The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society Ltd


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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 (0)

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 (3)

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 (1)

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.




October News

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on November 2, 2016 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We will start this report where we left off the September News – at the Leigh Arms Steam Party.

Having arrived at Acton Bridge, we berthed upstream of the swing bridge, rather than on our usual berth for the last 40 years or so just below the bridge, in order to allow the Daniel Adamson to berth there on her first visit to the event. As it happens our ‘new’ berth has better access to the pub therefore making it easier for the public to get to the Kerne and us to get to the pub and our exhibition tent in the grounds. This event saw the first airing of our new publicity attraction – a looped professional video depicting Kerne through the years as a Naval tug, as a commercial vessel, in preservation, and of the hull repair work undertaken as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund project. This was very well received and it kept those in the tent very busy throughout the weekend with a visiting public numbering in excess of three thousand over the weekend. Those aboard Kerne were similarly busy with large numbers of visitors keen to look over the vessel, particularly in the Wheelhouse, Boiler and Engine Rooms where the crew were busy raising steam for our return trip to Liverpool on Monday 3rd October. It was heartening to see the number of youngsters taking interest, particularly when asked if they wanted to shovel a round of coal into the furnaces – none of those I extended the offer to refused!

Monday morning saw us with a full head of steam and ready to go. We had used the inward trip to ‘blood’ one of our new volunteers, Stuart, into the ranks of our firemen, and a good job he made of it under instruction from Paul, one of our experienced crew, not letting the boiler pressure drop throughout the voyage. Similarly, on the return leg, the Chief had entrusted the engine controls to Dave, for his first long trip. I have to say that despite several of my fellow Engineers covering their eyes, crossing their fingers, and generally assuming a state of mock panic, his control was faultless (but don’t tell him I said so or he will think I’m going soft!). That said, our progress down the Weaver was somewhat hampered. Both Kerne and Daniel Adamson were moored bow upstream, so both had to swing. Unfortunately the ‘Danny’ had difficulty swinging in the confines of the Weaver, delayed the swinging of the bridge, but once open, we came through astern, and springing off the quay before heading off to follow the ‘Danny’ to Dutton Lock. Once through the lock we approached Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge, which initially refused to lock in the ‘open’ position. This delayed our passage down to Eastham Locks, which meant that we met with an inward bound freighter being turned by tugs at Stanlow Lay-by and by the time we locked out into the Mersey at 16.20 hours we had missed the last lock into Liverpool and had to wait for the next lock at 20.30 hours. This we shared with other inbound shipping. We finally berthed at 22.40 hours, but the good news was that after a total of 18 hours steaming to and from the event, only one fault was identified – a minor leak of a valve gland.

On our return to Sandon Dock, we immediately set about our winter lay-up; the boiler was drained, ash was removed from the furnaces, and the cover was placed over the funnel. Not wishing to waste the Indian Summer we were enjoying, the compressor was coaxed back into action and needle gunning of the side decks commenced to remove some thick scale prior to rust treating and painting. We also had a clear-out of the container, and we erected four sets of shelves so we can store a lot of the clutter that has been amassed during the hull repairs, ahead of our Winter Work Programme.

As many a wise man has said, there is no end to the jobs to do when you have a boat; we just have more jobs than most!

Our Exhibition Tent will be at the International Model Boat Show on 11 - 13 November- see Calender for more details, and don't forget to see Adam Slater at Mountfleet Models Stand, as they are working on a commercial model of Kerne that will be available for purchase in due course.





September 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on October 5, 2016 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

I will start this months report by referring back to August 2014. Having had our Heritage Lottery application accepted and ringing ‘Finished with Engines’ for the final time before strip-down commenced, we looked inevitably forward to the day we would be back in operational condition. We were under no illusions that there was a hard road ahead of us that involved the removal of the boiler and all other pipes, fittings and contents of the Boiler Room to facilitate the hull repairs. One thing that wouldn’t be affected in the work was the Main Engine; so, with great care we smothered the cylinder casing and motion parts liberally with grease before sheeting up the engine to prevent the inevitable dust and grime penetrating the moving parts. There the engine lay static and silent for 2 years until Saturday 24th September when, sheets removed, she emerged from her cocoon and turned once again to the utter delight of the crew and volunteers.

