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Yearly Archives: 2019

Super Yacht Kismet in West India Dock

The nights may be drawing in and there is a slight chill in the air but we are still having a few interesting visitors in West India Dock. Today saw the arrival of the Super Yacht Kismet.


Kismet is a large superyacht and has visited the dock a couple of times before in 2014 and 2016. It often comes to London when its owner Pakistani-American billionaire businessman Shahid Khan wants to entertain guests attending NFL matches in London. His NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars play Houston at Wembley Stadium on the 3rd Nov 2019.

Last time the yacht arrived it was tucked away at the bottom of the dock for some time before being taken up to near Tower Bridge.


Kismet is 308ft long has three decks and a private sundeck with a pool-Jacuzzi-BBQ area and all mod cons. The ship features exterior styling by Espen Øino and interior design by Reymond Langton Design featuring marble and rare woods, it will accommodate 12 guests in six staterooms, and has a crew of 20. This ship is the second vessel named Kismet owned by Mr Khan and estimated to have cost 200 million dollars, a previous 223ft yacht was sold for a rumoured £70 million in 2013. The new Kismet was built at German boatyard Lurssen.

Unusually for the secretive super yacht world, a great deal seems to be known about Kismet and it was rumoured last year that the yacht was up for sale. If you would fancy life aboard the Kismet, the super yacht can be chartered for £940,000 or 1.6 million dollars a week.

Remembering Steam Wagons in London

Credit – Barry Ashworth

Recently , I mentioned Barry Ashworth and his long career at Dunbar Wharf, when he first started work at the wharf in the 1960s he came across a number of documents and photographs from Dunbar Wharf’s previous owner, Francis Vernon Smythe. One of those photographs illustrates a long forgotten mode of transport on London streets and the various connections within the British Empire.

The fascinating photograph in question features a steam wagon collecting silver ingots in the City of London, more information is given at the bottom of the photograph with the caption ‘Steam Wagons loading Bar Silver for the British India Steamer.’ On the side of the trucks is F.V. Smythe of Dunbar Wharf, Limehouse. The photograph is taken outside the offices of Durham Stokes which was a stockbrokers in Old Broad Street and seems to be in the early 20th century.

The British India Steamer referred to in the photograph is the British India Steam Navigation Company which was formed in 1856 as the Calcutta and Burmah Steam Navigation Company. It became the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1862, Lord Inchcape, became chairman in 1913 and the company became part of the P&O group of companies in 1914, it kept its own identity and organisation for another nearly 60 years until 1972, when it was fully absorbed into P&O.

At its peak, the company was one of the largest shipowners of all time, the company owned more than 500 ships and managed 150 more for other owners. The main shipping routes of the line were: Britain to India, Australia and Kenya but ran services throughout Asia and Africa. Silver Bullion was an important cargo for the ships from the UK to satisfy the demand for the metal in India where it was used in a variety of ways especially in its currency.

Alley & McLellan steam wagon (Mechanical Transport,1911)

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the steam wagon was considered the alternative to horse drawn vehicles especially for heavy hauling and short journeys. They first made an appearance in London in 1879, a newspaper report gives more details.

1879 A New Steam Waggon

A new style of road vehicle, designed to be propelled by mechanical power, has made its appearance in London, England. The carriage closely resembles an ordinary dog-cart; the shafts are very short, and incline together, meeting two feet in front of the dashboard; between them there is a third wheel, working upon an upright shaft, which could be turned by a handle placed the same as that of a bicycle; this handle is worked by reins in the hands of the driver. The motive power is obtained by the combustion of beozoline, a small jet of which is admitted into the burner. Itis then set on fire, and is completely consumed by a current of air, which until the machine is in action, is produced by turning the small handle already alluded to. The burner, about the size of an ordinary chimney-pot hat, and quite as elegant, is lined by coils of a copper tube containing water.

Thorneycroft steam wagon (Modern_Engines, Vol III)

By the early 20th century, steam wagons were a common sight on London roads and in 1903 there was a parade in the capital of the latest models.

1903 A Steam Waggon Parade.

On May Day last a display took place in London which may probably lead to an important annual function in future years This was a parade of self-propelled vehicles for carrying heavy freights, and this description, so far as last week’s gathering was concerned, is synonymous with “steam waggon,” for all the vehicles that attended were propelled by the time-honoured engine and boiler. Possibly by next May Day the internal-combustion engine may have been sufficiently improved to take its place as an important factor in the propulsion of heavy freight-in waggons.

The parade of thirty steam powered vehicles had been arranged by the Thorneycroft Steam Waggon Company, as in the older established cart-horse parade, the object was the encouragement of drivers, and three prizes were offered.

However by the 1920s, petrol and diesel lorries were considered cheaper and more efficient and steam wagons were considered slow and sometimes dangerous.

