Search This Blog

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

May 2019

This passing month has been a case of ‘much the same’ in terms of the jobs tackled.

Down in the Boiler Room the re-tapping of the stay tube holes continues, but it has been good to have a number of our Young Volunteers down to give us old hands a bit of a lift and to learn and experience traditional boiler making skills. As Kerne is one of the last places to see and work on a riveted Scotch Boiler with screwed stay and plain tubes, the young volunteers really appreciated taking on and learning the old skills from those of us who over the last 40-odd years have been down this track before. We are still able to do it – only slower!!


The Wheelhouse project has been moving on apace, roof covering having been applied, toughened glazing sourced and installed to replace the previous plain glass panes, and refurbishment started on the sliding BECLAWAT droplights and frames. A number of wheelhouse fittings have been refurbished ready for installation, and several coats of grey primer applied. This gave Kerne something of a look of her in Admiralty days as HM Tug Terrier, which was very appropriate given that we have been out and about with our Terrier Exhibition. On this subject, a number of our volunteers took a break from the vessel to attend the Lancashire Steam Heritage Festival held at Astley Green Mining Museum on 18-19 May, George Coles’ Clayton & Shuttleworth Traction Engine attending and crewed by a number of Kerne Volunteers. Our First World War/Terrier Stand together with Mountfleet’s model of Terrier was also on show.


Back aboard and down below, the Captain’s Forward Cabin is now resplendent, with the new timber bulkhead in place, varnished and painted, and the lower panels being carpeted to match the bench backs. Dirty overalls are now definitely banned!!


Whilst we moved positively forward with our boiler repair, we were saddened to learn of the considerable problems aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley where they have been forced to abandon all sailings for 2019 due to boiler problems. Sadly their two Cochran Boilers, installed only in 2001, are beyond economic repair and will have to be replaced at a cost estimated at £2m. I sincerely hope that the necessary monies can be raised to restore this uniquely important historic vessel to operation, particularly as it was on the Clyde aboard Waverley that I got my first taste of marine steam as a young lad with my family in the late 1950’s. Such news makes us acutely aware how lucky we are aboard Kerne  to have a traditional boiler in good condition and have the skills amongst our volunteers to maintain and operate it.  



Wednesday, 8 May 2019

April 2019

Whilst the loss of Phil Magin and Dave Lowndes is still very much in our minds, they would want us to press on with the good work that they had put in over the years, and that is precisely what we have done.


On the boiler front, as we go to press, we have now re-threaded 100 of the 120 tube holes, so on this facet of the project, we are now on approaching the home straight. This has been achieved with a huge physical effort from the volunteers, and whilst this is mainly the domain of the Engineering Dept, members of the deck crew have also put their strength to good effect. We have also been able to use this exercise as an opportunity for a number of our Young Volunteers to learn the necessary skills in marine steam restoration in order to maintain Kerne as an operational vessel in the coming years. The next stage rests with contractors who will swage out the tubes to the required diameter, prior to retreading.


Serious progress has also been made with the wheelhouse project. The manufactured structure was delivered to the vessel in sectional form, and in April, we were able engage M Dowd Joinery of Swinton to undertake the critical assembly job. This is not as simple as it sounds, as due to the method of the vessels original construction, there is little uniformity in the curved shape of the boiler casing onto which the wheelhouse sits. It was therefore necessary to modify the curved base saddle, so that it fitted the boiler casing snugly over plates and rivets, whilst providing a perfectly square and level surface onto which the wheelhouse proper could be mounted and attached. For those of us more used to spanners, it was intriguing to watch the joiners with wood chisels and planes fitting the saddle perfectly. This was then bolted to angle iron previously welded to the casing. The following day, the wheelhouse structure was assembled on the quayside and carefully checked for square and level prior to lifting into place.

Day 3 started early with the removal of the scaffolding ‘tent’ that has covered and protected the new steelwork top of the boiler casing. Once the crane arrived on site the assembled structure was carefully lifted and lowered into place on the saddle – perfectly square and level. The roof was then craned into place and fitted perfectly. The various sections were glued, pinned, screwed and bolted into position to provide a strong and stable structure. Now all we have to do is install the flooring, paint, glaze, rewire and generally fit-out as before! Once again, our grateful thanks to the Pilgrim Trust whose generous grant helped to fund the project, to Moorside Joinery for the manufacture, and M Dowd Joinery for the fitting.

Whilst on the subject of wood, the completion of the Forward Cabin bulkhead is within our sights.


Away from Sandon Dock, we attended the Easter Historic Boat Gathering at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port with our new HM Tug Terrier display which attracted a lot of attention over the holiday weekend. We are also pleased to note that the gates to Weston Marsh Lock have now been repaired, which means that when we are back up and running, we will have access to the River Weaver again.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

March 2019

Apologies for late publication, but even steam tug crews deserve holidays!


