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MV Havengore: The Story Continues

MV Havengore: The Story Continues

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  • Little has changed since she was commissioned in 1956, except for the addition of the elegant wood-panelled living accommodation, which has been fitted out with Churchillian memorabilia.
  •  It’s remarkable that she has lasted as long as she has in sound condition …
  • ‘As a boy I was passionate about warships and stuck posters and prints all round my bedroom walls.’

MV Havengore: The Story Continues

Mike Taylor describes the remarkable history of MV Havengore, the enormity of the project to refit her and her current role on the Thames …

MV Havengore has had a fascinating career, beginning life as a Port of London launch used as a platform for the latest marine recording equipment to map the bed of the River Thames, while her most memorable task was to act as the funeral cortège barge to carry the coffin of Winston Churchill up the River Thames. Today, she is available for charter for guests and is a well-known sight on the river.

Arguably the United Kingdom’s greatest ever statesman, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born at the magnificent Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire on 30th November 1874, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and American heiress Jennie Jerome. A brilliant career in the military and as a journalist, Nobel Prize-winning author and world-stage statesman followed. He once said: ‘History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.’

In 1953, Churchill suffered a potentially fatal stroke, though the seriousness of his condition was kept from the media, and it wasn’t until 1958 that plans for his funeral, entitled ‘Operation Hope Not’, began being orchestrated. Throughout his long career Churchill had always expressed his admiration for Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture, requesting that his funeral be held at St Paul’s Cathedral. From the outset, in view of Churchill’s links with the Admiralty, it was considered fitting that part of the funeral procession should take place on the River Thames. The passage would extend from Tower Pier to Greenwich, and then onwards by rail to Churchill’s family home in Chartwell, Kent. However, in 1959, these arrangements were amended when Churchill himself chose to be buried near his parents at Bladon, Oxfordshire. At this point the route of the river passage was revised.

To celebrate the passing of the great man, the funeral was a major event attended by representatives from 112 nations and watched by an estimated 350 million people on live television, making it the largest state funeral in world history. From St Paul’s the funeral procession followed the coffin bearers as it made its sombre way to Tower Pier, where the coffin, draped with a Union Jack, was placed on the cabin roof on the aft deck of MV Havengore. It was then ferried up the River Thames to Festival Pier. A fitting and poignant acknowledgement to Churchill’s links with the Port of London docks was made when crane operators bowed their jibs in respect for the great man as MV Havengore, followed by a myriad of small ships, passed by. The coffin and entourage then made their way the short distance to Waterloo station, before going by rail to Hanborough. The coffin was taken to the family plot at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, near Woodstock. MV Havengore had played her part magnificently.

It was in 1908 that the Port of London Authority (PLA) came into existence, one of its responsibilities being to manage conservancy duties covering the River Thames’ 69-mile tidal reach. Over the years this task was given to several vessels. With the huge strides made in electronics by the 1950s, there was a need for more accurate hydrographic equipment to measure tidal, current and river bottom activity as part of the PLA’s growing responsibility for maintaining the River Thames as a navigable waterway. In 1964, the PLA’s hydrographic measuring duties were extended to include the whole of the Thames Estuary.

After going out to tender for a replacement in 1954, the job of designing and constructing a new launch was given to Tough Bros, a well-established boatyard located on the riverbanks in Teddington. Of significance was the contribution made by Tough Bros to the Fairmile Coastal Forces wooden ‘kit’ boatbuilding programme of WWII. Coming from the drawing board of Admiralty architect Bill Holt, the yard built the prototype Fairmile B launch, a particularly elegant 112ft round-bilge craft based on the reduced silhouette of a destroyer.

The company’s naval architect at the time was the skilled Robert Tough, who in 1951 produced the yard’s first major job for the PLA, the 60ft Thame. Clearly, Bob Tough was favourably influenced by Holt’s Fairmile shape, as in preparing the lines of MV Havengore he was clearly influenced by the Fairmile B lines, adding a rounded stern to prevent wash from interfering with the delicate electronic hydrographic equipment to be carried aboard. Significantly, the National Physical Laboratory helped design and test the details of her hull shape and underwater fittings, while Decca Radar oversaw trials of her survey systems. MV Havengore entered service on 14th February 1956.

