1966 Harbour Service Launch

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1966 Harbour Launch (Diesel)

Starting from the beginning….

Back in early 2006 I came across a advert online (boatsandoutboards.com) for a 52ft ex Admiralty Harbour Launch “Project”. The price was £6000 ono and the location was fairly local.

Having  a bit of a soft spot for anything ex commercial I emailed for more details and photos.

When I got a reply back it turned out the then owner had bought her direct from the navy disposals agency in 1997 with the intention of using her for line fishing in the channel.

Once he had purchased the boat and made some *tastefull modifications it had rapidly become apparent that as the boat needed 6ft of water to float and his mooring only had 5ft of water except on spring tides that this commercial enterprise was doomed to failure!

The photos I received:




Aft Cabin with Brackets from the towing horse that had been removed:




Forward Cabin, the thing on the left is a homemade anchor apparently:



This bit of damage to the bow of the boat was described as the only area that needed repair:



Wheelhouse interior complete with an obsolete decca navigation system whos sattelite had been turned off for years:




Forward cabin looking towards the bow:




Forward cabin looking aft:




Water tank/galley in the forecabin:




The bit that really interested me – Foden 2 stroke Supercharged Diesel with only a few hundred hours on the clock since a complete MOD rebuild by Rolls Royce:




Bollard on the foredeck:








Aft Cabin:




For some unknown reason it was decided to go and view the boat in person – maybe it would be better in reality than the photos?…

A new home,

I went and viewed the Boat – It was even more fetid than the photos suggested and had been sat in the middle of Bembridge harbour for eight years untouched.


There was a large area of the foredeck which you could push a kitchen spoon through it was so soft with rot, Beneath this area of deck was a watertight compartment which it wasn’t possible to gain access to in order to see if the leak above had caused structural damage to the hull or not.


The rest of the boat was damp and mouldy but retained most of its original fittings which was a bonus.


Scraping at the inside of the hull above the coal bunker with a kitchen spoon revealed that it was Teak rather than the more common mahogany construction (which rots faster than a strut top on a mk1 scrote)

Based purely on this I made an insultingly low offer, telling myself the 18ft of 3″ Bronze propeller shafting and prop were worth as much in scrap.


As the boat could only be moved out of its mooring on a high spring tide there was only a week or two before the boat would have to be moved or it would be another couple of months for a high enough tide.


The offer was grudgingly accepted and a new mooring was arranged.


Heres a Video showing me bringing the Boat alongside at the new mooring behind the Newport Travel-inn who I’d annoy with my un-silenced single cylinder air cooled Lister Diesel Generator for the next 6 years.

Apologies for the crap quality I think it was recorded on my little sisters phone:



The exhaust note sounds shit as it was running through a watercooled silencer.






I proceeded to remove the wheelhouse and investigate the rotten deck which turned out to be beyond repair.


The Original Teak planked deck and Oak deck beams had been replaced with plywood during privatisation of the RMAS arm of the navy in the early 90′s and had obviously been done with a very short lifespan in mind (New boats had been ordered as part of the privatisation).

The bottom of the steel coachroof was also badly corroded and required repair.


Theres a bit of a gap in the photos for 6 months or so until Joe came over (probably during the IOW  Rock festival?)


By this point I’d removed the wheelhouse and foredeck and cut 4″ off the bottom of the aft cabintop ready for replacement as well as having made a start on removing 40 years of flaking paint off the steelwork:




The forecabin had had the carpet removed (which was nailed down and infested with earwiggs), Also the hardboard linings had been removed from the inside of the hull revealing the original slatted wood lining and allowing an assessment of the hulls condition to be made. this cabin had become a bit of a workshop as well as being my living space:




The original Esse solid fuel range had been treated to several buckets of fire cement and was doing a good job of providing heat and cooking facilities:




The well where the original wheelhouse would have been:


Steelwork & Wheelhouse

The new steelwork in the cabin sides was pretty much all in place but only tacked due to my generator not being up to running out 3.2mm rods on the arc set.


I borrowed a ancient 300vDC 3 cylinder lister genset on a trailer but it promptly spun several main bearings and being the centre of a complex ownership dispute, rather than repairing it I sent it back to its (supposed) owner and the steelwork sat unfinished for the best part of a year:



I built a new wheelhouse out of 3″ thick Iroko to as close to the original as was possible when working off period photos on the internet, Part of the base of the original was still in place which helped with dimensions although the previous owner had cut most of it off with a chainsaw:







I’d also made a funnel using the flange holes on the deck as a pattern for the shape and guessing a bit regarding height, Note the *professional looking template for the funnel top in this picture!:







The wheelhouse was built inside the forecabin so I was literally living in 5″ of iroko dust for about 2 months – I ended up developing a huge allergy to Iroko.

Several years later even cutting it with a handsaw still makes my throat close up and i spend the next 8 hours coughing up blood! Unfortunate really as I’m still using it for 90% of the structural work i’m doing!:







The forecabin had become a utter shithole by this time:




Note the new steelwork in the bottom of the cabintop which still needs the frames replacing, also the stove is now disassembled after a incident involving burning foundry coke!:




Aft cabin showing a finished area of steelwork, every single one of the angle iron frames is a sligtly differant angle so all were fabricated from flatbar:





Engine Room & More

Whilst the rest of the Boat looked like a bomb-site the Engine room was still intact and relatively tidy:



The Foden 2 stroke was the pinnacle of 1960s british diesel engineering. In an attempt to get more powah they chose the two stroke principle but added twin overhead exhaust valves to each cylinder.

The supercharger blows air into a gallery which supplies the intake ports in each cylinder liner. The block is alloy with removable steel liners and individual cast iron heads.


