Mil­i­tary steam tra­di­tion

Practical Boat Owner - - Boats -

Naval steam Pin­nace P199 is an ex­hibit of the Royal Navy Na­tional Mu­seum Trust, Portsmouth. Built by J Reid of Glas­gow and com­pleted in Au­gust 1909 she spent a short pe­riod as the Ad­mi­ral’s barge with Bat­tle Cruiser HMS In­flex­i­ble. She was then sta­tioned at Portsmouth un­der­tak­ing gen­eral du­ties be­fore be­ing as­signed as the Cap­tain of the Port’s barge, where she re­mained for her time with the Royal Navy.

In 1952 P199 was sold off into pri­vate own­er­ship for use as a Thames house­boat. She was named Tre­league and her steam plant was re­moved and re­placed by a petrol en­gine. She was later bought for restora­tion by an an­tique dealer but sadly, funds fell short of what was nec­es­sary to com­plete the task and she was ac­quired in 1979 in a very sorry state by the Royal Navy Mu­seum (now the Na­tional Mu­seum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth). She . ac­quired a se­cond-hand boiler from a sim­i­lar craft and in 1984 was recom­mis­sioned and used oc­ca­sion­ally for fer­ry­ing VIPs, be­ing ex­hib­ited un­til 1998 in the Mast Pond at Portsmouth His­toric Dock­yard. She was then taken to the Mar­itime Work­shop in Gosport for a com­plete re­fit.

Be­tween 1999-2001 the en­gine was re­built and the boiler over­hauled ready for P199 to take part in the ‘Fes­ti­val of the Sea’ cel­e­bra­tions two years later. She was awarded the Hugh Cas­son Tro­phy by the Steam Boat As­so­ci­a­tion for the stan­dard of her restora­tion.

In 2011, a full sur­vey re­vealed the need for fur­ther ex­ten­sive restora­tion and this was linked to ad­di­tional work nec­es­sary for her boiler cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to be re­newed.

From 2012-2015 a team of vol­un­teers, sup­ported by do­na­tions and a Her­itage Lottery Grant, car­ried out some 13,000 hours of work on her hull and power unit.

Steam Pin­nace 199 is to­day some­thing of a hy­brid, hav­ing ar­ma­ment for­ward and the ac­cou­trements of an Ad­mi­ral’s Barge aft. She is be­lieved to be the last re­main­ing op­er­a­tional ves­sel of her type, her steam plant still pro­vid­ing re­li­able, pow­er­ful ser­vice.

Man­u­fac­tured by A G Mum­ford of Colch­ester in 1910, the com­pound en­gine pro­duced 162hp at 300rpm. At max­i­mum speed un­der tri­als P199 achieved 12 knots at 624rpm.

By 1914 the Navy had some 634 ex­am­ples of this type of small steam­pow­ered maid of all work-type ves­sels.

In­ter­est­ingly, like many other larger naval steam­ers, her boiler was lo­cated in a sep­a­rate pres­surised com­part­ment to en­sure a good through draught for the fire. The Yar­row-type wa­ter tube boiler was built by the Thames Iron Works in 1898. Orig­i­nally coal fired dur­ing the 1920s, P199’s boiler was con­verted to burn diesel oil.

The boiler room also con­tains a bilge pump for draw­ing wa­ter from any of the five com­part­ments, trans­fer­ring feed wa­ter from ei­ther the re­serve feed tank or the hot-well into the boiler as well as pump­ing sea wa­ter when re­quired. n

‘Steam Pin­nace 199 is to­day some­thing of a hy­brid’

Com­par­isons in­di­cate that an ef­fi­ciently de­signed wa­ter-tube boiler (like steam Pin­nace 199’s – see panel, pre­vi­ous page) pro­duces roughly twice the amount of steam as a fire-tube type for an equiv­a­lent sur­face area ex­posed to heat.

The en­gine

On small steam launches the en­gine driv­ing the pro­pel­ler is usu­ally a ver­ti­cally mounted de­vice con­sist­ing of one or more cylin­ders in which pis­tons are driven both up and down by steam pres­sure giv­ing two power strokes for each cy­cle. Twin cylin­ders can be in-line or even in a ‘vee’ ar­range­ment and the en­gine is most usu­ally open to the el­e­ments so its many mov­ing parts make a fascinating spec­ta­cle.

Ma­rine steam en­gines are built to run in both di­rec­tions, steam dis­tri­bu­tion to the cylin­der(s) be­ing con­trolled by a re­vers­ing gear ex­actly as in a rail­way en­gine, so no re­vers­ing gear­box is needed.

Of­ten found in small launches are ‘com­pound’ en­gines, where the same steam is used twice, first in a cylin­der of slen­der bore then in a much larger bore cylin­der of the same stroke. This ‘ex­pan­sive’ process makes for an eco­nom­i­cal use of steam.

To con­trol steam emis­sion is a sim­ple reg­u­la­tor valve. Crit­i­cally, be­cause steam en­gines gen­er­ate large amounts of torque they tend to run very much more slowly than petrol or diesel en­gines and will drive larger, more coarsely pitched pro­pel­lers.


“Steam­boat own­er­ship can be a time con­sum­ing hobby. We do it for the pas­sion and the plea­sure,” said Rev. Ru­dall. “In ad­di­tion to main­tain the hull in a sea­wor­thy con­di­tion, the en­gine will re­spond to sym­pa­thetic main­te­nance – while the boiler must be pre­pared care­fully for an­nual in­spec­tion.”

The short­falls of ma­rine steam power is the space en­gines and boil­ers con­sume, es­pe­cially in smaller boats.

Care must also be taken when car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers to en­sure that as they move around the craft they avoid touch­ing any­thing hot.

And you can never be a hurry with a steam en­gine. Boil­ers will take time to build up steam pres­sure be­fore the boat can get un­der way af­ter the fire or burner is lit – but this wait­ing time is of­ten put to good use for lu­bri­ca­tion and polishing.

Then there’s the ca­ma­raderie of meet­ing other like minded en­thu­si­asts.

“A huge part of the en­joy­ment comes from manag­ing the power plant to get the best from it, closely fol­lowed by the aware­ness that you’re bring­ing some­thing rather beau­ti­ful and un­usual to the wa­ter­ways.

“Buy­ing or build­ing a steam launch forms the be­gin­ning of a jour­ney, an ad­ven­ture which can be­come to­tally ab­sorb­ing and grad­u­ally take over the owner’s life.”

Thanks go to Rev. Mark Ru­dall and Martin Marks for their con­sid­er­able help with this fea­ture

P199 at the Fred Watts boat­yard in Gosport af­ter de­com­mis­sion­ing from the Navy in the 1950s

Fully re­stored: steam Pin­nace 199 now re­sides at the Royal Navy Na­tional Mu­seum in Portsmouth

The Mu­seum of the Broads steamer Fal­con on the River Ant near Stal­ham in Nor­folk

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