MV Havengore was constructed of double diagonal teak and calico over a typical framework of English oak. Forward, a large chain and anchor locker was provided with a heavy-duty windlass mounted above the forepeak to handle the weighty ground tackle specifically designed to keep her on station in a swift Thames current. A spacious forward cabin was provided on deck for the helm and controls. Behind, a large saloon gave generous accommodation to take the banks of test equipment and the technicians dedicated to operating them. From the main cabin a stairway led down forward to a galley facility capable of catering for the PLA’s team of 12. At the rear of the main saloon, a further flight of steps connected with more cabins including heads and washing facilities. Finally, a narrow vertical stairway connected with the engine room.

MV Havengore was fitted with a matched pair of Gardner inline 8-cylinder diesel engines operated by telegraphs in the wheelhouse. Either side of the power units were the fuel tanks, which were capable of taking 390 gallons of fuel oil.

In 1963, Tough Bros received an unusual refit specification when the PLA asked for some of the stanchions on MV Havengore’s rear deck to be adapted so that they could be easily removed, together with changes to some of her deck fittings – all part of the secret preparations for Churchill’s funeral.

MV Havengore was the first survey vessel in the UK to install a computer to record survey data, using punched tape as a read-out. Replacement Unix workstations were then installed in 1989. After becoming the longest-serving PLA vessel in service, MV Havengore performed her last hydrographic work in 1995. She was then withdrawn from service, moved to Gravesend and put up for sale.

During a visit to the UK, New Zealander Owen Palmer recognised MV Havengore and her links with Churchill. He put in a bid to buy her and the offer was accepted.  However, a more detailed inspection quickly revealed that she was in a sorry state, with the rear deck, superstructure and interior requiring a complete rebuild. Such an intense programme meant that Palmer needed to manage the job first-hand from the UK, so in 1997 he and his family moved to the Medway in Kent and together with outside help he began the considerable task. It was at this point that Churchill societies globally began to take an interest, including the renowned Churchill Archive based at Churchill College, Cambridge. The Havengore Trust was established and in 2000 a 100-day exhibition was held featuring archive documents relevant to the Medway at the St George’s Centre in Chatham.

MV Havengore was bought by her current owner, Chris Ryland, in 2005. ‘Havengore is the first boat I have ever owned,’ explains Chris as we discuss his background to its purchase and he brings us up to date with her recent history. ‘I was born in 1948 in London, although soon afterwards the family moved to Gloucestershire. As a boy I was passionate about warships and stuck posters and prints all round my bedroom walls.’

In 1965, Chris and a friend took time off from school and hitch-hiked to London where they joined the throng of people who filed passed Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Abbey. Chris continues: ‘We felt intensely that someone very great had passed away. I then saw MV Havengore on the Thames and heard the moving speech given by General Eisenhower as the boat took Churchill’s coffin up the river. In his address he said that the special relationship between the UK and the USA was down to Churchill. I have a transcript of that speech and I always play it whenever we have American guests aboard.’

Chris was able to realise his dream of owning MV Havengore through his IT business, which blossomed from just six people at the outset to employing 1,500 staff when it was sold in 2005. ‘I began looking around for a project and a great friend telephoned me to say he had the perfect solution, but it involved buying a boat and was I interested?’

Chris arranged a meeting with Owen Palmer to discuss the purchase. ‘She’d been the subject of an auction at Sotheby’s and reached £780,000 but wasn’t sold. By the time I met Owen he’d made an outline agreement with someone else who planned to take her abroad. I offered the same amount, but with the agreement that I’d move MV Havengore to London, which is her natural home. We shook hands on the deal in late 2005.’

It was at this point that two projects were initiated simultaneously: Chris set up a business called Gardner Marine Diesels with a young engineer, Michael Harrison, whose father, Ray, had been a lead engineer with L. Gardner & Sons until their closure. A business came into being specialising in Gardner engines, including the 8-cylinder 8L3-type units fitted to MV Havengore, and the task of rebuilding them began. A diesel locomotive was bought from a railway preservation society and the engine was taken apart, using the castings and other components to rebuild Havengore’s power units. Today, the new company employs seven people and has become world-renowned for the servicing and restoration of Gardner power units.

‘To undertake the work on Havengore’s hull and topsides I needed a yard with a large shed and I finally chose Parham’s of Gillingham,’ continues Chris. ‘She was reregistered as a vessel capable of carrying up to 40 passengers for trips and celebrations on the River Thames, and as a necessary component of her upkeep she went back to Parham’s for between four and six weeks each year where she was serviced and repaired. In 2015, she took part in the Sir Winston Churchill funeral celebrations when we had seven members of Sir Winston’s family on board, including Celia Sandys, who, as a young girl, had been on board in 1965.’

