworth Traction Engine and Jonathan Bregazzi’s Stuart Turner-powered ‘Steam Buggy’.
It was soon back to work with paint brushes in evidence, including the Chief’s repainting of the funnel colours, completion of the deck painting and hatch varnishing. Due to our ongoing boiler tube issues, we obviously cannot raise steam, so the WWII veteran tug Seaport Alpha was again pressed into action to move Kerne along the quay to a more salubrious location for the Award Ceremony. The downside to this was the presence of a huge flock of feral pigeons scavenging for grain from the nearby grain store. They obviously don’t like the vessel’s colour scheme as they seemed intent on converting it to a colour and texture infinitely more unpleasant than the usual red, black and buff!
Down below in the Forward Cabin, the absence of the new oak bulkhead (yet to be completed) creates something of an eye-sore as we have stored wood in the forward area, so to tidy this up, curtains were put up, giving the Cabin the appearance of a theatre. We only needed a magician to emerge from behind the curtains to make the illusion complete. One further element of the Forward Cabin restoration is however complete, this being the seating. To achieve this, away from the vessel a group of volunteers formed a production line in order to cut to size the plywood seat-backs, then cut carpeting to fit, glue the carpet to the plywood, add brass-effect edging before returning these to the vessel to be drilled and fitted. The seating now looks good, and the fitting of a new timber facia behind the access steps greatly improves the appearance of the cabin.
Work has started on removing the boiler stay tubes and a new carrier has been fashioned to lift the starboard side steering chains off the aft deck, where they have been rubbing for some time.
As the month drew to a close, Brasso (other metal cleaning products are available) was applied to beading to the engine, pipes, gauges and anything else that could be polished with very pleasing results ahead of our Big Day on 7th August.