Another month and work on the re-treading of boiler tube holes continues, but we are over halfway towards completing this phase of the Boiler re-tubing. The replacement tubes have now been ordered and following their manufacture in Germany, they will be delivered to Swagemasters of Wolverhampton for swageing before the treads are cut ready for screwing into the boiler. All sounds very simple, but there is still a long way to go with this project.

One job that has moved on is that of the Wheelhouse. Following completion at the Swinton premises of Moorside Joinery, this was loaded in sectional form into a Luton van and transported, along with the constituent parts of the Forward Cabin timber bulkhead, to our berth at Sandon Dock. It was back in 1977 that the previous Wheelhouse was erected, and my memory tells me that erection and assembly was a reasonably straightforward task. That was 42 years ago, and the new components are of hardwood rather than softwood. On this occasion five men were required just to unload the individual sections which leads me to believe that hardwood is much heavier than softwood, and we are not as strong and agile as we were in 1977! We have engaged the services of professional joiners to help in the onboard fitting as we cannot afford to botch this rather expensive structure. Away from the vessel new navigation light boxes have been manufactured, as the originals were getting a bit chatty and we don’t want to spoil the appearance of the renovated Wheelhouse.


Good progress has been made in the Forward Cabin, where the port and starboard sections of the timber bulkhead have been affixed to the square section galvanised steel frames by ingenious clips, which can be easily removed in the future should the need arise. We are now left to fit the door furniture and hang the door itself before final painting and varnishing of the upper bulkhead sections. The lower sections are to be carpeted to match the seat backs. All looking good already, so it should finish the cabin off nicely.  


With much regret I once again have to end this bulletin on the saddest of notes.

No sooner had we said ‘Goodbye’ to one of our founders, Phil Magin earlier this month than we received the devastating news that another one of our group, Dave Lowndes died suddenly on 26th March.

Dave joined the group over 20 years ago, having known a number of us through the shared interest of model engineering and steam traction generally. A gifted precision engineer who had travelled the world to fit and work on complex machine tools, Dave had built a number of prize-winning live steam railway locomotives, and was our ‘go-to’ man if we needed any precision machining. He was a generous, good humoured and funny guy who bore the butt of many a joke and taunt in good humour with a big grin on his face. He loved to have the mickey taken out of him, often in these pages, and would play along for the laugh. Never afraid to quietly get on with the job and put in a shift for the benefit of the vessel, he was a regular Saturday and Tuesday volunteer who did huge amounts of good work aboard and at home in his workshop.


He will be greatly missed by us all.       

Monday, 11 March 2019

February 2019

The observant amongst our readers will have noted that the website has had a makeover. This is more out of necessity than design, as we were experiencing a number of problems with the existing site which resisted all attempts to sort it out. We therefore decided to design a new site and ditch the old, the opportunity also being taken to update some of the information.

As regards work aboard the Kerne, this has been a continuum of work previously reported on - the Boiler and Wheelhouse. As regards the former, dogged persistence is an apt description for progress, as work has been slow but steady. We are still in the ‘thread-clearing’ stage, which is something that has to be carried out very carefully to exacting standards, but we are almost at the half-way point. What we cannot risk is a poorly cut thread not mating precisely with the thread that will be cut in the replacement tubes which are now on order. These items are expensive, any mistakes could render a tube to scrap, so care is the watchword.

On the Wheelhouse front, our friends at Moorside Joinery have now completed the construction of the structure in sectional form, and a great job it is too, as is the Forward Cabin bulkhead. We are now in the process of arranging transport and preparation of the area aboard prior to assembly.

Elsewhere, a splash back has been made and installed around our new Aft Cabin sink, and greasing of the chain locker beneath the Foredeck has been completed.

Away from the vessel, as part of the ‘First World War Then and Now’ Award, First Mate Paul has once again been digging into Kerne’s naval history, as H M Tug Terrier, and with the information now to hand we are in the process of having exhibition banners manufactured dealing with the vessels history and that of the dockyard and crews during the hostilities and thereafter. Mountfield Models (from whom commercial models of Kerne are available) have presented us with an excellent completed model of H M Tug Terrier for display.


Sadly, events during February have been completely overshadowed by the death of our great friend and Kerne crewmember Phil Magin, who passed away on 21st February.

Phil was a founder member of our Group, joining up with 6 friends in 1971 and pulling the money together to purchase Kerne from under the scrapman’s nose. A telecom engineer by trade, Phil became our resident electrician, although starting his Kerne career as an Engineer/Stoker, he was renowned for being the blackest of us all, ensuring that he was always the last to get cleaned up for the compulsory visit to the pub in the days of our collective youth before marriage, responsibility and kids came along.

Phil, a very laid-back, generous, funny and sociable guy, also played his part as one of the Kerne crew who in 1976 assisted Nick and Rachel Walker with their newly-purchased vessel VIC 32, sailing her down the East Coast from Whitby to St Katherine’s Dock in London prior to her conversion to the passenger craft she is today.


He will be very sorely missed by us all.


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.