Also in 2015, MV Havengore was the National Historic Ships regional flagship winner and was awarded a project grant of £250 from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships UK.

A change of staff at Parham’s yard in 2014 caused Chris to seek out another company capable of undertaking similar work, and after going out to tender he finally chose Fox’s Marina & Boatyard in Ipswich.

In 2016, 10 years after the main restoration, it was decided to undertake another major review of her hull. ‘Sadly, we found there was more rot at the ends of her deck beams than we expected,’ he explains. ‘So at that point we split the job into two. In 2016 phase 1 was undertaken, which involved removing the port-side deck, and replacing a 40ft length of the 6in by 8in oak beam shelf, along with many of the associated deck beams.’

By 11th June 2016 MV Havengore was back in St Katherine’s Dock for the celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday, in addition to her other commercial bookings already reserved. ‘With these responsibilities completed, Havengore was then sailed back to Ipswich in November 2016 for Fox’s to move on to phase 2, making whatever additional repairs were deemed necessary to her starboard side.’

In Suffolk, Fox’s master craftsman made a start. However, it was quickly realised that the job would prove to be far more complex than originally thought and Havengore was to stay in Ipswich until November 2017 with between two and six people working on her full-time.

Havengore is one of the larger classic refit projects we’ve taken on, although we often have 70 to 80 ft composite sailing yachts in here for repair, teak decking, painting and rigging,’ says Will Taylor-Jones, Fox’s managing director, as we stand looking at the work in progress in their large undercover workshops. ‘Last year we finished at a point roughly corresponding to the rear of Havengore’s coachroof and confirmed that the rot continued beyond that point,’ he says. ‘But as soon as the deck planks were lifted the extent of the damage was found to be far worse than we expected. Deck fittings such as the large bollards are worked quite hard when mooring up and fresh water had permeated its way through the decking causing severe damage; we were pulling up timber sections that were more like porridge. The deck beams, carlins and beam shelf were also extensively compromised.’

Worse still, the timbers around the stern had deteriorated badly to the point that, worryingly, it was thought to be affecting the overall rigidity of the hull, while the entire gunwale beam shelf was in need of renewing. ‘What’s incredible is that, originally, Tough’s would have used steam to create the correct curvature in the timber for the stern sections. To effect the repairs today we machined the wood for the required section and used modern adhesives to laminate multiple layers into position. We then applied the same technique at the bow where the two lines of new beam shelving meet up with the mighty oak stem post.’

With such a radical rebuild, one of the challenges for the Fox’s team was to retain the boat’s shape as the programme continued, especially during the second phase where large areas had to be replaced. ‘You cannot just remove beam shelves at random without creating dimensional issues. We had to fabricate a mixture of temporary moulds, with tie bars and straps that go athwartships holding the hull sides together. Critically, the large panelled cabin superstructure is quite heavy and we didn’t want it moving vertically as the surrounding structure was reworked.’

As new lengths of gunwale were scarfed in, the deck beams were repaired letting in bespoke sections, bridging between the gunwale and each beam timber, in every case employing the original stepped, half dovetail jointing detail. Where original knee joints had rotted through or failed, the old timber was cut away and new angle webs designed, fabricated and bolted in place, distributing loads in a more effective way.

‘We left the midsection of decking timbers aft and forward of the superstructure in place, although some of the original deck planks that we took up have clearly been removed before, as can be seen by the number of fastening holes. Despite that, the quality of teak means they’re quite serviceable. Where necessary we’ll lay in new deck planks and then cork the entire decking using Sikaflex prior to coating the teak with a Coelan product that ensures it stays dry and doesn’t move. Then we’ll refit the handrails and the other deck fittings such as the bollards.’

Significantly, Havengore’s original hull shell construction was quite light, relying on the heavy inboard structure to give her hull planking the necessary support and torsional rigidity, suggesting that her build specification was designed so that she would remain serviceable for around 40 years. ‘It’s remarkable that she has lasted as long as she has in sound condition with her 4in by 3in deck beams, 2in by 2in hull timbers and 1.25in hull planking. No doubt careful handling while in service and ongoing maintenance has all played a part.’

Another challenging task was estimating the quality and quantity of timber needed for the whole project. ‘Significantly, the timber came from several UK sources: the bulk of the teak was sourced via Stones, while the structural oak was grown in Scotland and sourced through Sutton Timber in East Anglia, who were hugely sympathetic and helpful in finding the very best timber for the job,’ says Will.

