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Dunkirk Little Ship Restoration Project

East Coast Crusing : MV Coronia

“She battled her way into Dunkirk but now she’s not allowed to go to Whitby”

Following her exploits at Dunkirk JB Priestley wrote of the Coronia in June 1940.”This little steamer like all her battered sisters is immortal She will go on sailing proudly down the years in the epic of Dunkirk, and our great grandchildren, when they learn how we began this war by snatching glory out of defeat and then swept on to victory, may also learn how the little holiday steamers made an excursion into hell and came back glorious.”

“She battled her way into Dunkirk but now she’s not allowed to go to Whitby” — a ridiculous situation highlighted by the current owner of the MVCoronia, Tom Machin.

Since 1992, when Tom bought the Coronia back to Scarborough, this historic vessel has carried nearly 100,000 passengers on pleasure trips from the town along the coast to Whitby a distance of some 17 nautical miles. The Coronia has now been given a European Class C License, which limits her to round trips totaling only 30 nautical miles.
As Tom explained: “under the old system a British certificate also placed a 30 nautical mile limit but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency could add a couple of extra miles at their discretion. Now, because of this latest piece of EU bureaucracy, Scarborough is in danger of losing one of its most popular tourist attractions.”

An appeal has been made to continue operations on the previous discretionary basis but if the new rules have to be adhered to, the operators of the Coronia will be faced with the prospect of having to apply for a higher level of license to enable her to continue the service to Whitby. There will be additional costs involved in obtaining the new license.

Commissioned by EW Longfield the Coronia was built at Great Yarmouth in 1935 by shipbuilders Fellowes & Co although on completion was named Brit.

Ninety feet in length and just under 20ft wide she was powered by twin Crossley diesel engines and was launched on 23 May 1935.

The new vessel could carry 200 passengers and spent the first few years of her life carrying holidaymakers on trips along the Norfolk coast to see the basking seals and other wildlife of the area.

A major refit was completed and the two veterans were taken to Dunstons Ship Repairs on the Humber in Hull
A major refit was completed and the two veterans were taken to Dunstons Ship Repairs on the Humber in Hull

The Longfield brothers operated their services from the town quay in Great Yarmouth and the Brit at that time was the biggest and fastest of the many small passenger boats working in the area. However, the years of idyllic summer cruising were brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of WWII.

On 16th September 1939 the Brit was taken over by the Admiralty, repainted battleship grey, renamed HM Tender Watchful and became the base ship for the fleet.

A gun turret was installed on the foredeck and her main duties includes carrying stores and torpedoes to the destroyers and other warships lying off the coast near Great Yarmouth.

The vessel’s bar, which had served refreshments to the thousands of holiday makers during peacetime, now became the officers’ ward room.

On 16th September 1939 the Brit was taken over by the Admiralty, repainted battleship grey, renamed HM Tender Watchful and became the base ship for the fleet.

A gun turret was installed on the foredeck and her main duties includes carrying stores and torpedoes to the destroyers and other warships lying off the coast near Great Yarmouth.

The vessel’s bar, which had served refreshments to the thousands of holiday makers during peacetime, now became the officers’ ward room.

Coronia’s Bar Area
Coronia’s bar area became the officers' ward room when requisitioned by the Admiralty and named Watchful
Brit , Yarmouth 1935
Brit at Yarmouth 1935

Her duties along the east coast were interrupted by the evacuation of the beleaguered Allied forces from the beaches at Dunkirk. The Watchful joined the makeshift armada of small vessels that crossed the Channel to rescue the troops stranded on the French coast. It is reported that the Watchful was responsible for rescuing some 900 troops during the evacuation and she managed to return unscathed from this remarkable adventure and returned to Great Yarmouth to resume her duties.

The owners, the Longfield brothers, had remained with the Watchful during the war years and when hostilities ceased in 1945 the Admiralty returned the vessel to them. Repainted and with her original name restored the Brit resumed her passenger carrying services in the summer of 1946— a return enthusiastically received by thousands of holidaymakers.

In 1949 the Brit was acquired by Thames Launches of Twickenham for use on the River Thames but after taking part in the Festival of Britain in 1950 it was realised that, built as an open sea vessel, she was not really suited to river operations. Arrangements were made to sell her on and in 1951 she was bought by D Dalton and G Round and returned to her traditional East Coast waters.

She arrived in Scarborough on 10 May 1951 and after refurbishment and modernisation work had been completed she was repainted white with a yellow funnel and renamed Yorkshire Lady— the fifth ‘Lady’ of their fleet.

She continued carrying passengers on trips along the Yorkshire coast for many years with regular services including sailings to Whitby and Bridlington.

In 1954 Messrs Dalton and Round renamed their business Scarborough Cruisers Ltd and Yorkshire Lady was joined by her old rival the Oulton Belle, which had previously operated a rival passenger service in Yarmouth. In 1961 a major refit was carried out by Eyemouth Boatbuilders Ltd at their boatyard in Eyemouth in Scotland.

The original Crossley engines were replaced and Gardner 6LX diesels were 4 installed which increased her speed to 12 knots and a new wheelhouse was also built.

P1&2

Advertising Poster (c) 1949
Poster From Around 1949

However, the early 1960’s were difficult times for the UK tourist industry and the advent of the cheap package foreign holiday led to a drastic reduction in the numbers of holidaymakers visiting east coast resorts. In 1968 the largest vessel operating from Scarborough was the Coronia operated by JW Johnston and which had been in service since 1935.

