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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My son has recently bought the Cormorant, which has a chequered history. She was built in 1876/78 by the Victoria Shipbuilding Co., West Passage Cork, Ireland. She was 91 ft long, 21 ft wide and her draft was 11ft. She cost £7.500 to build and served on many Irish stations. Her construction was a composite of teak planking over Iron Frames.

In 1942 she was sold to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and renamed "Lady Dixon" after the Harbour Masters wife.

In the 1940s and 1950s she is reputed to have been used as the Belfast Pilot Station, but I am doubtful about this as the only photo available does not, in my opinion, show the same vessel (see photo).

Later in life she was destined to become a pirate radio station, but Customs and Excise intervened!

Later she is reputed to have been moored at Pitsea and converted to a houseboat under her original title of Cormorant (not to be confused with a later lightship called Cormorant II built in 1964).

Now she is moored at Hoo near Rochester. Only one third of the above deck accommodation is habitable and below deck is in a poor state and bare. It is too late for preservation, so my son is following the conservation route. It will be a houseboat (houseship?) but with as many of the original features preserved as remain at present. The 'stumps' of the main and the mizzen masts are still there below deck, but nothing above.

We can find only one picture of the vessel (see photo) which we assume was during her time in Pitsea as a houseboat or houseboat project. We would love to find out what she looked like originally and any other history.
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I have contacted the Belfast Harbour Master's Office, but they have no records from so far back. They passed me on to the Public Records Office (N Ireland) and I am in contact with them. That might mean a trip over there.
Meanwhile I have discovered how to Blog - well to be accurate I am still learning. I will report major finds here but if you are interested you can follow the progress of the transformation on http://cormorantlightship.blogspot.co.uk/
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Lady Dixon?

I have had a close look at the photograph of the Belfast Pilot Station vessel and compared its dimensions etc to those of Cormorant/Lady Dixon.
In addition to the shape of the bow and that of the stern being very different, the measurements of bow to superstructure; superstructure; superstructure to stern; and distance between masts is significantly different to Cormorant. This is in addition to the length (measured using the 6ft man) is 15ft shorter than Cormorant.
I therefore surmise that this is not Cormorant, in spite of all the reports claiming it is - plus the opinion of the chap who took the photo!
So more investigation needed and I can see a trip the the Public Records Office in Belfast coming up!
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Meanwhile, in the National Archives, I have found reference to a request by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners in 1943, for a registration survey and tonnage measurement to be made in Dublin. I have requested a copy.
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thank you David. I have received that item from someone else and left a comment on the forum page.
Meanwhile, come on all you naval types, the keel on Simon's ship has a bracket on it which is rather hinge-like. (see photo). Would these engine-less vessels have needed a rudder? Would the mechanism have penetrated the hull through a gland? There is no obvious trace of mechanism inside but there is a large plate in just the right area..... (photo)
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
STOP PRESS: The National Archives also has a do***ent from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners referring to the Lady Dixon being used as a Pilot Station complete with accommodation, and the do***ent has apparently got plans attached! I have asked for a copy…….
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Lightship Cormorant/Lady Dixon

While I have convinced myself that Simon's vessel is not the same one as depicted in the Belfast Pilot Station photograph (see Post 3), I am now very confident that it is the same vessel as depicted in the 1960s photograph of Lady Dixon, painted red, taken I believe in Pitsea. (Photo)

With the aid of my trusty computer, I traced the main features of this ship and transferred them onto a photograph of the Beast, which I took on a recent visit. The angle of the two vessels is not quite the same - had I planned ahead I would have stood a couple of feet further along - so some of the features do not quite match up. However I think you can see that with an adjustment in camera angle, they will. (Photo)

The bulwark has long since disappeared, but otherwise it is a very good match. Incidentally, a number of the original stanchions/ribs that supported the bulwark are still there and Simon has bought over 50ft of suitable timber to replace the missing/unusable ones. The timber - reclaimed roof joists - he got at a real knock-down price (good old eBay!). He does not plan to fill in with planks as original, but will have a ship's rail on top and a safety rail at the half height level for most of the ship, with a built in curve at the stern, with built in seating. Something like this ..... (Photo)

Meanwhile, if Lady Dixon and the Beast are the same ship and the Pilot Station and the Beast are not, then the red Lady Dixon and the Pilot Station are also not the same ship. So what has gone on between the lightship called Cormorant and the Pilot Station called Lady Dixon; and the Pilot Station called Lady Dixon and the red ship called Lady Dixon?? I am hoping the two do***ents from the National Archives might throw some light on the matter.
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

I am still waiting for those do***ents from the National Archives.

