Back from the brink – the effort to save the tug France Hayhurst after its second sinking
6 March 2023
A Liverpool-based historic tug is in urgent need of help if it is to remain as a living link between past and present. Jon Parkin finds out more
With a wheelhouse from a trawler and a spiral staircase from a bus, it's fair to say the historic tug France Hayhurst has been through a few changes in its 85-year existence. It even sank in the river Ouse and was restored to operations by current owner Cathy Roberts – but can this resilient little vessel get through its latest trials?
Go to the tug's home at the Canning Dock in Liverpool and all you can see above the waterline is the red ensign and union jack. