On this day in 1974 Harbour Launch No. 7025 was dedicated on the north side of Basin 3. It was built (but not fitted out) by Dockyard apprentices for operations with the Port Auxiliary Service as a passenger carrying vessel locally and on the Thames.
Former shipwright, Visitor Experience team member and Reading Room volunteer, Tony (Antony) Peacock looks back on this highlight from his Chatham Dockyard apprenticeship…
During the last six months of my apprenticeship (1968 to 1972) I was posted back to the Shipwright Group Training Centre. This was not the usual practice, normally only the first two years were spent in the training centre, the final two years were spent ‘afloat’ at various locations around the Dockyard. It had been decided that 4th year apprentices would be given the project of building a 58ft steel harbour launch.
The project was to build a New Zealand Class 58ft harbour launch; these became known colloquially as the Kiwi class. A design that was produced by HMNZ Dockyard Devonport in 1966 and adopted by the UK MOD in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The class was introduced as a replacement for the 52ft wooden hulled harbour launch then in service.
Harbour launches were operated by the Port Auxiliary Service (PAS), 7025 was to be used for carrying passengers, working in local waters from Chatham Dockyard and between the Dockyard and London (the PAS was merged into the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS) in 1976).
The RMAS operated many types of small vessels including Mooring, Salvage and Boom Defence vessels; Coastal Tankers; Trials Ships; Torpedo Recovery Vessels; Armament Store Carriers; Water Carriers; Tugs; Fleet Tenders; and Tank Cleaning Vessels.
I was one of the first group of apprentices assigned to the project, by which time the Shipwright training centre had been transferred from the Lower Boathouse by the South Mast Pond to a new location on St Mary’s Island.
Before any building could commence, facilities required had to be provided; first constructing a small Mould Floor for developing plate shapes and making the required moulds for plate shaping (by bending). A Scrieve Board (the type of working floor fitted in No.1 Smithery Pipe Bending Gallery) was laid outside of the training centre. A set of building blocks were set up using timber dock blocks.
Construction started by ‘laying off’ bottom plating and mould making for the plates required for erecting together as units. These units would form the bottom sections of the hull. Developed shapes were marked onto steel plates using chalk lines to represent cut and bend lines. For cutting and bending, the plates and moulds were transported to No.5 Machine Shop, usually referred to as the ‘Heavy Plate Shop.’ No.8 Machine Shop was known as the ‘Light Plate Shop’ because of its role as a manufacturing site of Aluminium items. It is the skeletal remains of No.8 Shop that stand near the Co-op.
As we carried on marking up the plates’ we realised we were not receiving finished plates back from No.55 Shop. Queries revealed that our work had been unofficially boycotted by some of the staff of No.5 Shop. It transpired that they were not in agreement with apprentices taking work from the skilled workforce. The situation was resolved so we received finished plates that enabled us to set up the individual bottom sections for welding into units, followed by welding the units together.
I completed my apprenticeship so had to leave the project; construction continued, completing in 1974. There was a Presentation and Dedication of Harbour Launch No 7025 on Saturday 16th November 1974 at HM Naval Base Chatham. All apprentices and ex-apprentices that had taken part were invited to attend.
I have kept my copy of the Dedication Programme which details the Order of Ceremony as;
- Introduction and Welcome by The Personnel Manager
- Presentation of The Launch: The General Manager, W R Seward
- Prayer of Dedication: The Port Chaplin, The Rev A Braithwaite, RN
- Acceptance of The Vessel: The Captain of the Port and Queen’s Harbour Master, Captain D C R Walters, RN
- A Vote of Thanks will be given by an Apprentice
At the time of the Dedication HL7025 was already afloat in the basin. After the ceremony we were allowed to take turns on board for a tour of the basins.
By chance, about 4 or 5 years ago, while on rota on the Visitor Operations team at The Historic Dockyard Chatham I had a conversation with a visitor who had been the Master of HL7025 in service. He stated that in his experience 7025 was the best HL he served on. Most of his duties were running passengers between Chatham and London. On one such trip in 1982 he received a signal to return to Chatham immediately. On return 7025 was loaded onto a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship for transport to the Falkland Islands to be used by the RN. HL7025 undertook general harbour duties in support ships moored in Port Stanley. He told me further that 7025 had suffered an engine failure and drifted, run aground and been wrecked in Port Stanley, but he did not know the date of the incident.
Searching online recently a site (shipsnostalgia.com) contained the following from Official Data Cards;
HL7022 – transported to Falklands 22-11-82, returning to Portsmouth 27-10-86, Ref D/DMS(N)19/60/42.
HL7023 – transported to Falklands 7-8-82, returning to Portsmouth Nov 86, Ref D/DMS(N)20/24/30.
HL7025 – transported to Falklands 22-11-82. Sold out of service locally 1-10-93, Ref D/DMS(N)19/60/42.
A pencilled remark on the Data Card also noted “called Kiwi 1”.
A different site viewed noted that “one of the HL sent to the Falklands was sold locally and foundered”
Technical Description for HL 7025:
Length overall, 57ft 6ins; Length between perpendiculars, 52ft 6ins; Extreme breadth, 16ft 0ins; Displacement, 26 Tons; Speed, 9 Knots; Passenger capacity, 80 persons.
I had often wondered what had happened to 7025, I had hoped that she had ended her days as a beloved houseboat. Now I know the truth.
Thank you to Tony for researching and writing this blog.