Meanwhile Simon has not been idle. When his day-job is not interfering he is getting on with renovation. The starboard side of the superstructure needed scraping and painting with anti-rust paint. It looks much better, but his new kitchen window is getting a bit crowded!
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Curiouser and curiouser! We have discovered another feature of the main mast. It is difficult to photograph, being so close to the wall ... sorry bulkhead ... (Photo 1)
It is directly adjacent to that bolted panel in the bulkhead ... (Photo 2)
.......which from the other side of the bulkhead looks like this ...(Photo 3)

Now that is what I call a permanent job. With 14 bolts holding it, nobody is going to get access to the mast through there in a hurry. So what is/was it for? And what is that relatively small plate on the mast covering? There are only about four bolts holding that on.

I need to get down there and examine the mast in great detail. There must be a man-sized entrance somewhere on it. Meanwhile, my theory about this small panel is as follows:

That small plate covers an emergency access point to the mast - in case the door (which I have yet to find) became stuck. Why it is next to a bulkhead I have no idea, except that perhaps that was the only place it could be due to the main access door taking up the rest of the mast area. There would then have to be an access point through the bulkhead and this may well have been a watertight door - part of a watertight bulkhead right across the ship. Now then, if the Belfast Harbour Commissioners got rid of the old moveable oil lamp .... (Photo Lamp 1) ....... and replaced it with one of the new, fixed electric lamps when they bought the Cormorant (lightship) and converted it to a Pilot Station in 1943.... (Photo Lamp 2) ...all access to the inside of the mast would have been redundant and all holes sealed up to add to the strength of the mast. That bulkhead access panel would also be redundant and was permanently sealed.

I am hoping the do***ents from the National Archives will reveal all. Mind you, this still does not explain the differences in proportions and hull shape that I pointed out in an earlier post.

If anyone has another theory or any comments on mine, feel free!
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

With Winter approaching, young men’s fancy turns to – dryness and warmth‼ Because most of the teak decking has long gone, there is only rusty metal plate between the cold night air and the (future) living space below deck. Condensation is also quite a problem and because the drain holes are above the plate level, there are all sorts of leaking opportunities when it rains. Hopefully we have a cunning plan which will solve both problems. The sides of the ship are a separate project!
I related earlier how the plan was to fill in the space left by the absent decking with a thick layer of all-weather ‘tennis court’ surfacing. This was going to be very difficult (the deck has a slight curve to facilitate drainage and following that curve with a fluid whilst maintaining a constant thickness …. need I say more?).
So now Simon is being advised by a professional roofer and a more complicated, but more feasible plan is emerging. Looking at the more difficult part of the deck – the curved walkways down each side, which have light-boxes built in …..(Photo)

First the deck will be given a coat of primer. Then short lengths of timber, about the thickness of scaffolding-type planking, will be wedged across the walkways, at 5ft intervals, between the superstructure and the wide baulks of timber which edge the ship. The intervening spaces will be filled, to the same height, with roof insulation panels. (Photo)

Then bitumen is poured into all the gaps

Sheets of marine ply are now laid over and secured to the planks. The surface is then treated like a roof – with bitumen and that gravelly bitumen sheeting you see on flat roofs. (Photo)

The green colour of the bitumen sheeting is merely to differentiate it from the ply.

Then Simon can have a thin coat of tennis court material if he chooses. The light boxes will be double-glazed and the deck will then be insulated and leak-proof.

That's the plan anyway!
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

The long-awaited do***ents finally arrived from the National Archives – well the first batch anyway. We did not expect these to be helpful in resolving the puzzle of whether Cormorant was the same vessel as the one in the Belfast Pilot Station photo, however they were fascinating in their own right.

Firstly, the origin of the paperwork was a request from the Belfast Harbour Commissioners to have the Cormorant registered as a British ship and to have her surveyed and measured. The Cormorant was obviously still in Dublin at this point in time. I assume the nationality distinction arose because the body responsible for ‘lights’ (lighthouses and lightships) around Ireland has always been combined north and south (and still is). Now that Belfast Harbour was going to use the ship for purely Belfast purposes, they wanted it ‘properly’ registered. On the face of it there was no problem, but a question arose as to whether the term ‘ship’ was appropriate! The Merchant Shipping Act 1894 stated that if a vessel is not used in navigation, it is not a ship within the meaning of the Act and, if solely employed as a lightship, would fall under the definition of a lighthouse!

