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Lady Daphne at 96 to make a dash for it on the Thames under Tower Bridge

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 April 2019

Last working sail barge moored at St Katharine's by Tower Bridge... Picture source: James Kent

Last working sail barge moored at St Katharine's by Tower Bridge... Picture source: James Kent

James Kent/editorial promo use

Not many folk know about Lady Daphne who at 96 is probably the oldest ‘resident’ at St Katharine’s Docks by the Tower of London.

Lady Daphne passing under Tower Bridge... still not ready to retire, even at 96! Picture source: James KentLady Daphne passing under Tower Bridge... still not ready to retire, even at 96! Picture source: James Kent

She was often in rough waters, scared by a few scrapes and almost lost at sea at least three times.

The Lady Daphne is one of the last surviving sail barges still afloat, yet still ready to cast her fate to the winds.

New owners Sam Howe and Andy Taylor have just completed the latest refit and now want to promote the vessel for Thames river trips.

“We don’t make profit running the trips,” Sam tells you. “All the money goes into maintenance and upkeep.

“We are promoting Lady Daphne for a punt on the Thames and going under Tower Bridge.”

Winching gear aboard the Lady Daphne passing Tower of London. Picture source: James KentWinching gear aboard the Lady Daphne passing Tower of London. Picture source: James Kent

Skipper James Kent has been at the helm for 20 years. His crew shipmates are Graham Piper and Laurie Watkins, plus Marzi the dog, who’s really “the big boss”.

They cast off for their first free promotion trip on Sunday week, April 14, sailing under Tower Bridge which will be raised in honour. The trip is already fully booked, we hear.

The Daphne was launched in January 1923, one of the last few wooden sailing barges built after the First World War, constructed from oak frames with side planking and gunwales, elm chine planks and steel keelson.

She traded as a coastal barge by Thomas Watson shipping company, which had a tradition of naming their vessels ‘Lady’, and was named after owner David Watson’s eldest daughter.

Cargoes included china clay, Portland stone, cement and grain between ports on the East Coast and South Coast, a fast barge making London Docks to Ipswich in just 12 hours when empty and returning in 14 hours laden with 190 tonnes of wheat.

Grand Old Lady of the Sea nearly went under three times! Picture source: James KentGrand Old Lady of the Sea nearly went under three times! Picture source: James Kent

But the Daphne has had a few mishaps in her time.

She was struck by a Thames steamer at Vauxhall in 1944 with serious damage.

Nine years later the infamous 1953 East Coast tidal surges which flooded wide areas of East Anglia down to the Thames Estuary lifted her bow onto the quay at Ipswich, but narrowly avoiding capsizing her.

The vessel had barely been in service five years when the skipper was washed overboard in a snow storm off the Cornish Coast just before Christmas 1927. The Lizard lifeboat had to be launched to rescue the remaining two exhausted crew.

The Daphne was left empty, heading onto rocks near the Isles of Scilly, when a second lifeboat was launched to take a crew out to steer her to a safe beach landing.

She was back in service by 1928 after a refit and continued cargo trading for another half-century, right into the 1970s—with a few more scrapes along the way.

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