Historic tug-boat could return to the Thames

PUBLISHED: 14:03 03 March 2011

Tug boat The Cervia working the Thames  in 1967- Pictures provided by Ramsgate Maritime Museum

Tug boat The Cervia working the Thames in 1967- Pictures provided by Ramsgate Maritime Museum


Thanks to the diligent work of volunteers led by a former tugboat driver, a historic boat could soon return to the River Thames.

Mike Houckham — who worked the tugs for 10 years out of Gravesend — has led the restoration of the Cervia steam powered tugboat — the oldest of her class in the world — and is desperate to see her return to the town.

He said: “It is my absolute dream to take her back up the Thames. When we started she was in an appalling state, vegetation was growing on her and we are talking weeds and grass. Now she is shiny and new.”

The Cervia was built in 1946 having been commissioned by the Ministry of War, but with peace declared, it was sold to Watkins Tug Company and began to work the Thames.

It is perhaps best known for tragedy, when in 1954 it capsized while pulling a P&O liner off Tilbury.

During the manoeuvre the liner was required to power it’s engines to avoid colliding with another ship and pulled the tug over.

Despite rescue attempts Captain Russell and five of his crew died.

“Amazingly tugs going down was not that rare then, though the tragic loss of those lives was. A lot of people will still remember the incident. Because it wasn’t holed or damaged the PLA pulled it out two days later, it was pumped and back in action six months later,” added Mr Houckham, whose father and grandfather also worked the river.

The boat was decommissioned but brought by enthusiast Michael List Brain and worked in the North 

Sea until 1983 when it was moored up and given to East Kent Maritime Museum Trust.

The trust folded and it slowly fell into disrepair until an appeal for workers to restore it was put out in 2009.

Working up to 500 hours a month for almost two years on the ship, moored in Ramsgate Harbour, the 63 year-old, formerly of Vigo and his team of volunteers have completely restored the exterior, but need specialists to finish work on the hull.

Mr Houckham has applied for a £1million grant from Heritage Lottery and hopes with this he can have the Cervia back on the water by 2013.

He added: “It has been a lot of hard work and we have treated it like a job, not a bit of fun, but we are very close. It will be fantastic to have her back running cruises along the Thames and of course back to 

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