However, it was accepted for registration on the grounds that a Ministry of War Transport 21 (a derrick pontoon) has been accepted, so why not this lightship? This was in no way to settle the question of whether it could be called a ship – “… this being a matter for the courts”.

There was also a question of fees for the Belfast surveyors visiting Dublin. In the end ‘normal’ fees and expenses were charged (but not listed) as Dublin could be considered as not being ‘abroad’ ‼
Although many records state that Cormorant was 91 ft long, these do***ents have her at 98ft 6in, with a beam of 20ft. Her Gross Tonnage was 182.98 and Register Tonnage 136.33, although I have not yet determined the reason for the difference. Her Official Number was 168531. She had no means of propulsion, but did have a rudder.

Finally, the alterations to the vessel were to be carried out in Dublin. She was to become a combined lightship and pilot station, with a crew of 10 and accommodation for 9 pilots.

The second batch of do***ents should be here next week. I can hardly wait!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

34 years in the Army did teach me a few lessons, which I would be quite happy to pass on to the younger generation – not with any confidence that they would take heed. The one that applies to this saga of the Cormorant’s restoration/preservation is to let your boss know what you are doing and what you are going to do and never let him have to chase you to find that out. Unfortunately Simon is still experiencing the very opposite – workmen who do not turn up, do not give warning of their absence and do not respond to telephone calls, answer machine messages, texts or e-mails. “All they have to do is tell me, so I know what is going on”, says Simon quite reasonably, but they don’t. One has even (apparently) left the planet, leaving all his tools on board. Simon is tempted to throw them into the Medway!
So things are going very slowly at the moment and although the new kitchen is lit, plumbed and looking a lot better, the port side picture window is not yet fitted. (Photo)

That small Aga is not part of the kitchen equipment and Simon is trying to work out how to remove it from the ship and what to do with it when it is ashore.

This kitchen and the living room are insulated with rigid foam panels behind plasterboard, but the shapes of the ‘walls’ below deck do not lend themselves to this method . (Photo)

There is also a need to prevent condensation forming. Simon’s plan is to spray foam insulation down there, then cover with boarding which follows the contours. But, the ship is over 400ft from shore, near the end of a long, narrow catwalk. The only firms he has found so far have their equipment mounted in vehicles, with a maximum hose length of 150ft. A problem yet to be solved!

While Simon is sorting this out and finding more, reliable, tradesmen, and I am waiting for the arrival of those 1943 plans from the National Archives, I can get back to the mystery of the main mast and its access point or points. The mast has several badly defined panels, so where exactly is the door and how tall is it ….? Which of the four options? (Photo)
Never mind the insulation and the rest Simon, get below and take some close up photos of that mast!
David
 

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Many thanks for the interesting report DavidD, I look forward to reading further.

I'm sure someone somewhere will take that aga off your Sons' hands, they're usually a well sought after cooker.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Thanks Coastie. He will have to work out how to dismantle it!!

Meanwhile .......
I wonder if someone out there can help us with one aspect of the project. I have been wondering why the stanchions at the bow are much taller than those elsewhere and what the two massive beams were for at the bow. (Photo) That rail is a definite afterthought and originally the whole of the bow was covered in and built up to the top of those two pillars, rather like on the Gull (Photo)

Our plan is to reduce the height of those stanchions, to make them about the same as those in the rest of the ship. They will be boarded in, to match the stern – or the stern as it will be when the seating is in place. (Photo) This will leave about a foot or two of the beams still projecting and we think this lends itself to some sort of figure head(s). (Photo)

So, if anyone out there knows of a wood sculptor (no chain saws please) who would like to leave his mark (and not too big a bill), please get in touch.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Great excitement today – the Postman arrived with a large envelope from the National Archives. At last! But I did not find the plans I was expecting. There was a written description of the intended layout and much discussion about whether the officers and engineers could use the lavatories amidships, but no plans.
Leaping onto my computer I began to write an e-mail to the National Archives, but was interrupted by another ring on the door bell. The Postman had returned with a parcel he had overlooked – a large postal tube from the National Archives. Yes, inside were two blueprints, plan and side elevation of the Cormorant (now called Lady Dixon). So cancel the e-mail. (Photo)


