Rallying cry goes out for volunteers to crew rare naval steamboat in Portsmouth

Pinnace 199 in Boathouse 4, at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Photo: NMRN
Pinnace 199 in Boathouse 4, at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Photo: NMRN
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A CALL for volunteers has gone out to maintain and operate a rare naval steamboat.

Steam Pinnace 199 is the only fully-operational vessel of the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s fleet of historic boats.

Volunteers in traditional Edwardian naval rig at the historic dockyard. Photo: Martin Marks

Volunteers in traditional Edwardian naval rig at the historic dockyard. Photo: Martin Marks

Built about 110 years ago, 199 is now based in Boathouse 4 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Now, heritage chiefs at the dockyard have appealed for fresh hands to help tend to her and keep her in top condition.

Martin Marks, 199’s second coxswain, said being part of the boat’s crew had been a fantastic experience.

Urging people to attend a recruitment day later this week, he added: ‘You can gain a lot of satisfaction from running it.’

Pinnace 199 in harbour 1980

Pinnace 199 in harbour 1980

Although now known as Pinnace 199, the 50ft steamer is actually made from a mix of parts from her sister boats, Pinnace 224 and 209, and is the sole survivor of her type.

Built in 1909 she was later converted for use as an admiral’s barge and assigned to the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible in 1916.

Later, the vessel became the duty boat serving Netley Hospital on Southampton waters before completing her service in Portsmouth, acting as the captain of the port’s barge.

In 1948 she was bought by a private investor and steamed from Gosport to the Thames where she underwent various unsuccessful conversion attempts before being abandoned.

Decades of neglect ruined her hull and she was eventually purchased by the former Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth in 1979, where a lengthy period of restoration began, wrapping up in 2015.

People can now volunteer for two key roles: deck crew - whose responsibilities include controlling 199 and showing people round the vessel - and engineering, whose job is to keep the boat running.

A recruitment day is taking place on Saturday at the Princess Royal Gallery in the historic dockyard from 10am to 12.30pm.

An NMRN spokeswoman said training would be offered and added: ‘Volunteers can become a part of a seafaring community, learn new skills, give something back to the community and help preserve a piece of naval history.’

For more details, see: nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/exhibits-and-collections/steam-pinnace