Dunkirk ship returns home and will reopen to public later this year
PS Medway Queen was returned ‘home’ to Gillingham on Friday 7 January to have the hull inspected, cleaned and repainted.
The historic paddle-driven steamship, which rescued thousands of soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War, is the only mobile estuary paddle steamer left in the United Kingdom.
The ship was towed out to EAPL’s Ramsgate slipway in the summer of 2021, behind her usual tug Christine, and aided by the smaller tug Nipashore. Work costing around £150,000 has been carried out, according to Kent Online.
The paddle wheels have been repainted, the saloon windows have been varnished and the hull has been inspected. The deck rails have also been restored, in an attempt to bring her back to her former glory.
The paddle steamer was originally due off the slipway at Ramsgate on December 11, but the winch jammed and the move back to Gillingham had to be postponed until the tide was high enough for the ship to cross the sandbars in the River Medway.
The yard’s first major job was erecting scaffolding to allow safe access to the hull sides. The MQPS Board says it also decided to get other work done while the ship was in a safer working environment.
Besides the hull repaint, the paddle wheels and underside of the sponsons needed cleaning and painting. Some of the smaller internal compartments cannot be safely painted without breathing equipment, which the team do not have.
The saloon windows needed varnishing, which is difficult on a tidal mud berth. A small gap between the deck and hull plates needed to be sealed to reduce rusting. It was all work that needed specialist equipment or a safer working environment. The starboard paddle box fascia was found to be in poor condition and this was removed for return to Gillingham on board Medway Queen for renovation in the charity’s own workshops.
The Medway Queen Preservation Society says the most noticeable extra work is the promenade deck rails. Some of the stanchions were insecure, some were of a ‘temporary’ nature and all required a coat of paint. Stanchion fittings to the deck were getting at least some of the blame for hull side rust streaks and that had to be remedied. As many as possible of the existing stanchions were re-used but some replacements were needed where the originals had been lost years ago and these were cast by Bridport Foundry and delivered directly to Ramsgate. The team at EAPL created new hardwood top rails and steam-formed them to the correct shape to follow the deck line.
Medway Queen Preservation Society trustee Richard Halton, says: “Extra work has meant extra cost and a longer spell in dockyard hands than originally envisaged. That additional cost has been partly alleviated by the Saturday team; while the ship was in Ramsgate, Mark and Pam Bathurst, together with other team members, set up an information table near the ship to collect donations, sell books, give out information and recruit new members. In 2022, however, the charity says it will need to make additional efforts to increase revenue and donations from all sources.”
Medway Queen now has the sign writing and lining out complete. She will be open to the public once more from February onwards, with the exact date to be announced. The ship will be open on Saturdays, from 11am to 4pm (last admissions 3pm) with the “Memories of Dunkirk” exhibition in the lower aft saloon.