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History of THPV Bembridge by Andrew Adams and others

By Andrew Adams & some details compiled by Zahus from various sources, especially from a study of Trinity House documents made by Graham Bowen from Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar.

Our THPV Bembridge was not a first vessel with such a name in a big fleet of Trinity House.

First Bembridge was built in 1924 as auxiliary (sail and motor) pilot vessel with License No.4.

Crew of a first Bembridge in 1924

In 1938 she was transfered to Harwich and re-named for Woodbridge. She was used as a tender to the Sunk pilot cutter station from 1938 until 1941 when she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy.

Woodbridge ex Bembridge at Cowes c1946 having been returned from the Royal Navy

She was returned in 1946 and served at Harwich as a tender with Vigia until 1952 when she was sold to the Swansea Pilots.

Swansea Pilots Woodbridge ex Bembridge c1952

When a first Bembridge was in service in Trinity House in 1937 the Pilotage Committee was thinking about a new vessel, much bigger, modern and better following the new requirements of Isle of Wight District.

On 27th July 1937 Pilotage Committee decided finally to build a new Pilot Cutter for the Isle of Wight District (IOWD) to replace the first "Bembridge". The Surveyor of Shipping was instructed to prepare plans for a new Pilot Cutter For the IOWD

An inquiry sent by Smiths Dock Co. Ltd. to main supplier of electric circuits, lights and heating - so Messrs.  21.10.1937 - here there is only a shipyard number

On 10th August 1937 Trinity House Pilotage Committee decided that a name be given to the New IOWD Pilot Cutter will be "Niton"

Here once more correspondence with the same supplier - now we can see her first name so M.V. Niton

The name "Niton" was coming from a lighthouse and headland on the Southern edge of the Isle of Wight.

Finally THPV Bembridge was designed by Sir William Reed in early 1937 for Trinity House London as a first in the history of British pilotage motor cruising pilot cutter. She was built by famous Smith's Dock Company Co. Ltd. South Bank in Middlesbrough area. Why Trinity House decided to place that order to Smith's Dock and their designer Sir William Reed?

The Whale Catcher by Sir William Reed - model 1934

That time Smith's Dock Co. Ltd. was building many Whale Catchers - a small brave vessels resistant for the worst kind of sea conditions. They were designed by Sir Reed too. He loves to design a small ships - it was his specialty. They were for sure their export "hit" There are many of them on a bellow attached picture. Such a tested and constantly developed hull looked perfectly to use for a new pilot cutter.

Smith's Dock South Bank 1929

Just after beauty Bembridge Sir Reed designed a Flower Class Corvette - a small escort vessel for Atlantic Convoys supplying UK with supplyies from USA and Canada during WWII. It is almost proven now that whole Bembridge project was secretly supervised  by British Navy. Trinity House London was well realted to them and it was the best method to make a secret tests with a new type of hull of the new warship prepared to fight with Kriegsmarine's U-boots. A civil pilot vessel was perfect camouflage for such a top secret project. So she is definitively an ancestor of the famous Flower Class Corvettes - the first type of Corvettes ever built. 

HMS Gladiolus,

HMS Gladiolus (K34) was a first Flower class corvette of the Royal Navy. She was laid down on 19 October 1939, launched on 24 January 1940, and commissioned on 6 April 1940. Gladiolus was active in the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II and spent most of her service career on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic. She was lost in action on 16 October 1941.

She was built under a contract No 504 signed on 7.12.1937, her keel was laid on 10.03.1938. Her yard number was 1040. She was typed as Cruising Pilot Cutter, a fine looking vessel of 412.61 tonnes, length 142.3 ft. beam 27 1 ft. made for Trinity House Pilotage Service. She was launched on 14.07.1938. Her official sea trials was on 22.09.1938 and finally she was commissioned by Trinity House London on 29.09.2938 when a vessel was registered under official Lloyd Register No. 166583.

Full specification No. 1040 MV Bembridge made by Smiths Dock Co. Ltd

Several days later she was officially commissioned at Cowes on 6th October 1938 with a crew of six officers and thirteen men, and sleeping accommodation for twenty four pilots.

THPV Bembridge on slipway on July 1938

Bembridge prior to launch on July 1938

Built as a cruising pilot cutter for Isle of Wight/Southampton District operating at the Nab and the Needles station, BEMBRIDGE was the first Trinity House ‘cruising’ pilot cutter fitted with an oil engine made by British Auxiliaries Ltd in Glasgow. Although the pilot tender VIGIA of 1936 was the first diesel engine vessel.