The month started with a long ‘to-do’ list in order to get Kerne into fully operational condition and to a level of appearance that the team of volunteers could be justly proud of. The jobs included the installation of a walkway down the starboard side of the boiler, the replacement of flooring behind the engine-driven pumps, reinstatement of the rope grating at the stern, refitting of wheelhouse equipment on conclusion of the internal repaint job, and the repainting of all remaining areas of the external superstructure, Engine Room and Boiler Room that hadn’t been painted thus far. Additionally, our auxiliary generator was craned back onto the vessel and installed onto a modified stand on the Forward Deck and whilst all this was ongoing, the troublesome valves referred to in the August News Report were removed, the valve faces and flanges cleaned scraped and ground in before being returned to their rightful positions on the boiler.

In the midst of this work frenzy, we received a contact on this Website from Russell Williams, a resident of Australia, who in his younger days was a neighbour (but no relation) of Bert Williams Kerne’s former Chief Engineer. He had numerous trips on Kerne with Bert and on learning that Russell was on holiday in the UK an immediate invitation was issued for him to visit the vessel. He duly came aboard and was able to provide us with numerous wonderful photos of those trips in the 1950’s. Follow the links on this site to our Facebook page to view the pictures of the last of the breed of steam lighterage men.

Fires were lit once again on Tuesday 20th September, as the final touches of paint were applied, and the boiler temperature slowly raised over the next 3 days, for the visit of the Boiler Inspector on Friday 23rd September for the final ‘In Steam’ check and to witness the lifting of the safety valves at the maximum working pressure of 180psi. All was in order and the boiler signed off for service to the obvious delight of the crew and the Chief in particular. The following day presented the next big test – Engine Trials. Firstly, appropriate lubricants were applied to the engine and then slowly and methodically, the Main Boiler and Engine Stop Valves were cracked open to allow steam to enter the main engine, and with the drain cocks open steam was allowed to enter and exit the valve chests and cylinders to start the process of warming through. The valves were opened further and the drain cocks started to blow through the condensate that accumulates on the cold engine surfaces. As the cylinders started to warm the Worthington General Service pump was started in order to circulate cooling water through the condenser as the engine begins to turn. After checked that all mooring ropes were secure, with the engine valve gear set for ‘Ahead’ the Engine Stop Valve was slowly opened further and the engine began to move one quarter of a revolution. The valve gear was then moved to ‘Astern’ and the engine swung back. This action was repeated a number of times with the degree of engine movement increasing each time until a full revolution was achieved. The engine was run at approximately 20 revs per minute until all the drain cocks were free of condensate and the engine-driven pumps circulated and cooled the condenser adequately to create the correct level of vacuum so that the GS pump can be stopped. Given the amount of time that had elapsed since the engine was last run and under constant surveillance by the engineers, the engines were run for 3 hours with no problems encountered. There then followed a check of all operational deck and navigational equipment, and finally on the command from the Captain of ‘Let go Forward!’ ‘Let go Aft!’ our mooring ropes were slipped, and with a ring of the telegraph to ‘Slow Ahead’ after over 2 years Kerne finally moved under her own steam for successful manoeuvres around the dock area to the delight and great relief of the crew and volunteers.

So it was that on Wednesday 28th September, Kerne again slipped her moorings and sailed out of the Liverpool Dock system to embark on a faultless trip up the Mersey to Eastham where we entered the lock into the Manchester Ship Canal. As we sailed past Ellesmere Port we passed the moored Daniel Adamson, another recent maritime success story of the Heritage Lottery Fund, before entering the Weaver Navigation at Weston Point. Dredging is underway on the Weaver and assistance was needed from a C&RT tug to get us over a silt bank not yet reached by the dredger before sailing up through Dutton Locks to Acton Bridge for our first post-repair public opening at the Leigh Arms Steam Party, where we were joined on Friday 30th September by the Daniel Adamson. I wonder when was the last time that two steamships were on the Weaver at the same time?

More about the Steam Party and our return voyage in next months report.






August 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on September 8, 2016 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

This past month has seen a lot of activity aboard (nothing new there) but our goal of completing engine trials remains annoyingly close but incomplete.

There are no major issues, but we have been frustrated by a number of niggling problems pertaining particularly to boiler valves. Whilst all the boiler valves were removed and the boiler ‘openings’ blanked off before the boiler was lifted from the vessel in June last year, this hasn’t prevented teething troubles when replacing the valves. Contractors overhauled the majority of the valves before being returned to store pending refitting to the boiler, and despite every care being taken, there have inevitably been minor issues with the flanges, probably due to small pieces of rust or other debris getting where they shouldn’t during refitting. Whilst such issues are fairly easy to rectify, they often don’t appear until they are hot and under steam pressure, which means that you have to let the fires out and the pressure disperse before we can remove the valve to sort it. If the valve in question is below the water level of the boiler, you have to drain this as well. All very frustrating, not to mention the cost of the coal used! So, in a nutshell this has led to the temporary delay in the engine trials.

