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Skipper needed to help sail historic Norfolk fishing boat into new era

PUBLISHED: 09:34 24 February 2014

Steam boat Lydia Eva returns to Lowestoft for winter.

Steam boat Lydia Eva returns to Lowestoft for winter.

© Archant 2012

Her gleaming green hull and distinctive funnel and rigging have long stood as a symbol to the famous fishing past of Norfolk’s east coast.

The Lydia Eva, the last surviving steam drifter of the herring fishing fleet based in Great Yarmouth.
John Russell, Ship Manager at the wheel 

Picture: James Bass The Lydia Eva, the last surviving steam drifter of the herring fishing fleet based in Great Yarmouth. John Russell, Ship Manager at the wheel Picture: James Bass

But the Lydia Eva - the world’s last remaining steam drifter - could be at risk of a sedentary future, if an important pair of hands cannot be found to take the helm.

The volunteers who look after the 84-year-old fishing boat are in desperate need of a qualified skipper who can take her out to sea, on the popular trips she runs every year from her dock on Great Yarmouth’s quayside.

And they are particularly keen to recruit a master mariner as they hope to cast nets from her this year and bring hauls of herring back to the town.

She joined the Yarmouth’s herring fleet as a new contemporary who had been specifically designed to be more efficient than other boats, and landed her last catch in December 1938.

Checking of nets in Great Yarmouth Checking of nets in Great Yarmouth

After a 75 year gap, volunteers are now hoping to bring herring ashore once more from her decks - but first they have to find someone who can lead her into the North Sea.

John Russell, the ship’s manager, said: “We have got plenty of volunteers and crew but we need a qualified skipper in order to take her out, and there appears to be a shortage of those.

“We have to hunt around and it’s getting more and more difficult to find people.

“I have got one person down in London who’s interested but of course it’s getting him up here and paying his expenses. If I can find someone local that would be preferable.”

Lydia Eva history

■ The Lydia Eva was the last vessel to be built at the King’s Lynn yard. She took her first sea-going trial on July 22, 1930.

■ The herring industry had reached its peak in 1913, and was in decline at the time the she joined the small fleet owned by Harry Eastick. Declining herring stocks meant she had a relatively short working life and she landed her last catch in December 1938. Two months later she was sold.

■ In 1942 she was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport and became engaged in salvage work. In 1966 she transferred to the Marine Services Division of the Royal Navy, where she was fitted with new equipment but, after three years’ service, was laid up for sale.

■ As the last remaining vessel of her kind, the Maritime Trust bought her in 1971, and following an overhaul she returned to Great Yarmouth.

■ By 1973 she was a drifter again and spent the next five years welcoming visitors on board at her South Quay berth.

■ In 1978 she sailed to London to become part of the Maritime Trust exhibition at St Katherine’s Dock next to Tower Bridge. Financial difficulties meant the exhibition closed in 1986, and she was laid up at the West India Dock.

■ In 1989, enthusiasts in Norfolk and Suffolk, with support from county and local councils, formed the Lydia Eva Charitable Trust with the aim of buying her and returning her to her home port.

■ She was towed back into Yarmouth on June 30, 1990. But when she was dry docked in Lowestoft in early 2000 it was found that parts of the hull just below the waterline had rusted away so badly it was not safe to put her on display.

■ Repairs were needed, which cost about £750,000, and an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was prepared. Around 60pc of the hull’s steel plates would need to be replaced before she could be relaunched in summer 2007.

The charitable trust that looks after the boat is keen to run fishing trips on the Eva, as nets have not been cast from her since her restoration.

“We have still got one smokehouse left in Yarmouth and I popped down to see them. The chap was quite willing, if we caught any herring, to smoke them and sell them as caught by the Lydia Eva,” Mr Russell said.

“It would be great if we could.”

The Lydia Eva lowers her gangplank to visitors from April - October and welcomes scores of people aboard. And on trips out to sea visitors get the chance to experience all aspects of life on board, from taking the wheel to stoking her coal fire.

Mr Russell said four trips for the 2014 season had already been booked, but if a skipper could not be found they would have to be cancelled.

He said: “Skippers who have taken charge in the past have been delighted to have had the opportunity to sail a slice of Norfolk’s maritime heritage.

“It’s the only surviving example of a steam herring drifter so it’s an important boat.”

■ The Eva needs a skipper with a minimum qualification of either RYA Yachtmaster Offshore or MCA Master 200. Anyone with these qualifications and interested in taking the helm should contact Mr Russell on 01493 780636 or by emailing

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