On Easter Sunday, 4th April 2021, Paddle Steamer Firecrest had her first proper paddle down the water in over 42 years.
Firecrest was built in 1973 by the late David Garrick. He designed and built the entire boat and it’s equipment himself in an astonishing nine months. He ran her between 1973 and 1978 covering many hundreds of miles, including a sponsored cruise on the Thames in 1976. This was for the RNLI starting from Lechlade and finishing at Teddington lock, a distance of 123 miles taking 10 days with stops for fundraising and overnighting.
She was laid up after a paddle wheel struck something solid and twisted the crankshaft then sold after a couple of years sat outdoors to a collector from the south coast. She was then stored untouched, in a shed alongside a collection of steam cars for 40 years before being put up for sale with Preston Services of Kent. Purchased by the present owner in January 2020 and taking the year to complete the restoration.
The two-foot diameter paddle wheels are feathering but were seized, the crank needed to be repaired and new piston rings fitted. The boiler to be removed, stripped, cleaned and a start on the process of getting it approved and tested.
The hull is marine ply on mahogany frames and was in very good condition but the decks and roof sections all needed work as did the cabin and sponsons. The boat, whilst a freelance design, is based on the Clyde-built style.
The machinery is authentic to the full size counterparts with the boiler being a proper wet back scotch return tube type. The engine is a compound diagonal paddle engine that exhausts to a condenser. In total there are eight water pumps on board and amenities include electric lighting and hot and cold running water to the basin in the cabin. She is quite complex and fits a surprising amount into her diminutive 15 feet 6 inches (4.72m) length and 5 feet 10 inches (1.76m) beam.
It is hoped, if restrictions permit, that Firecrest might be able to meet up with some of her bigger sisters during 2022.
If anyone has any knowledge or photos of Firecrest I would be very pleased to hear from you here. We have some of her history but still have gaps to fill.
Words provided by David Hurley. Pictures by Stuart Lowther and William Hurley.