THPV Bembridge during her launching on 14.07.1938

As launched the vessel was painted in gray primer. This was a common feature prior to WWII, for both ships and locomotives; the purpose being to obtain a good photographic negative although interestingly the BROOK and GURNARD built for the Isle of Wight District in 1932 were launched painted black. After photographs were taken the ship’s hull was painted black with a 3” white line and the license number and the legend PILOTS in white.

THPV Bembridge during her first sea trial on 22.09.1938 - her view almost from a bow

THPV Bembridge during her first sea trial - view from a port side

Prior to WWII the deck houses of all Trinity House vessels were painted ‘stone colour’ and this can be seen in the shipyard trial photographs. Earlier vessels also had the funnel painted ‘stone colour’ but BEMBRIDGE was the first to appear with the funnel painted in the buff/cream of later vessels.

THPV Bembridge served in the Isle of Wight District, based at Cowes from 1938 to 1947.

Bembridge off Cowes WWII

At some time after June 1940, all of the Trinity House pilot cutters were painted Admiralty grey as can be seen in the photograph of BEMBRIDGE taken when she was anchored off Cowes in 1942.

In 1941 she was hit aft by a bomb during a German air raid but fortunately it did not explode and passed through without causing any vital damage.

In 1940 (26.05 - 03.06) she took part in British evacuation of Dunkirk through the English Channel codenamed Operation Dynamo.

In 1942 On the night of the 4/5th May through the night hundreds of German bombers directed a hail of bombs onto the burning town. Thankfully one warship polish destroyer ORP Blyskawica (The Lighting) stood at the center of the spirited defense, and saved the town along with the sheer courage of the rest of the defense forces. She came to Cowes for refitting of her guns and other equipment. What was interesting in a history of our Bembridge - she was supplied by pilot on in and out from a deck of THPV Bembridge.

In June 1942 during a heavy bombing of Southampton by Luftwaffe one Pilot Jack Saunders lost his whole family - bombs destroyed his family home completely - nobody survived. He came back to a deck of Bembridge, drank a bit and than hang up himself under a deck.This fact was hidden by many years. According some witnesses he is still on board. He was alway active if somebody wanted to hurt a vessel. In Cosag Marine Services time (described later) his cabin was called a "haunted cabin" and his presence was notified twice in 1972 (when Cosag removed big part of stern superstructure to make a bigger aft deck) and in 2004 when Medway Council ordered to the owners to sent her to breakers. His name was written by exorcist Kelly after a "contact" in Medway in 2004 and later on confirmed by some friends in Southampton searching old records.

In June 1944 she took part in the Normandy landings. It were the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy, also known as Operation Neptune and Operation Overlord, during World War II. The landings commenced on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (D-Day), beginning at 6:30 AM British Double Summer Time (UTC+2). In planning, D-Day was the term used for the day of actual landing, which was dependent on final approval.

In 1946/47 the ship was taken in hand to increase her accommodation for pilots from six to eighteen. On completion of this work she was based at Dover and was employed as a cruising cutter at both the Dungeness and Sunk pilot stations in the London District. The colour scheme for the period after WWII was black hull, white upper-works and buff funnel, masts and ventilators etc. Boats were painted black. Lifeboats were fitted with white canvas covers which would turn ‘grayish’ after time. Motor boarding boats originally had canvas or steel covers (as illustrated) which were painted the same buff/yellow colour as the funnel.

On 7th November 1946 the Master of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge Mr G.R. Jolliffe informed Superintendent of East Cowes that his vessel was grounded off Seaview Pier. She was aground for five hours.

On 31st January 1947 Trinity House Pilotage Committee ordered to Superintendent of East Cowes that Pilot Vessels of Isle of Wight should submit for renewal of the Licences. It concerns of the Pilot Vessels Bembridge, Brook, Gurnard, and Viola. Official license renewal letters were sent on 3rd February 1947.

THPV Bembridge 1955

We know that on 16th December 1954 she was dry docked and overhauled by London Graving Docks Company Ltd. Invoice was issued for amount of £3262,40 and that it was paid on 17th December 1954

On 11th January 1955 Superintendent of Pilots Dover asked for Pilot Vessels London and Isle of Wight for renewal the licences of the Pilot Vessels; Penda, Brook, Gurnard, Pioneer, Bembridge, Pelourus, Penlee, etc... Approval letters were sent on 15th January 1955

On 10th January 1955 Superintendent of Pilots Dover stated that Masters of the Pilot Vessels Pelorus, Bembridge and Kilna had a trial use of paint rollers on board their vessels, together with the Superintendents observations. As a result of that use of paint rollers was approved. 