Because of falling passenger numbers this vessel was sold to Croson Ltd in Bournemouth and renamed Bournemouth Queen.

JW Johnston then chartered both the Oulton Belle (renamed Regal Lady) and the Yorkshire Lady, which was renamed the MVCoronia.

At the end of the season both vessels returned to Scarborough Cruisers, although Regal Lady was subsequently put up for sale.

However, two more sailing seasons were to pass before Regal Lady was finally sold, which left only the Coronia to handle passenger services.

She continued to work out of Scarborough all through the 1970s, still skippered by Donny Dalton, until she was bought by Don Robinson in 1980 who continued the service for another five years.

She emerged for the new 1980 season’ with a funnel painted red, white and black and the vessel had also been fitted with radar and flew the flag of the Royal Opera House as part of the Don Robinson organisation

In 1985 the Coronia was bought by Tommy Hanson, who moved the vessel to Gibraltar where she was used for pleasure cruises around the Rock for the next six years.

She left Scarborough on 30 April and with a crew of four set off on her 1500 nautical mile trip south.

The voyage took her along the east coast along the south coast to Portland Bill and the River Dart and then across the Channel bypassing Brest and on across the Bay of Biscay. Down the coasts of Portugal and Spain the Coronia arrived in Gibraltar on 19 May 1985 for the start of her new ‘sunshine cruises’

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The Coronia was based at the Waterpool Wharf close to the coach park and cruises around the bay would start at 11.30 each morning. Usually accompanied by dolphins, the Coronia spent the next five years carrying thousands of passengers on the waters around Gibraltar.

She also continued to make her mark, appearing on BBC TV’s Holiday program and also responding to the occasional May Day call.

The first of these was in June 1987 when she answered a distress call during an afternoon cruise and went to the rescue of the Asian Pearl – a 60ft Norwegian yacht that had been drifting towards the rocks at Europa Point,and bringing her to safety.
Her days in the sun were, however, numbered as redevelopment of the harbour area would mean the Coronia would eventually lose her berth and operating anywhere else would prove to be uneconomic.

Tom Machin first visited Scarborough as a young boy on annual holidays with his family and immediately fell in love with the small pleasure boats that scuttled around the harbour. “My two-week holiday was mostly spent around the harbour or on one of the boats although at that time my first choice was always the Regal Lady. We lived in Chesterfield and when I left school I went into engineering and building as a career and later I moved to Scarborough.

The town had changed by this time, the Coronia (or the Yorkshire Lady as she was named then) was the only pleasure boat left operating from the town’s harbour. With holidaymakers now preferring package tours to Benidorm, the Yorkshire Lady was sold in 1984 and moved to Gibraltar and it was a strange coincidence that I knew her new owner for we had both lived in the same village at one time.

“In 1986 someone showed me some photographs from their holiday at Great Yarmouth and one was of Regal Lady laid up and disused on the Norfolk Broads.

This had been my boyhood favourite of all the pleasure boats so I made contact with the owner and I arranged to buy her and brought her back to Scarborough in January 1987.

“The old Yorkshire Lady, now renamed Coronia, was still running tourist cruises around Gibraltar but proposals for a new ferry service in 1990 meant that Coronia would lose her berth.

The owner contemplated transferring her to operate in Bulgaria but with the help of a good bank manager I managed to arrange to buy her and she was brought back to Scarborough to join Regal Lady.

Coronia left Gibraltar on 15th May 1991 and despite some pretty treacherous weather returned to Scarborough on 5th June 1991. After a hurried ‘tidy up’ the Coronia made her first cruise from the harbour on 28th June 1991 and the following year longer cruises to Whitby Light and Flamborough head were added to the summer schedule.

In 1993 we applied for an extension to the operating limits to enable cruises to go the extra few miles into Whitby and Bridlington and the extended trips began in 1994 and up until this year’s problems, have run ever since.

A major refit was completed and the two veterans were taken to Dunstons Ship Repairs on the Humber in Hull
A major refit was completed and the two veterans were taken to Dunstons Ship Repairs on the Humber in Hull

At the end of last year a major refit was completed and the Coronia was taken to Dunstons Ship Repairs on the Humber in Hull. Here the MCA Inspector asked for the ship’s hull to be shot blasted but being built of Low Moor iron and riveted construction this was not the best way of cleaning up the hull. However, the inspector insisted and after the shot blasting some 15 pinholes were found in her hull.

Although the plates around the holes were sound we were forced to replace large areas of plating. When that work was completed we had to carry out shot blasting of the inside and again a few pinholes were found. After examination, the holes turned out to be latent pits in the metal that had happened when the plate was rolled back in 1935. By the time all the work had been completed a large section of the hull plating had been replaced, Coronia was ready to return to Scarborough in July ready for the new summer season.

Pin Holes Located by Shot Blasting
Pin Holes Located by Shot Blasting
New Plates
Although the plates around the holes were sound we were forced to replace large areas of plating
The Two Veterans
The two veterans continue to sail the coastal waters off Yorkshire carrying passengers on excursions

Today, the two veterans continue to sail the coastal waters off Yorkshire carrying passengers on excursions to Whitby and Bridlington. Hopefully they will both continue to provide this service for many years to come, despite bureaucratic interference.

Tom has already started a petition in an attempt to save the Whitby excursion and has a great deal of support from both residents and visitors alike.

Reproduced from “Old Glory” Magazine
October 2007
NB Not all  photographs are from the original article