HISTORY AND BACKGROUND
Pilotage is one of the oldest professions, as old as sea travel, and it is one of the most important in maritime safety. The oldest recorded history dates back to about the 7th century BC. Experienced Coastal Pilots are engaged to board ships and navigate them through difficult local waters.
THPV Bembridge was designed by Sir William Reed in early 1938 for Trinity House London to be the first British Motor Cruising Pilot Cutter. She was built by the famous Smith’s Dock Company Co. Ltd. South Bank in the Middlesbrough area. Built as a cruising pilot cutter operating at the Nab and Needles stations she was commandeered for service in World War II and took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 and later, in 1944, was involved in the Normandy landings. At one point, during WWII she was sunk in shallow water and had a huge hole on her starboard side. In 1946 she was repaired and 3 big steel plates were replaced.
Stationed, periodically, off Dungeness from 1956/65. She was “as comfortable as you could best expect a pilot vessel to be. With a full complement of inward pilots aboard numbering 14, plus up to 20 outward pilots arriving during a friday night she became very crowded.”
The English Channel Pilots were much admired, a competent elite, with smart uniforms, they were able to enjoy the loung facilities on board Bembridge while waiting to be taken by one of her small boats to a ship in need of Piloting.
In 1970 Trinity House built a new shore station at Ryde. During the construction of the shore station, Bembridge was used for accommodation and communications and then sold out of service to the charity Dial House, to be used as a training ship for under-privileged youngsters in the care of local authorities. One of these youngsters later reported ” I was one of the under-privileged children when it became a sea training school and served on it for 2 and a half years. I was 16 which would have been 37 years ago and i had a fantastic life changing time with the bembridge. It was then sold to an oil company for surveying the north sea for pipe laying and i went with it for a while, working in the engine room training to be a marine engineer….”
She was subsequently sold to essex yacht club as their clubhouse.
She was then purchased for resale and brought to the Medway at Gillingham pier, where she was eventually sold to be used as a private members club.
Difficulties with the local council meant she had to be moved and was rescued by the Polish company who bought her, moved her to Sczcecin, Poland and set about restoring her to original. though by that time she had no engines the engine room area having being converted to a conference hall.
The vessel now serves as her own museum, containing many original and contemporary items which serve as a unique educational resource. A wonderful piece of British history, lovingly restored in Poland under the enthusiastic direction of Rafal Zahorsky.
Much more history and photos on