In the Beginning
The White Star liner Olympic, sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic. Cunard’s famous flagship RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. The Mauritania, SS United States, Bremen, France, the SS Nieuw Amsterdam. SS Statendam or the French Line’s flagship Normandie; each are just a few of the liners with which the Calshot regularly served and assisted in both peacetime and at war.
This is a class of vessel, uniquely associated with the great ocean liners of the past.
Built by John I Thornycroft & Co of Southampton, their latest build is a commission for The Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited. Holding the record for the longest company name in the United Kingdom, today it’s more commonly recognised as Red Funnel.
On Monday 4th November 1929 their latest vessel is ready to be launched. She is to be christened by Mrs Hilda White, formally naming the tender ‘Calshot’. Once entirely constructed, it wouldn’t be until 1930 she undertakes sea trials.
In doing so, she would gain a certificate to transport 566 passengers at a time, split between her first class and second class saloons, as well as on the promenade decks.
Once constructed, a feature of Calshot was her open Starboard and Port decks. However, this often exposed the vessel to the elements, resulting in increased passenger discomfort during the less favourable Solent weather.
In the first-class forward lounges, passengers benefited from a bar, stewardess service. Fixed seating consisted of upholstered covered, padded seating, spanning around the edge of the forward room. A normality today, but of superior comfort then when compared to second class accommodation.
In Second Class, accommodation was towards the rear of the main deck. For steerage and emigrant passengers, a companion ladder led down into the lounge from the deck above, by comparison, this area had wooden slatted seating only.
However, heating throughout the vessel was by steam radiators.
Red Funnels specified role for Calshot was not just to manoeuvre the grand ocean liners of Southampton, but to also take passenger, their baggage, mail, provision and ship stores to and from vessels lying at anchor outside the docks, usually at Cowes Roads.
She was as much a workhorse for the people of Southampton, as she was a smaller Ocean Liner to convey the wealthy and famous. In this she did, from transporting film stars and politicians, world-famous celebrities and leaders of nations – all while delivering the Sunday post.
On 27th May 1936, the RMS Queen Mary was to depart Southampton on her Maiden Voyage. Huge crowds wished her bon voyage, on the most memorable day. Calshot was in attendance to support the RMS Queen Mary, a role she carried out many times for various grand liners over her career.
World War II
At the end of the War, HMS Calshot was de-requisitioned, (and extensively reconditioned by her builders) on September 1st 1945. She returned to the Red Funnel fleet in June 1946 in peacetime colours, to continue her towage and tendering duties.
At the stern of the vessel, the original second class accommodation was removed, with additional crew cabins constructed. For Calshot, this signalled the demise of class division onboard ships. It would be accurate to state that tugs are always on standby duty, ready to set off and assist any vessel in need should the emergency arise.
On August 7th 1950, the 2,066-ton’s s.s. Sheaf Arrow was in trouble off Portland Bill. Complications with the vessels pump were decisive, and Calshot contacted the vessel, offering to tow the ship to Weymouth Bay for repairs.
In early December of 1950, the tanker Esso Manchester, on passage from Fawley to Saltend, developed boiler trouble. Calshot rendered assistance, along with the Paladin.
December 24th 1956 the Panamanian vessel ‘Valencia’ was disabled off Portland. Calshot and Paladin sailed that afternoon. ‘Valencia’ was contacted and towed throughout a very rough night towards Southampton. The job was transferred to a Belgian tug on Christmas Day, and the Red Funnel tugs returned to Southampton.
Complimenting their long career together, one of Calshot’s last Red Funnel duties was assisting the RMS Queen Mary into the King George V Graving Dock for overhaul.
Red Funnels’ time with Calshot was drawing to a close. She would sell to an Irish subsidiary of Holland America Line, Port & Liner Services Limited, with a decision to rename her the ‘Galway Bay’.
As a result of the transfer, the vessel was to sail to Holland for an extensive refurbishment and modernisation. In the process, her triple-expansion steam engines were to be replaced, with twin diesel engines. Built by Bolnes of Krimpen, it was a conversion that also brought about the shortening of Calshot’s funnel.Finally, with a new type of motive power and renewed external appearance, it was time for a change of livery to reflect the Holland American Line ownership.Based in Galway, Ireland, the Galway Bay (Calshot) would be used to ferry passenger from the liners in the Bay to the pier at the harbour.
However, this activity was short-lived, and the vessel was used for regular sailings to the Aran Islands of Inishmore, Inishmann and Inisheer. Stretching across the entrance of the Bay, the islands could regularly make use of at least 400 passengers from Galway.
It wasn’t until 1971 that Galway Ferries Limited purchased the vessel.
For the next sixteen Summer seasons, she would undertake a regular passenger service from Galway to Kilrona, taking thousands of tourists to their leisure time.
Back in Southampton, there were plans afoot to develop a Maritime Museum in Ocean Village. Southampton City Council decided in 1986 to purchase the Galway Bay (Calshot), as a tribute to the people of Southampton who built and crewed the tender tug.In October 1986, displaying the Irish tricolour flag at her stern, the Galway Bay arrived back at Town Quay in Southampton.
Once returned, essential maintenance work was carried out below the waterline. It was decided to shot blast, and repaint the hull, before updating her livery to reflect the black and cream colours of Red Funnel.Later, at a renaming ceremony on October 25th 1990, the ‘Galway Bay’ name is forfeited, giving way to her original title of ‘Calshot’. In attendance is the Mayor of Southampton and Councillor Mrs Mary Key.Sadly, due to not being able to raise sufficient finance, the proposed Maritime Museum could not be built at Ocean Village, and the project subsequently stalled.
Meanwhile, in 1990 it was the 150th Anniversary of Cunard. It marked the commencement of regular passenger travel across the Atlantic, from 1840 till 1990. Due to the Calshot’s life long tie-up with the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth, both in times of peace and times of war; it was determined appropriate that she became involved with the celebrations.On July 29th 1991 the Calshot was opened to the public at a permanent berth on Town Quay, Southampton.
The Mayor of Southampton and Admiral of the Port, Councillor Brian Welch, invited Alistair Whyte, Managing Director of Red Funnel Group, to present Calshot to the public. Among the guests in attendance, there were more than thirty former employees of Red Funnel, who had each worked on Calshot throughout her career.
Four years on, and in 1995 the Calshot was hauled up the slipway at Husbands Shipyard, for her regular hull and general maintenance work.
Fortunately, the Calshot remained moored alongside the Southampton City Council’s wharf, with the local authority endeavouring to maintain the vessel, with the additional aid of companies and volunteers.
Yet, after a time, the difficult decision was made to offer the vessel to other interested parties. It was at this stage that Terry Yarwood and Jim Delderfield became involved with the ship, and made a decision to form ‘The Tug Tender Calshot Trust’, to restore the vessel.