Monday, April 13, 2020

Calshot - A Fight to Save the Queen Mary's Tug Tender

Resting alongside her berth in the port of Southampton lies an old-looking vessel that has probably seen better days and wouldn't look out of place in a historic dockyard like Chatham or Portsmouth. But this empty vessel has a proud history and is part of this city's heritage and played a huge role during the golden years of the ocean liners of yesteryear. In the days when liners were getting so big that they needed smaller ships to ferry the passengers, ships like these were built specifically to cater for this market. One of these was the Calshot.

The 147 foot long Calshot was launched on 4th November 1929 for the Red Funnel Line to work as both a tender to ferry passengers out to the liners and also as a tug to pull these same liners in and out of their berths when entering and leaving port. The idea was that the vessel would meet the ships out in the Solent which would save time and effort bringing a huge liner up to Southampton just to embark a few passengers as they were going past. This had worked well for the White Star Line with the Olympic and Titanic when they had several of their own tenders taking personnel out to the ships while they remained at anchor (the ports being too small or unequipped to enter).

On 27th May 1936 the Cunard White Star Line's newest ship, the RMS Queen Mary, set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage in what was a headline hitting event that was expecting records to be broken. As the Calshot moved her out of her berth, the entire scene was filmed and photographed for the press, the small vessel taking centre stage after the liner.

At the outbreak of the Second World War the Calshot was taken up to the River Clyde and used to ferry servicemen to the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, the latter being so new she had still not been used as an actual passenger liner yet. Sent back to Southampton in time for D-Day where she was one of thousands of vessels to take part in the biggest seaborne invasion force in history, moving sections of Mulberry Harbour into position at Juno Beach.

After the war she was back to the job that she was designed to do and successfully carried out hundreds of tasks over the next two decades, her last being the Queen Mary, now an old liner and not far from being sold off as jet airlines were making the big liners obsolete.

In 1964 she was sold to a company to use in Galway Bay in Ireland where she was renamed Galway Bay. Serving the Holland-America line ships, she was fitted out as a ferry where she could carry up to 400 passengers at a time. She carried on this role for many years and in that time the great ocean liners became a thing of the past.

As her age began to show, she was purchased by Southampton City Council and brought back down to Southampton in 1986 to be part of a museum exhibition and permanent mooring with the intention of becoming open to the public, resuming the original name of Calshot in 1990.

But none of this has never happened, save for the name change. Instead she has been moved around the dockyard and neglected until a group of enthusiasts called Tug Tender Calshot Trust took her under their wing. Although she has been declared unseaworthy, they believe that this vessel should be saved for the sake of history, she is almost a century old and has a fascinating past.

The list of famous ships that the Calshot had served is like a Hall of Fame of liners - Olympic, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, United States, Caronia, Aquitania to name just a few. Everybody remembers these big liners but they couldn't function without the little ships doing their jobs. It wasn't just the liners either - she carried many VIP's to these ships including Prime Minister Winston Churchill and various Hollywood actors.

Today the Calshot is in danger of being lost forever. She needs work to be done to stop her from rotting away and being taken away for scrapping. One day she could be in the same state as the Belfast has done to the Nomadic, with fresh paint, restored to her former glory and open to the public. The people who are passionate about Calshot are in a race against time to stop her from taking in rain water and slowly rusting away. It is with these people and their passion that this vessel has a life line.

But the Trust needs the help of maritime enthusiasts and history fanatics everywhere. The Calshot is an old girl and she needs volunteers, paint, funding and attention to make sure this historic piece of our maritime past is not left to the breakers yard. Only time will tell if we can save her in time.

If you are interested in learning more or can do something to help then visit the Trust website at or visit their Facebook page.

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