Still with other jobs to do, our volunteers have got stuck in and made significant progress in other areas. Painting of the Engine and Boiler Rooms has moved on a pace, with the cold-water pipework receiving a coat of rather bright blue paint, floor plating having black applied, and a light lime green adorning the bulkheads (and Dave who seemed to be wearing most of it). Our carpentry team have done a great job in rejuvenating our somewhat tired –looking wheelhouse, the remaining navigational equipment being refitted, together with the windows (glazing having been previously removed) timber repairs, chart table and a repaint internally and externally. The protective steel tunnel that carries the main steam line, telegraph chains and voice pipe through the starboard bunker has been fitted and our concession to renewable energy in the form of the battery-charging wind generator has been rewired and returned to serviceable condition. The appearance of our after cabin/galley has suffered somewhat over the last year as this had doubled as our washroom, office and shelter, but this has been brightened up by the application of black-leading of the galley stove. Funny how such a small thing can have such an uplifting effect. Painting of the decks and superstructure continues and the WC compartment has been thoroughly de-scaled and painted.

Away from the vessel the safety rails that are fitted above the bulwarks are being refurbished and a new support structure for our auxiliary generator was fabricated and welded into position on the foredeck. We also had a visit during the month from Adam Slater of Mountfleet Models who is in the process of building a prototype model that will be available for purchase in kit form in due course both as Kerne in her present day guise and also in her original form as HM Tug Terrier. Whilst we had provided Adam with a comprehensive set of drawings, he wanted to take a good look in the ‘flesh’ to ensure accuracy.

Our focus is now to push on and if possible complete the outstanding jobs to enable Kerne to make her public ‘reappearance’ at the Leigh Arms Steam Party at Acton Bridge, south of Warrington on the A49 on the weekend of Sat/Sun 1st/2nd October.

Fingers crossed for that, but if the vessel does not make it, our exhibition stand will still be there along with traction engines and other vintage vehicles. Hope you can come and see us.





July 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on August 3, 2016 at 4:55 AM Comments comments (0)

It is now 2 years since we started on the ‘hard graft’ element of the Heritage Lottery Project. On 3rd August 2014 we sailed into Sandon Dock, and raked out the fires for the final time before the strip down commenced. Whilst there has been any number of factors that have delayed the completion of the hull repairs and our return to serviceable condition, we had privately hoped that this could be achieved before the second anniversary of our last sailing - and we almost made it…

As we came into July, we still had an awful lot to do, but our volunteers put in a real shift with work going on almost every day throughout the month.

After filling the boiler, before we could raise steam, we have to take on coal; before we can do that, we need to have the bunker floors in; before we can fit the floors each piece of timber (and there were two ‘layers’ to install in each bunker) had to be individually cut to length and profiled to fit the hull. So we had a team consisting of one man in the bunkers producing the dimensions of each piece, with a diagram for the more difficult pieces, men on the quay sawing the timber, and a man on deck conveying the dimensions and diagrams up and passing the timbers down. On completion an appropriate sealer was applied where the timbers were against the hull or bulkhead. Coal was then removed from store and tipped into the bunkers, making a right mess of the previously applied white paint that adorned the bunker sides!! Once we have coal in the bunkers, we have to have something to shovel it onto, and this consists of the 100 firebars that fit in the two furnaces. Once again a team was required, and 8 hardy souls formed a human chain from the quay, where the bars had been delivered, to each furnace. These heavy bars were handed down from the quay to a man on deck, who passed them up to the man stood above the stokehold, who lowered them down to the man standing above the Boiler Room ladder, who passed them down to the man stood on the Boiler Room floor, who passed if through the furnace door to the poor unfortunate whose job it was to position each bar in its’ correct position in the furnace. All this 100 times. Then before coal could go into the furnaces, there is the small matter of the two brick arches that had to be built in the combustion chambers.

Whilst all this was going on a multitude of other tasks were being performed, completing the painting of the forward deck and boiler casing, re-fitting and rigging the mast, installing the steering chains, repairing and re-wiring the wheelhouse, re-fitting compass, navigation lights, GPS and VHF, re-fitting the Boiler Room ventilators and re-commissioning the telegraph to name but a few.