The extent of the refurbishing work in phase 2 has also extended into the galley and saloon areas below decks, with modifications and improvements being made to the cooking and food preparation facilities. Also, the work on the beams and frames dictated that the Winston Churchill study aft was dismantled. ‘We’ve had to remove much of the cabin panelling to allow us to gain access to the tie bars that extend under the deck and pull the side decks together. We’ve also had to lay out and make replacement panelling in matching cherry hardwood for the study and upper saloon in our joinery shops.’

On investigation, much of the DC wiring that powers the ship’s systems was found to be in sound condition, but the AC wiring that distributes shore power and connects the generator services, lighting, galley and other essential equipment has all had to be replaced. ‘As a ship carrying members of the public, the MCA are involved over licensing and there is also a rolling programme involving a marine surveyor, and this year we’re pulling the bilge keel and shaft log bolts. Also, the surveyor wants to inspect items such as the seacocks, rudders and stern gear, all of which has required managing a separate engineering element to the project.’

And although, due to the obvious Gardner Marine connections, Fox’s are not working on the engines, they are making modifications to the raw-water and exhaust systems.

With the restoration work finally completed, in December 2017 MV Havengore was manoeuvred gently onto her cradle and out of the workshops before being slipped to Fox’s dedicated commissioning berth where the extensive testing of new systems could be finalised prior to returning to her home at St Katherine’s Dock. Ollie Patten, Fox’s workshop manager, says: ‘It takes some time to readjust from working on a traditional boat of this size to our more regular GRP 45 to 70 ft vessels. The Havengore programme gives us all a chance to refresh and develop our traditional boatbuilding skills using timber. It’s a wonderful opportunity.’

The plan is now for Havengore to return briefly to Fox’s in February 2018 for her annual MCA survey together with any other service jobs to be done so she’ll be ready for a hectic programme of bookings on the Thames starting later in the spring.

Back in London, I continue my chat with Chris Ryland. Clearly a man who is passionate about using only the best of British materials and maritime experts, there are occasions when even he has to admit defeat and source from abroad. ‘The new and more efficient rubber rubbing strake was made in Germany, while the 35ft propeller shafts were produced in the Czech Republic,’ he says ruefully.

As for the ongoing finances, Havengore is without doubt an expensive commitment. ‘As a businessman I have considerable experience of how projects can cost far more than originally calculated, and I underestimated the amount of money involved with Havengore by around 50 per cent. In addition to the purchase price I have spent roughly a further £1.5 million on the restoration, repairs and bringing her up to the specification demanded by the MCA as a passenger-carrying vessel, while the ongoing running costs amount to around £100,000 per annum.’

As Chris guides me over Havengore it’s clear she is in beautiful condition. Little has changed since she was commissioned in 1956, except for the addition of the elegant wood-panelled living accommodation, which has been fitted out with Churchillian memorabilia. There’s even a large painting of the great man hung on the forward dividing wall. Above is the hatch on which the coffin was laid for the passage up the River Thames. Behind are sleeping quarters with a spacious double bed, and alongside there are two heads and washing facilities.

Sitting enjoying the light, spacious wheelhouse, I continue by asking Chris if he would do it all again. ‘Yes,’ he replies unhesitatingly. ‘I am thrilled to take people out on Havengore. In June 2012 she was selected to be part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, when we had nine members of the Royal Family aboard. At that time, we were the second most senior British-flagged vessel afloat anywhere in the world, flying Prince Andrew’s standard. That was very special. I am really looking forward now to our next big event, which will be the anniversary of the end of World War I in November 2018. Meanwhile, Havengore continues to be available for her commercial bookings.’


MV Havengore Specification

Boat type:                  Twin-screw motor vessel

Length:                      84.9ft

Beam:                        16.2ft

Draught:                    6.2ft

Gross tonnage:        89.19

Engines:                    2 x 157hp Gardner 8L3s

Builder:                      Tough Bros, Teddington

Construction:            Double diagonal planking on an oak frame

Speed:                                      12.29 knots max., 8 knots cruising


Useful Information

MV Havengore is available for private bookings to take parties on the Thames.

Tel: 020 7183 0110

Website: www.havengore.com

Fox’s Marina & Boatyard: www.foxsmarina.com

 

Our thanks go to Chris Ryland, Julia Linehan and Fox’s Marina & Boatyard for their considerable help with this article.

 

Mike Taylor

Classic powerboat & classic car journalist

Tel: 00 (44) 01892 654418 / 07760 430219

Website: www.miketaylorwords.co.uk

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mike-taylor-621b964

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