These plans will take some time to study of course. First impressions –
The plans are annotated in pen and ink and rubber stamped. These annotations are very clear, almost as if they had been added yesterday, not 70 years ago.
There is an Aga stove indicated in the galley. Is that the one I mentioned in an earlier post? In which case Simon cannot dispose of this historic artifact! (Photo)

The Captain seems to have as much living space as the rest of the crew put together!
The light is definitely fixed, with an exterior ladder for access. As there is no mention of alterations to this mast, I must assume that the Cormorant was updated sometime earlier from the original 'hoistable' lamp to a fixed lamp as seen here.

There is a ‘Diaphone Turret’ next to the main mast.
I may have solved the question of the difference in the shape of the stern between the Belfast Pilot Station photo and Simon’s ship – a ‘boat platform’ has been added.(Photo)

There is much to discover, but I will have to leave the rest for another day!
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Having solved the mystery of why, in the 1950s photo, Lady Dixon’s stern looked so different from that on Simon’s ship (the boat platform squared it off), I turned my attention to other mysteries. In that photo, the companionway at the bow seemed to be positioned against the starboard gunwale and faced across the boat, (Photo)...

.... whereas on Simon’s ship it is amidships and faces aft. (Do you notice how these nautical terms are now tripping off the tongue?) (Photo)

Anyway, the recently arrived plans have also solved this one. (Photo)

What we see in the 1950s photo is in fact a different structure which is shown on the plans containing a loo for the crew and a storeroom. The companionway is indeed amidships and so looking again at the 1950s photo, all becomes clear (I hope). (Photo)

Another mystery solved but yet another found. What is that projection at the bow? Does it point forward or sideways? An anchor or a boat station? Do please comment.
David
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Someone has suggested that the protrusion on the bow was indeed an anchor securing point and a similar protrusion can be seen on the old Albatross (Photo).

I agree, but of course the Albatross was a much later vessel and made of steel. Bolting on a protrusion would have been straightforward.

Cormorant's bow was more like that of the Gull (Photo), made of wood. So I had another look at the photos I took of Cormorant's bow and there is a substantial metal plate fixed onto the two large stanchions (Photo).

I did wonder when I took the photos what the plate was for and perhaps this is how they fixed that anchor extension onto the vessel. There is no sign of the extension now.

David
 

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It would seem reasonable to assume, that given the size of the plate and timbers, that this was the point of anchorage for the light ship. After all, you don't want it floating off without an engine ...
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Lightship Cormorant / Lady Dixon

Returning to the mystery of the main mast….
We did not know whether the mast extended below the lower deck, or ended on that deck. Now the plans show us that the mast goes right down to the bilges. There is an impressive supporting structure around the mast at the main deck level. The first photo is of this structure taken in Cormorant and viewed on the lower deck.
The second picture is from Gull (R.I.P.) and taken on the upper deck, where graffiti artists obviously plied their lonely, sad trade. According to the various historical do***ents:-

“There were two openings in the mainmast, one below the deck and another on the level of the lantern when hoisted up. Inside the mast was a ladder which the lamplighters climbed to trim the lamps. Both openings were stiffened round the edges with wrought iron frames.”

“In this mast were two openings, one below the deck nearly on the fore side, and another on the level of the lantern when hoisted up. Inside the mast was a ladder, up which the men climbed to trim the light when it was mast-headed. The lower opening was 5 feet 3 inches high, and 1 foot 4 inches wide, and was of rectangular form…”

Well there is no evidence of any wrought iron frames anywhere on the remaining piece of mast that stretches between decks, although there are a number of ‘layers’ apparent. (Photo and diagram)

I think that when the original ‘hoist-able’ lamp was replaced by a fixed lamp with outside ladder access, the openings in the mast were welded up to improve strength.

On the plans we can see that one lamp operating procedure was to be carried out remotely and the mechanism for this includes a shaft which goes right through the mast. That steel projection which can be seen pointing towards the camera might well be the remains of a supporting bracket for the mechanism and the small circular hole just above it was the entry point for the shaft. (Mast photos)
I have enhanced the mast in the side views to make it clearer.

I have yet to work out what this mechanism actually does. It seems to be a manual system, so it would not be anything to do with rotating the light. Perhaps it swivels the mirrors and directs and/or focuses the beam(s). Are there any experts out there?
David
 

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