1929 Steam Waggons in London: Coroner Criticism

A rider to the ‘effect that steam waggons should no longer be licensed unless the driver has a full and unrestricted view of the whole road was added by the Jury at a Westminster Inquest. A verdict of accidental death was returned in the case of Laura Hodman, 18, typist, of High Street,Islington, who while crossing the Victoria Embankment to catch a tramcar during the rush hours on Tuesday evening was run over by a steam waggon.

Mr Ingleby Oddle (the coroner) said that the accident was a simple one. The girl did not look to see, If anything was coming on her left, the driver of the steam waggon was sitting on the near side, and could not see on the oft side at all, having to rely on his fireman.

“It is perfectly obvious , to me that the time has long since, gone by when vehicles of this type should not be permitted on the streets at all.”

The time of the steam wagon was almost over and new road taxes and limits on weight sent them to scrapyards in large numbers, although some were saved and preserved and can sometimes seen at steam fairs. Steam wagons were largely a short lived British phenomenon and quickly became forgotten as internal combustion powered vehicles took over the roads.

It is always remarkable how one photograph can takes us back to a forgotten piece of London history and many thanks to Barry Ashworth for permission to use the photograph and related information. I have undertaken some research into the photograph but if anyone has any more information, please comment below.

Dutch Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam on the Thames

Walking around the Island, a familiar tall ship loomed out of the autumn gloom, it was the Stad Amsterdam which has been a regular visitor to West India Dock over the years.

The Stad Amsterdam (City of Amsterdam) is a three-masted clipper that was built-in Amsterdam in 2000, the ship was built when Frits Goldschmeding, founder of the Randstad employment agency and council of Amsterdam decided that the Dutch needed to build a tall ship to represent the historic maritime nation.

The ship was designed by Gerard Dijkstra basing his design on the 19th century frigate Amsterdam, however although she looks like 19th Century ship she is fitted with modern materials which means that she was fast enough to win the 2001 Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Race.

The Stad Amsterdam is used as a training ship but also undertakes luxury cruises and adventure holidays all over the world, in 2009 she was used by Dutch Television to retrace the second voyage of the HMS Beagle.

She is a fully rigged tall ship with an overall length of 76 m, height of 46.3 and over 2000 square metres of sail. She usually operates with a crew of 32 and can accommodate 120 passengers for day trips and 58 for longer journeys.

After visiting London, the ship will visit Hamburg and Amsterdam before going in for a refit to prepare the clipper for an around the world  trip starting in 2020. The SDG World Tour will start in August 2020 and will take two years to complete.
The main goal of the tour is to help achieve the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by increasing knowledge and awareness around the world. The tour has 17 stops, one for every SDG, and at every stop many events will be organised and best practices will be shared. The SDG World Tour is endorsed by the UN.


Hay Barges on the Thames

Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923) ‘A view on the Thames’ credit Barry Ashworth

Recently I had a conversation with Barry Ashworth who worked for a long period at Dunbar Wharf, during the conversation he mentioned a painting he acquired at auction. The painting is entitled A View of the Thames by Charles William Wyllie and shows a barge full of hay berthed near Limehouse.

Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923) ‘A view on the Thames’ credit Barry Ashworth

It is a fascinating painting that clearly shows the famous Limehouse waterfront near the Grapes that have attracted a number of artists. However it is the barge laden with hay that really draws your attention and is a reminder that within the streets of London that for a long period it was not cars but horses were that were king.

Hay-boat on the Thames. 1859. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall,

There were thousands of horses on the streets of London and they had to be fed and it would have been a common sight to see Thames sailing barges heavily laden with hay. Although generally known as hay barges, for those in charge of the barge they were known as ‘stackies’. There were special adaptations made to the Thames sailing barge to allow the large amount of hay to be stacked on board. To provide some stability, below the hay were bricks for the various developments in London. The hay was collected from the farms of Suffolk, Essex and Kent and transported up the Thames. Once the hay and other cargo had been unloaded in London, the barges were then filled with manure from the horses which were taken back to the farms to spread on the fields.

Hay-Boats on the Thames, 1872 After Gustave Doré

This cycle was played out over a long period of time and became a way of life for the bargees that plied their trade up and down the Thames.

Hay Barge off Greenwich by Edward William Cooke Date: 1835 (National Maritime Museum)

As with most things, progress bought technological changes with the arrival of the combustion engine which slowly took over the London streets until the early 20th century when horses were not needed in large numbers and the hay trade declined.

In the early 21st century, the hay barges have virtually been forgotten until we come across paintings like Barry’s that remind us of the past.

Charles William Wyllie was part of family of artists that became known for their marine landscapes, river and coastal scenes. His brother, William Lionel Wyllie was considered one of the country’s most famous marine painters. Charles trained at Leigh’s School of Art and at the Royal Academy Schools.