As part of the Lottery Project, we had looked closely at our safety equipment and procedures that we felt were in need of updating. In order to do this and to comply with regulations needed to be granted appropriate certification, we purchased new First Aid equipment, new Life Jackets, ‘Man Overboard’ cradle and an EPIRB (an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which sends out a distress signal and position to the Rescue Services in the event of an emergency. With this equipment aboard, training of volunteers in the use of it, and after a thorough inspection of the vessel by the Surveyor, we passed the essential Maritime Survey.

So it was that on the 26th July, fires were lit again for the first time in two years, and over the next 3 days, the boiler was gently warmed through and steam was raised to 100 PSI to enable our steam pumps and generator to be test run successfully. There are a number of jobs to complete before we raise the boiler to full pressure and run the main engines, but we are close; very close.

As the month drew to a close, the 14 volunteers who were aboard on Saturday 30th July, whilst slightly disappointed that we didn’t quite make our 1st post-repair sailing, could be satisfied with their efforts. This determination to see the project through will continue until the work is complete, by which time we can reflect with pride on the monumental contribution of over 6,000 hours of volunteer’s time, the value of which will not only match, but will certainly exceed the Grant Award itself.

August 2016 is becoming a very exciting month!





May/June 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on June 30, 2016 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Apologies for the lack of the May News, due to holidays, incapacity and the dreaded IT issues, so here is a combined report for the last two months.


The beginning of May saw our Exhibition Stand out over the May Day Weekend at Bolton Steam Museum which houses the Northern Mill Engine Society’s fine collection of large stationary engines. Sadly, we were not able to display Kerne in the ‘Steam at the Dock’ event in Liverpool the following weekend, as there was still a considerable number of jobs still to do, which kept a team busy aboard that weekend refitting more of the various pipes and valves together with the valve box. Given the favourable weather, deck crew continued with the scaling, priming and painting of the Boiler Room casing  funnel base and decks.


On the 9th June, Kerne finally left Cammell Laird’s, our ‘home’ for over twelve months. With her repaired mast lashed down on the starboard deck, she was towed out of the Wet Basin by the motor tug Seaport Alpha and across the river into Liverpool’s Sandon Dock. It has been quite an emotional journey, as we move into the final phases of refitting following the excellent work on the hull carried out by Cammell Laird’s.


Whilst there is still work to be done by our volunteers, we wish to express our grateful thanks to the Directors, Management and workforce of Cammell Laird and to the Heritage Lottery Fund, who by their fantastic support have helped ensure the continued operation of this historic vessel for many years to come.


Now, as we are now back to our home mooring, numerous components have been removed from store and returned to the vessel for refitting. Work is now preceding on many fronts, including repairs to and fitting out of the wheelhouse, the overhaul of steering gear and chains, refitting the final valves, bilge lines, safety valve waste pipe, and whistle steam pipe. Deck scaling and painting continues.


Down below, the engine and boiler and now, once again, connected via the main steam pipe, the telegraphs have been overhauled and are having their pulleys and chains reconnected, and we have taken delivery of a large quantity of timber needed to line the bottom of the coal bunkers, this being kindly donated and delivered free of charge by C Owens (Builders and Contractors) Ltd of Swinton, Manchester.


Enthusiasm is high for our return to steam, evidence by the fact that the Captain has started repainting the ships name and port of registry on the casing. We must be getting close!


Away from the vessel, we once again attended the excellent Lymm Transport Day on Sunday 26th June with our Exhibition Stand. We were able to give some of our new audio/visual equipment and generator a very successful ‘run out’ which considerably increased the public interest to such a degree that some of us were unable to look round the site at the various traction engines, vintage and classic cars and bikes, nor the large collection of historic boats on the nearby Bridgewater Canal. That’s dedication for you!



April 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on May 5, 2016 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

At last, after what seems to have been the wettest winter for many a long year, spring has finally sprung. Whilst this is great news when it comes to painting the exterior of the boat, we just happen to be concentrating on the darkest recesses of the vessel.


Work has continued down in the Engine and Boiler Rooms, with painting being completed in the lower areas of the bunkers (albeit in our ‘spare’ white paint). Work then extended into the stokehold bilge area where the ingress of rainwater that accumulated whilst final welding of the boiler casing was undertaken had settled. This area had to be thoroughly dried out and wired brushed to remove the surface rust that had developed before a rust inhibiter could be applied followed by an epoxy topcoat. To achieve this it was necessary to remove the Boiler Room floor plates that had been temporarily replaced to prevent anyone finding themselves lying in the bilge when walking through the tunnel into the Boiler Room.