On 4th March 1955 Superintendent of Pilots Harwich reporting that when the Channel Pilot C.E.N. Fenny was about to disembark from the MV Regesborg to the Sunk Pilot Cutter Bembridge on 3rd March 1955, he observed a man floating in the water and on recovery by the motor boat crew, was found to be dead and after consultation with the Harwich Police, the body was brought ashore by the PV Nigia later the same day and handed over to the Police. The body was believed to be that of a Belgian fisherman from a fishing vessel recently lost on the Long Sand

On 18th March 1955 Marconi International Marine Communications Co. Ltd. quoted GBP 103,00 per annum for rental and maintenance after modifying the Seamen Radio Transmission sets on board the Pilot Vessels: Kilna, Penlee, Pelorous and Bembridge

On 5th January 1956 Trinity House Pilotage Committee decided to supply and fit radar to the Pilot Vessels: Penlee, Pelarous, Bembridge, Kilna and Leader. It was recommended to the Deputy Masters and Wardens that above Pilot Vessels will be fitted with Decca 212 Radar at an estimate cost of GBP 7,000.

On 16th January 1956 London Dry Dock Co. Ltd. made a dry docking and overhaul of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge. The account of GBP 2943,11 was certified by the Engineering Superintendent and paid on 21st January 1956.

On 8th February 1956 there was a report from the Acting Master of Pilot Vessel Bembridge concerning the breakdown of Motor Boats 31 and 35 at the Sunk station. Report was submitted by Superintendent of Pilots Dover from the Chief Engineer of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge stating reasons for the failure of engines in motor boats 31 and 35 - what was important in that story that both Pilot Boarding Boats were off service - so whole vessel could not act as a Pilot Cutter at all.

THPV Bembridge 01.07.1959

During the 1960’s Trinity House came under pressure to reduce the high operating costs of the pilot service; the principal of which was the cruising pilot cutter. The successful introduction of an all launch service at the Needles in 1960 paved the way for further launch services and in 1967 Bembridge was anchored off Folkestone as a ‘mother ship’ and communications station whilst the shore pilot station was being constructed in Folkestone Harbour.

THPV Bembridge Christmas Day 1964

On 3rd August 1967 Superintendent of Pilots in Dover reported his inspection of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge off Folkestone.

On 6th December 1967 London Dry Dock Co. Ltd. made a dry docking and overhaul of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge. The account of GBP 7471,59 was certified by the Engineering Superintendent.

In 1968 the Pilot Authority found that cruising cutters could be replaced by the more economical shore based fast motor launches and Bembridge was taken out of service.

On 16th May 1968 Superintendent of East Cowes made his inspection of Pilot Vessel 'Bembridge' on the Nab station.

On 27th May 1968 Superintendent of Pilots in Dover explained in his report all reasons for de-storing the Pilot Vessel Bembridge prior to transfer to the IOWD. As a result a letter and list of stores was sent to East Cowes

On 22nd August 1968 the outward sea Pilot R.J.H... sent a letter complaining of bad seamanship on part of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge when piloting the SS Walesman in the vicinity of Nab End Buoy on 22nd August 1968

On 10th Septeber 1968 it was reported that an inspection of the port and starboard lifeboats of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge were found to be in need of repair at a cost of £315.00 and suggesting that they are replaced by life rafts. Than the substitution of lifeboats with life rafts was approved.

On 29th November 1968 London Dry Dock Co. Ltd. made a dry docking and overhaul of the Pilot Vessel Bembridge. The account of GBP 1846,12 was certified by the TH Engineering Superintendent.

On 30th December 1968 Trinity House Pilotage Committee decided to renew of licenses for the Pilot Vessels Link, Leader, Landward, Versatile, Viga, Bembridge and Brook.

On 7th February 1969 Trinity House Pilotage Committee was asked to decide about a future of several vessel's bells. Superintendent of Pilots in Harwich was inquiring whether approval could be given for the placing of the ship's bell from Pilot Vessels Bembridge, Pelorus, Penlee, or Penda in the Harwich Pilot Office when these ships are disposed of as memorial to an important phase of the pilotage service. His inquiry was approved in principle.

When original Bembridge's bell was taken to Harwich Pilot Office she received another bell - old civil defense bell. Just to make it more "original" it was marked by "BEMBRIDGE 1939". Nobody knows if it was a mistake or clever activity to distinguish a false bell from the original. Anyway should be 1938 of course.   

She performed the role as a ‘mother ship’ and communications station too off Ryde Pier in 1970 when a further ‘all launch’ service was introduced for the Isle of Wight District replacing the cruising cutter at the Nab station.

