The beautiful 1885 steam yacht “Amazon” is currently visiting Ramsgate Royal Harbour as the guest of the Maritime Museum.
“Amazon”, once the property of Arthur Lowe of Dad’s Army fame used to be a regular visitor to Ramsgate in the 1970’s, when many riotous parties were held onboard with other members of the cast, including local resident John Le Mesurier.
On Sunday (17th June) the Museum played host to a visitation from a large group of Kent mayors, all of whom spent an entertaining morning looking at the fascinating displays of maritime history and the famous ocean-going steam tug which is on display in Smeaton’s drydock.
This distinctively British screw schooner was built at Southampton in 1885 from designs by the renowned Dixon Kemp. Kemp intended her to be 'fast and a good seaboat' and her successful sea trials were recorded in his definitive Yacht Architecture (First Edition, 1885).
Carvel planked in teak and pitch pine on oak frames, with alternate wrought iron strap floor reinforcement, bronze fastenings, lead keel and copper sheathing, Amazon's survival reflects the high quality insisted upon at build - her hull is still largely original. She has not had a ‘restoration’, just necessary repairs. She is the real thing.
Her builder and first owner, Tankerville Chamberlayne, Esq., a gentleman of local standing, personally superintended her construction by his own 'Arrow Yard' at Northam on the River Itchen. Amazon's original engine and boiler were supplied by the adjacent works of Day, Summers and Company.
Amazon was used for summer cruising, to attend sailing regattas along the south coast of England, and to visit France. Having been prepared appropriately for the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Royal Fleet Review in 1897, she was shortly after sold to a prominent French yachtsman and was based at St. Malo as Armoricain until 1900, when she returned to British ownership.
Already too old (and with a coal-fired compound engine no doubt thought to be rather too old-fashioned) for the First World War, she remained in south coast ports as a private yacht. A new owner took her to London and after 52 years of service her original engine and boiler were removed on her conversion to diesel in 1937.
During the Second World War she became an unpowered houseboat lying in a west London Yacht Basin. Encouraged by his surveyor's positive report, the actor Arthur Lowe, who bought her as a houseboat in 1968, fitted her out for sea again. At first his private yacht, she pursued a successful charter business in family ownership after his death in 1982, before migrating to the north of Scotland in 1990. She was sold to the current owners at the end of 1996.
Amazon is today used as a family yacht, from 1997 to 2009 based at Malta in the Mediterranean.
In February 2009, at 124 years of age, Amazon departed Malta, motor sailing via Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, Barbados, St Vincent & the Grenadines, St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda and Bermuda to New England.
In 2011, at 126 years of age, Amazon re-crossed the North Atlantic Ocean, taking the rougher ‘northern route’ from St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada to Bantry Bay in Ireland in August.
On 4 June 2012, Amazon was the only vessel attending the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames that had also been present at Spithead on 26 June 1897 to witness the Royal Fleet Review for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – a truly unique ‘double’!
Amazon’s dimensions are:
- 83 ft waterline, 102 ft hull, 114 ft over spar (c.25m / 30m / 34m)
- Beam - 15 ft 6 ins (c.4.6m)
- Draught - maximum 8 ft 3 ins (aft) (c.2.5m)