Ship and boat preservation is usually a battle. The elements are hostile, design life short and officialdom reluctant to support. This latest book looks at the preservation story over 40 years of VIC 56, a wartime built steam coasting lighter based on the Clyde Puffer, which served the Royal Navy in Dockyards and depots around the British Isles and globally. After World War II many served in the puffer trades in the Highlands and Islands and several survive.
As one of the larger puffers, similar in size to a Thames barge, VIC 56 is probably as big a project as individual ownership (with friends and supporters) can manage, but much of Britain’s maritime heritage is in this category. What was critical to keeping her going? Attracting volunteers, acquiring basic skills, and getting help from friendly professionals were all critical. Conscious of what can go wrong, caution was liberally applied in the early years. The book describes highlights of VIC 56 adventures – to her birthplace at Faversham, Kent, sailing to the Netherlands in 1989 and appearances at Arts Festivals, with contributions from many of the people who made this possible. Since 2019 she has been part of the Boathouse 4 collection of naval support vessels at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
This is also the story of the man who did it Henry Cleary. There are many ways of preserving historic ships. Sometimes they are owned by charitable trusts with charitable funding. Sometimes they are owned by companies and remain solvent by commercial trading. Sometimes they are owned by individuals who put their own money into the project and bring others along with them to preserve and operate the asset. It is in the latter category that we find VIC 56. It was Henry Cleary who spotted the ship up for sale in Rosyth Dockyard in 1978. It was Henry Cleary who bought her. It was Henry Cleary who brought her south and for the following forty years along with his wife, children and a small team of volunteers maintained her in operational condition based on the Thames and Medway in parallel with his main career as a senior civil servant working at the heart of government.
Priced at just £9.95 Keeping a Puffer Afloat is a well written and highly readable book full of pictures which tells the tale of one of Britain’s most successful private preservation projects of a small ship rescued from a fate in the scrapyard more than four decades ago and still with us today.
To buy a copy click here: Keeping A Puffer Afloat – Troubador Book Publishing
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.