Mines a 6 cylinder, they also built inline 4′s and a beast of a 12 cylinder which was basically two 6 cylinder engines in a shared crankcase with the crankshafts geared together!

Later on they added a turbocharger and intercooler making a supercharged intercooled turbo diesel! (great to listen to but not to own as they don’t run for long!)



Main engine instruments, the engine is also monitored by a “Teddington Visutector” which is a box full of capillary tubes and relays, if somethings not right lights come on in the wheelhouse and a large klaxon thats meant to be fitted to the outside of the wheelhouse also sounds:




Original light fittings in the engine room, The boats 24volt throughout:




I managed to source a replacement for the missing engine room vent but had to get new flanges tig’ed onto the alloy bases:




The funnel was removed at this point as i was building the top for it:




With the funnel and top refitted. Cleaning the millscale off was impossible, Should have bought primed plate. Eventually I found someone willing to take it away and grit blast it inside and out for £60 which was the best money I’ve ever spent!:




I also wasted some money on a ex green goddess searchlamp and a black VHF antenna which had to be specially ordered from the states and cost the best part of £250 :-/




The exhaust silencer has been fitted inside the funnel by this point (another £170)




Nice new dry exhaust fitted utilising piping from the local creamery which was being demolished, some new weld bends and a sexy stainless flexipipe out of a very large comp-air compressor:




The cabin was a bit tidier again and the stove was repaired and reassembled after much cast iron welding and a new oven lining:








On the Slip / Stem Replacement

Up to this point most of the work I had done had been to try and make the exterior appear as it should have been originally.

In the back of my mind I was pretty worried what the hull itself might be like underneath the waterline. I’d bought the boat afloat without a survey or even having seen the underside.

With this in mind and with the new funnel, wheelhouse and exhaust system meaning the boat was once again moveable it was arranged to pull her out of the water on the slipway at work.

The plan was to burn off the old paint below the waterline and re-paint and hopefully to replace the stem which had turned out to be badly rotten as well as having large sections missing which had been hidden by wooden cheek pieces bodged on by the navy.

I’d already removed the deck and rotten beamshelf from the bow area to gain acess to the back of the stem (called the apron) which had also turned out to be rotten to just above the waterline. I’d replaced this whilst afloat but the stem on the outside needed replacing down below the water and the presence of a rusting iron shoe which covered the forefoot meant I wasn’t sure how far down the damage went.

These photos show the work that happened whilst on the slipway -

Looking forward a couple of days after the boat came out, I’d removed a badly damaged wooden and copper shoe from the keel by this point and had just started burning off 40 years of toxic antifoul:

Looking aft:

Up on deck this was the current state of the bow – The apron has been replaced as well as several frames and a couple of stringers to try and stiffen things up a bit:

Crap photo but the red thing sat on the cabintop by the bow is the new stem knee ready for fitting:

New stem knee fitted in place. you can see just how rotten most of the original timbers were on the right of the photo:

The damaged and rotten parts of the stem were cut back so an idea of the timber required could be made. What you can see in the top half of the photo is the new apron which the hull planking is fastened to. The lower half is the remains of the stem which is bolted to the outside of the apron:

Lower part of the stem with the rotten wood removed (this was eventually trimmed right back to the keel scarf on the far right of the photo)

Joe came down to give me a hand burning off around the waterline, whilst I continued burning the antifoul from below the waterline. A tedious job but a very good way to familiarise yourself with the condition of the hull!:

Luckily the teak hull planking was in exceptional condition:

A few damaged areas of the sacrificial hull covering above the waterline were removed ready for replacement:

Eventually the bottom was all burnt off, sacrificial planking was replaced and the hole from the watercooled exhaust was replanked. The timber for the new stem was overdue by about 3 weeks by this point which meant I was stuck on the slipway for another set of tides:

With the bottom painted in special grey underwater primer:

There aren’t any photos showing the stem being laminated as the timber had only turned up the day before Joe went back to the mainland so I ended up fitting it on my own.

Basically its laminated out of half inch thick planks 12ft long by about 5 inches wide which were steamed/boiled in a 6″ pipe which I’d welded an end cap and some legs to so that it sat at 45 degrees over a large gas burner.

After half an hour the planks were taken out of the steamer and screwed into position with bronze screws. After being left for a couple of days to take the shape and for the moisture content to reduce again they were removed, belt sanded, pasted up with epoxy resin and refitted.

Once the resin had set the stem was drilled and bolted to the apron with M20 stainless studding above the waterline and bronze below the waterline.

These photos are all taken whilst I was planing the finished stem to the correct shape:

This is where the stem is scarfed onto the oak keel, a fairly flawless transition:

The hull was antifouled:

The Propeller was dressed to a good finish with a grinder and new zinc anodes were fitted to the steel rudder:

She was then re-launched and as there was rumblings about the EU forcing red diesel taxation on uk boat owners  I took her down to the fuel barge to top up the diesel tanks with 145 gallons of finest cherry (thanks to a Payday Loan from the Bank of Joe!). This photo actually shows her coming out the water again the same day due to a leaking water intake valve for the engine:

The large bronze valve (a bastard design known as an Orseal Valve) which relies on a series of “O”Ring seals which are supposed to be forced to seal by high pressure steam obviously didn’t like being used for seawater rather than steam!

it had probably been leaking unnoticed since the day the boat was built.

With some *quality shims cut from 80grit sandpaper the valve was reassembled and the boat re-launched for the second time:

I’ve since sourced* a replacement valve but have not fitted it as the sandpaper seems to still be doing its job!

*its previous owner probably isn’t missing it