Grand old girl will be shipshape again

The last survivor of East Anglia's bygone herring-fishing fleet is undergoing a £1m refurbishment at a Lowestoft shipyard. The Lydia Eva is the world's only remaining example of the steam drifters which built the pre-war prosperity of our coastal towns and villages.

The last survivor of East Anglia's bygone herring-fishing fleet is undergoing a £1m refurbishment at a Lowestoft shipyard.

The Lydia Eva is the world's only remaining example of the steam drifters which built the pre-war prosperity of our coastal towns and villages.

Her 1½-ton funnel was lifted from its base last Friday by a mobile crane and lowered to the quayside to be refurbished at the Lowestoft slipway of Small and Co.

New pipes will connect it to the furnaces under the boiler to allow steam to be raised again when the ship goes to sea next year after an extensive renovation.

Laurence Monkhouse, secretary of the Lydia Eva and Mincarlo Charitable Trust Limited, said: “Repairing worn out steel frames and plating in the forward half of the ship is now almost completed.

“For the past month the shipyard has been carrying out the very difficult task of cutting away and replacing the rotten steelwork underneath the huge boiler without risking any movement of the boiler itself.

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“Next will come the task of rebuilding the hull under the engine which is even more technically difficult because it will be essential to keep the alignment of the engine with the propeller shaft absolutely true.”

Steam drifters - named after their drifting motion with nets spread in long, wide swathes - replaced their sail-bound predecessors around the turn of the century, and peaked in numbers before the outbreak of the First World War.

They were usually about 20ft longer than the sailboats, and capitalized on the burgeoning herring industry by traveling faster and carrying more nets to catch more fish.

The steamers had thin, high funnels so that the steam was released high above the deck away from the fishermen.

The Lydia Eva was built in 1930 and, because replacement parts are no longer available, every individual piece of steel must be shaped by hand and welded into place.

Mr Monkhouse said: “It is a long and difficult job, requiring great technical skill, but one which will make the ship as seaworthy as the day she was launched, nearly 80 years ago.

“It is fortunate that in Lowestoft we can still find the skills which once maintained the huge fleets of drifters and trawlers.”

It is expected that the Lydia Eva will be launched again during November and after fitting of new decks, new masts, a new crews' cabin, and a new museum in the fish hold, she will be ready to steam back to her old home in Great Yarmouth early in the summer of 2008.

It will be the first time that a steam drifter has put to sea under her own power since 1975.

The renovation work is being largely financed by a grant of £839,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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