Super Yacht Bellami.com in West India Dock

Another unusual visitor to West India Dock is the 53.4-metre super yacht Bellami.com with its very distinctive metallic golden hull. Until recently the yacht was known as the Kinta built by Turquoise Yachts in 2008.
The yacht was given its gilded hull for an advertising tour across the Mediterranean on behalf of Bellami, the American hair extension company. The tour ends with the visit to London Fashion Week.
The yacht had a refit at Palumbo Superyachts in 2018. She can accommodate 12 guests in six staterooms and has a swimming pool, the pool features a glass waterfall, spa and sundeck.
Rather surprisingly, it looks like that the vinyl golden hull is being stripped away whilst the ship is in dock. This may be because the yacht is supposedly on sale for 20 million dollars and not many may like the present colour scheme.
The technique for gilding yachts has been popular for cars and small boats, but is not often applied to bigger yachts because of the cost. The 600 square metres of golden vinyl coating with a mirror effect were applied to the Kinta, whilst she was docked in the port of Viareggio. They must have had some left over because they gilded the tenders as well. We may not have had many boats in West India Dock during the summer but we have certainly had an interesting mix.

The Start of The Great River Race – 14th September 2019

The UK Traditional Boat Championship or the Great River Race as it is known has become a favourite with crews and the public, to understand why it is worth going down to Millwall slipway in the morning before the race to savour some of the excitement and anticipation of the competitors.

Collecting over 300 boats of assorted sizes in order would seem to be a logistic nightmare, however the organisation always seems assured and efficient.

Many of the crews dress up in fancy dress and take part to raise money for charity, so a few strange and unusual sights are about.

The Great River race is known as the ‘River Marathon’ because the course is 21.6 Miles from the Isle of Dogs to Ham in Surrey and attracts over 300 crews from all over the globe and appeals to every level of competitor from the fun rowers to the more serious racers. There are 35 trophies at stake for the various classes of boats and competitors.

The start has the slowest boats starting first before the great bulk of boats are launched to create a great scene on the river with all the boats taking part and many other passengers boats following  the race.

The last boats to start are the dragon boats which are a wonderful sight as they make their way up to Tower Bridge.

To give all crews an equal chance, entrants were handicapped according to the calculated potential performance of their boats.

Ocean Dreamwalker III Super Yacht in West India Dock

Anyone walking around West India Dock will be surprised by the range of vessels currently in the dock, some are permanent but we have two interesting arrivals in the last couple of days with the research ship Pressure Drop and Super Yacht Ocean Dreamwalker III.
The 47.0m Ocean Dreamwalker III was built in 2018 by SanLorenzo shipyard’s facility in La Spezia. It was launched last year as part of the Sanlorenzo’s 60th-anniversary celebrations.
The yacht is unusual because it has a longer stern area to accommodate a landing pad for helicopters.
The yacht has an exterior design by Francesco Paszkowski,  cruises at 11.0 kn and reaches a top speed of 16.0 kn. She can sleep up to 10 guests with a crew of 7.
As mentioned many times before, in the secretive world of super yachts, information is difficult to obtain about the owner or how long it will be in dock.

The DSSV Pressure Drop in West India Dock


After a quiet summer, West India Dock is welcoming a number of visitors and the latest has a varied and fascinating history. The DSSV Pressure Drop is a research ship which is  68.3 m / 224 ft in length, and has  accommodation for up to 47 persons.

The ship started life as the USNS Indomitable  and was a United States Navy Stalwart class ocean surveillance ship in service from 1985 to 2002. Indomitable was laid down by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Company at Tacoma, Washington and launched in  1985.

From 2003 until 18 June 2014, she was in commission in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as the oceanographic research ship NOAAS McArthur II (R 330).

In 2017 the vessel was bought by Caladan Oceanic LLC and prepared to serve as a mother ship for the manned deep-ocean research submersible DSV Limiting Factor.

From December 2018, the Pressure Drop has been used  in  the Five Deeps Expedition to support a manned submersible visit to the bottom of all five of the world’s oceans.

The Five Deeps Expedition is the first attempt to reach the deepest point in each of the Earth’s five oceans: the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic, South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, Challenger Deep in the Pacific and Molloy Deep in the Arctic.

Four of the dives have been successfully completed and have been filmed for a Discovery Channel series. It is expected that the ship will leave the dock tomorrow to continue its epic journey.


Silver Spirit Cruise Ship at Greenwich

Although we are approaching the end of the holiday season, we have a cruise ship berthed near Greenwich. The ship is called the Silver Spirit and operated by Silversea Cruises.
The ship was built at the Fincantieri Ancona shipyard and was launched in 2009, although the ship looks large it only carries a maximum 650 passengers and about 400 crew.
Silver Spirit is considered a luxury cruise ship  with 270 ocean-view suites and six restaurants with plenty of amenities.
Cruise ships are not an unusual sight on the Thames where they often berth at Greenwich or near Tower Bridge.
The Silver Spirit leaves Greenwich today to start its cruise to Barcelona.