At the beginning of 1971 she was bought by the Principals of Arundel Priory with the intention of operating her as a training ship for under-privileged children in the care of local authorities.

Christmas & New Year 1972 Card used by Arundel Priory in December 1971

The youngsters were trained in general seamanship etc to achieve the standards required for entry into the Royal and Merchant navies, and the fishing fleet.

THPV Bembridge 23.05.1971 - as you see there is no "PILOTS" and "No 1" on board !


1971 - Just a break on the deck - boys are sitting near the galley's sky light.


1971 - Boys during their transfer to the land - some of them are in School's uniforms.

That time a Commander of the vessel was an active Royal Navy Reserve Lieutenant Commander and her owners had a connection to the UK government. In the early 1970's she was used by the British government, Ministry of Defense and Royal Navy on 'secret missions' around UK waters. In 1971 MV Bembridge entered a dockyard, most probably in Southampton and whole her crew were dropped ashore in Portsmouth. When the ship was being fitted out the crew was not allowed to stay on board. That time a Ministry of Defense placed a semi-permanent structure on her aft main deck.Whole crew came back when she returned to her berth just past Portsmouth Harbour in what was called Gosport Creek That was a main reason why the aft upper deck were removed that time and what would clear up certain 'signs of structures' on the main aft deck.

More or less at the same time she got a large dent on the starboard side at main deck level just aft of the bridge, that was caused by a Royal Naval frigate that rammed her whilst the crew was on a training exercise in the English Channel.

In June 1972 she was bought by Cosag Marine Services and was fitted out as a survey ship for North Sea exploration mainly involved in the search for oil. That time she lost her aft part of superstructure and main deck. Her stern deck was enlarged and she received a long big boom She took part in the initial surveys of the Forties Oilfields and acted as navigational control vessel during the laying of the oil pipe line from the Ekofisk oilfield to Teeside. With more specialized vessels coming into service it was decided to put her on the market at Ł30,000.

MV Bembridge 1976 during her service in Cosag Marine Services

A party from the Club visited Yarmouth to inspect her. She was in sea-going condition,- built of steel, her plates were of better than average thickness but the layout was not ideal. She had no large saloon suitable for a yacht club and would require extensive alterations. The price was higher than the club could afford.


MV Bembridge for sale at Yarmouth in 1976.
Back row i to r: Brian Baker, Stuart Readman, Brian Frost, Ron Smith
Front row l to r: Joanna and Mathew Smith

Then a fire gutted the engine room and her value dropped dramatically.

Engine room after a fire in 1976

Stuart Readman designed a layout and prepared plans for her conversion, an offer was made and her purchase for the sum of Ł21,500 was approved by an Extraordinary Meeting held on 7th May 1976.Then began a saga unique in the annals of the club Hitherto, most of the work in the conversion of the club's ships had been carried out by contractors; now the operation was done largely by club members with specialized employed labour.

At Yarmouth the funnel was removed and the engines, generators, windlasses, and other gear lifted out and sold. Keith Earl joined the ship as caretaker and crew and on June 28th she was towed south by Chris Thompson's tug Eugenio and anchored off Chalkwell. There she was lightened of water ballast and prepared for the tricky task of bringing her through the shallow tidal waters to the vicinity of her future berth. A large area of moored craft with their buoys had to be cleared to allow the passage of large screw vessels, and 45 boats were moved with the co-operation of their owners and the help of the moorings officer, Tom Birch.The first planned attempt by the two tugs Eugenio and Liety F had to be abandoned owing to strong winds. Undiscouraged, a working party made a second attempt at 0200 hrs. next morning but the tide did not make the required height. That afternoon, Friday 2nd July she was successfully moored on Lady Savile s port quarter.

MV Lady Sevile with the "new" ship MV Bembridge alongside 1976

That summer was a critical one for the club. The two ships were vulnerable, and it was important that the conversion work, the removal of the old ship and the berthing of the new ship should be completed before the autumn. Luck came in the form of the finest, driest, and most settled summer for many years. Now the work began in earnest and continued until September, each day throughout the summer, members young and old, too numerous to mention by name, worked to complete the task. Reg and Len Spooner were employed for the carpentry and joinery, Les Byford for the cutting and welding. Ray Hopkins (Tich) donated many hours of careful welding work to the club.