Whilst this work progressed, the Engineers continued with the task of replacing the boiler valves and pipework. As ever, there are always complications with any job on a vessel of this age, and despite the relative ‘newness’ of the boiler, (it being installed by the Admiralty in 1936) a thorough inspection by our Engineers and the Boiler Inspector, revealed a number of studs on the face of the boiler that merited renewal. Of course several of the studs stubbornly refused to part company from the shell, so they had to be drilled out and new studs made and installed. One of the quirks of having an Admiralty-built boiler is that they appeared not to differentiate between a boiler destined for a warship to that being installed in a tug. This is great news for Kerne as the specification, quality and thickness of materials used in the boiler construction was far greater than would be expected in a vessel such as ours. Another quirk relates to the 1936 boiler valves of which several are still in service on the tug, evidenced by the stamp of ‘HMT Terrier’(Kerne’s Naval name) on the valve bodies. Instead of the flanges of the valves being flat faced, they have a spigot that extends into the boiler itself. This is secured in place with a pin that has to be inserted from inside the boiler by a non-claustrophobic contortionist. This is in addition to the usual studs and nuts on the outside of the boiler. This was apparently an Admiralty requirement to avoid valves blowing off from the boiler shell due to what is described as ‘Impact’. This is a euphemism for shelling and torpedo damage. We are hopeful that this situation will not arise in the tranquil waters of the North West coast!

Away from the vessel First Mate Paul has been able to secure a plaque bearing the Royal Navy Ships Crest, which was presented to non-fighting Naval ships that had served their country. We are not sure where the vessels original crest ended up, but Kerne shall wear this one with pride, given her unique position as being the only surviving operational coal fired Naval steamship that served in both World Wars.


Our exhibition stand was out again over the Bank Holiday Weekend at Bolton Steam Museum, where the Northern Mill Engine Society steam their very fine collection of engines. This weekend was special as Fred Dibnah’s sons and daughters were in attendance to witness the steaming of their father’s workshop engine after 12 static years following their generous loan of the engine to the Museum.





March 2016

Posted by Allan Hickson (Mod) on April 9, 2016 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (0)

This month has seen steady progress on several fronts.

Whilst the boiler casing had been tacked in position prior to the re-floating, the gaps between the tacking welds had acted as gutters allowing the recent volumes of rainwater to cascade down into the Boiler Room and bunkers and onto our lovely new steelwork. This, together with the erected scaffolding in the Boiler Room, considerably delayed our program of repainting. The good news is that the casing is now firmly attached to the rest of the vessel, and rainwater now runs across the decks to the scuppers where it is supposed to go. Once the internal scaffolding was dismantled, painting commenced in earnest and the stokehold flooring replaced. The scaffold’s removal was only temporary however as this had to be re-erected to allow access to the smokebox uptake to facilitate the welding to the base of the funnel on the underside of the boiler casing. This has now been completed.

The attention of the ‘Decorators’ has now moved on into the bunkers. Once dried out the areas were treated with a rust preventative coat before 3 coats of 2-pack epoxy paint was applied. In unseen areas such as these, we tend to use any spare paint we have around, regardless of colour. The spare in this instance just happens to be pristine white! I can’t see it remaining that colour for long, but at least it will make visual assessment of the quantity of coal we have in the bunkers a bit easier.

Meanwhile, the Engineers have been busy refitting valves, pipes and other equipment, which include the safety valves. These are a story in themselves. When we acquired the tug back in 1971, she carried ‘Ramsbottom’ standard spring valves, which as the boiler pressure reached the maximum working pressure of 180 psi gradually lifted. As the springs had became a little tired with age the safety valves had a tendency not to close fully as the pressure dropped wasting valuable steam. The solution to this problem presented itself when the redundant steam plant in the Wallasey Docks Impounding Station was being scrapped. This included the boilers, which carried sets of ‘Cockburns Marine Improved High Lift Safety Valves’ in very good condition. A set of these was acquired and after overhaul, was fitted to our boiler. As the name implies they are ‘high lift’ as anyone who has witnessed these valves blowing will testify. In stark contrast to the old valves, they literally go with a bang when full working pressure is reached sending a column of steam high into the air with a tremendous roar. They close in similar fashion when the pressure has dropped.


Away from the vessel, we attended two events in March at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port with our exhibition stand, namely, the Model Boat Show at the beginning of the month, and the annual Easter Gathering over the Bank Holiday weekend, both events being well supported.


Whilst we still have work to do, the progress in refitting the vessel has been very encouraging, and once the yard completes the few remaining jobs, we will be towed back across the river to Sandon Dock.