Electric Power in the Isle of Dogs

Many people may be aware of Elon Musk and his electric storage batteries but people may be surprised that this technology has been around for a century and the Isle of Dogs played an important in its development.
At the end of the 19th century, the Electrical Power Storage Company took over the Sun Iron Works which was just off Westferry Road. E.P.S., as it was known, was set up to using patents concerning batteries and accumulators. In 1882, the Electrical Power Storage Company, with about 300 employees, began producing accumulators at the Millwall works. The company also had offices in Great Winchester Street in the City of London.
The early accumulators were supplied to hotels, Law Courts, the Bank of England, Lloyd’s and many theatres. The Millwall works also supplied temporary lighting for functions especially during the London Season, they had a number of royal clients, including Queen Victoria. There was also experiments for a battery-powered tramcars.
One of the more interesting experiments was electric powered boats, a newspaper report of 1882 gives more details.

An  Electric  Launch

Professor Sylvanus P. Thompson writes to The Times :-” Having been one of a privileged party of four, the first over propelled upon the waters of the River Thames by the motive power of electricity, I think some details of this latest departure in the applications of electric science may be of interest.

At half-past 3 this afternoon I found myself on board the little vessel Electricity, lying at her mooring off the wharf of the works of the Electrical Power Storage Co. at Millwall. Save for the absence  of steam and steam machinery the little craft would have been appropriately called a steam launch. She is 26ft. in length, and about 5ft, in the beam, drawing about 2ft. of water, and fitted with a 22inch propeller screw. On board were stowed away, under the flooring and seats,fore-and-aft, 45 mysterious boxes, each about of about 10in. in dimensions. These boxes were nothing else than electric accumulators of the latest type, as devised by Messrs. Sellon and Volokmar, being a modification of the well-known Plante accumulator. Fully charged with electricity by wires leading from the dynamos or generators in the wonks, they were calculated to supply power for six hours at the rate of 4h.p. These storage cells were placed in electrical connection with two Siemens’ dynamos of the size known as D 3,furnished with proper reversing gear and regulators,to serve as engines to drive the screw propeller.

Either or both of these motors could be ‘switched ‘ into circuit at will. In charge of the electric engines was Mr. Gustave Phillipart, jun., who has been associated with Mr. Volokmar io the fitting up of the electric launch. Mr, Volokmar himself and an engineer completed, with the writer, the quartet who made the trial trip. After a few minutes’ rundown the river, and a trial of the powers of the boat to go forward, slacken, or go astern at will, her head was turned Citywards, and we sped- I cannot say steamed-silently along the southern shore, running about eight knots an hour against the tide. At 37 minutes past 4 London Bridge was reached, where the head of the launch was put about, while a long line of onlookers from the parapets surveyed the strange craft that without steam or visible power-without even a visible steersman-made its way against wind and tide.

Slipping down the ebb, the wharf at Millwall was gained at one minute past 5, thus is 24 minutes terminating the trial trip of the Electricity, For the benefit of electricians I may add that the total electromotive force of the accumulators was 96 volts, and that during the whole of the long run the current through each machine was steadily maintained at 24 amperes. Calculations show that this corresponds to an expenditure of electric energy of 31.11 horse power.

It is now 43years since the Russian Jacobi first propelled a boat upon  the waters of the Neva by aid of a large but primitive electro-magnetic engine, worked by galvanic batteries of the old type, wherein zinc plates were dissolved in acid. Two years ago a  little model boat was shown in Paris by M. Trouvé, actuated by accumulators of the Fauro-Plaute type. The present is, however, not only the first electric boat that has been constructed in this country, but the very first in which the electric propulsion of a boat has been undertaken on a commercial scale. Looking at this first practical success, who shall say to what proportions  this latest application may not attain in the next decade?”

Two years later a race took place between Electricity and the electric launch Australia from Millwall to Charing Cross Bridge and back to Greenwich.

The author of the news report was Silvanus Phillips Thompson was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1891.

After the successful experiments with electric launches, charging stations were set up along the Thames and from 1888, over 50 British boatbuilders are known to have built one or more electric launches. Many of these were made near the Thames in Isle of Dogs and Blackwall yards.
In 1914–15 the EPS company amalgamated with Pritchetts & Gold Ltd of Dagenham Dock and all the Millwall plant went to Dagenham. The former E.P.S. works were occupied for a few years by the Cunard Steamship Company, as Cunard Wharf for storing cargo.
After this promising start to the ‘electric age’, the 20th century saw a decline of this ‘clean’ energy in favour of the improved diesel engines.
However since the 1970s, electric energy in cars and boats has become more popular to help create a more environmentally friendly world.