Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Will This Little Ship Be Left High And Dry?

One of Ramsgate’s most prized possessions could face permanent damage if it remains in a state of limbo. The Sundowner, one of the famed Little Ships that took part in the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, is facing serious structural problems if it is not returned to the water soon, according to those who care for it. The hull could shrink and crack, leading to costly repairs. The boat, which could not take part in the recent Dynamo Day 70th-anniversary event, traditionally leads the flotilla every five years. However, a lease dispute meant it was left standing on the quayside as the other boats sailed for Normandy. The lease of the museum, which counts the Sundowner as one of its principal artefacts, is still not resolved. The Thanet council-funded East Kent Maritime Trust, which owns the boat, cannot reach an agreement with the Steam Museum Trust, which wants to take over the museum. A 99-year lease was agreed last year, but that arrangement has since crumbled, leading to an apparent stalemate, and until the lease is sorted out the Sundowner will probably remain on the quay. Councillor John Watkins, the vessel’s volunteer boat officer, says a “chicken and egg situation” has developed and all parties, including Thanet council, must come to an agreement about the museum lease so the boat can be returned to the water.Cllr Watkins said there was known to be a problem with the museum’s roof, as well as issues regarding mooring fees for the Sundowner and the steam-tug Cervia that were proving difficult to resolve. While the boat is sitting on the commercial quay, it has just one more week until its insurance runs out. If that happens, it will have to be removed from the harbour altogether as boats are not allowed to be uninsured, whether they are in or out of the water. Cllr Watkins says he has been told by Ramsgate harbour authorities that 14 days was the maximum it should be out of the water, but after today it will have been there for 17. He said: “You shouldn’t be treating an old boat like this, especially not one with such a history. “The sun could open up the teak hull and shrink it. This would mean it leaks when returned to the water. It wouldn’t be irreparable, but it should be avoided if possible.” A small amount of work needs to be done on the boat and was due to be carried out by volunteers before Dynamo Day so it could take to the water, as in previous years. However, they walked off the job when it became clear the relevant parties could not reach an agreement in time for the Dunkirk crossing. Thanet council would not comment on the dispute, but Cllr Watkins says it holds the key to the negotiations and should sit down with the two parties to come to an agreement.

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