Tons of steel plating were removed from the engine room casing and man-handled ashore; steel structures designed by Dennis Knight were welded into place. An opening was formed in the bow for the doors, and a platform constructed for the entrance. The engine room at main deck level was floored over and the boat deck extended. Windows and doors, the bar and the saloon floor were all fashioned of teak salvaged from the decking of Lady Savile. Fifty one brass scuttles, (port holes),companion ways, handrails, plate glass, deck tiles and a host of useful items were laboriously removed and cleaned by members, including the ladies.The galley ranges and other cooking equipment were inevitably in a very dirty state, and these were cleaned by a ladies' working party for re installation in Guy Bragard's new galley, under his supervision.The engine room, after the fire, was in an appalling state, masses of sand and water, used to quell the fire, was mixed with diesel oil; blackened paint had peeled from the deckhead and bulkheads. It all had to be cleaned. Ron Smith's working party of cadets on Wednesday evenings shifted an estimated 5 tons of sand and 10 tons of pig iron ballast, the ingots weighing between 30 and 100 Ibs each.Lighting, power, heating, water and gas installations designed by Ron Smith, all had to be made,- not to mention sanitary fittings and the sewage disposal plant, and the health and fire regulations had to be satisfied. Zinc anodes were bolted to the hull, to protect the steel from electrolytic corrosion.During this time full club activities were maintained, racing took place, but entries were down, as several members gave up their racing to work on the ship. The Bar service was maintained throughout, and Hon Treasurer 'Bonny7 Bonnett worked closely with the brewers Greene King in the internal layout of the new bar. Greene King also helped with a loan.By September the most critical work of conversion was complete and much of the useful material had been removed from the old ship. On Saturday 25th September crowds collected on the cinder path and cliffs to watch as the hulk of the old Lady Savile.w&s towed away on a big spring tide to the breakers' yard at Queenborough; a sad moment for all those who had enjoyed the use of the old ship for nearly thirty years. Then Bembridge was hauled and nudged into her berth and made secure.Access was difficult for a time, members having to use a dinghy when the tide was in, and a ladder when it was out. An extension was built to the existing jetty and a gangway purchased from the Royal Albert Dock was floated down from Bell Wharf and hoisted into position. Meanwhile, the galley and the bar had been substantially completed so that a full service could be provided to members.Guy Bragard began his club catering under the newly inaugurated 'Friends of Bembridge' Committee at this time and due to his enthusiasm and leadership and sheer hard work the catering functions, dinners, suppers, lunches etc have been an outstanding success ever since.During the clear out of the hold of the Lady Savile, her ship's plate was discovered hidden under a companionway, but the most valuable find was the copy of vLawson's History of the America's Cup7, dirty, delapidated and fragmented. The cover, the illustrations and the printed pages were painstakingly cleaned and sorted by Roma Brooks, daughter of Charles Stokes, for rebinding by C. W Poole of Chelmsford. This historic document is now in the care of Charles Stokes, for issue to members who wish to read it in the security of their homes.

MV Bembridge in Leigh on Sea as a base for Essex Yacht Club about 1990

In 2004 she was replaced by GRP mine-hunter HMS Wilton and taken to the River Medway where it was planned to turn her into a floating restaurant.

MV Bembridge et Strood 2004

Ex-pilot vessel Bembridge at Strood.
Photo: © Ian Boyle, 26th March 2005

On the end of January 2009 she was sold to Magemar Polska and in February 2009 towed to Szczecin, Poland. First on 11.02.2009 she was towed from Gillingham to Greenhithe near Elisabeth II Bridge near London. On 15.02.2009 she was taken on the tow by MT Argus


Day and night she was towed via North Sea, Kiel Canal and Baltic Sea and on 19.02.2009 she arrived safety to Swinoujsciue near Szczecin. Next day on 20.02.2009 she arrived via ice fields to Szczecin






In March 2009 we started her restoration. It was a night mare for all of us and for her. Every weak plate of steel was replaced, every hole repaired, every missing element rebuilt. She received artificial rivets to mask a new steel, a new funnel, new rear mast but first of all her removed in 1972 aft upper deck was rebuilt according original planes from 1938


On 31.03.2010 - a great moment - THPV Bembridge is leaving her shipyard and is towed to Egyptian Quay for her final berthing place but first of all to complete her restoration

Today her restoration is almost completed. Still we have many to do but ...

Our dream become a reality:

Restoration progress 25.06.2010

Restoration progress 25.06.2010

Restoration progress 25.06.2010

She was bought by us just before a final decision of her demolition in the nearest scrub yard in UK. Previous owners were trying to sell her by 2,5 years. They were almost convinced ... but... we came in the last moment. So one more old vessel was rescued.

Her history is still during our researching and discovering ... what more we will know? Nobody knows ... who can know everybody about a Lady, especially about such Old Lady like Bembridge is.

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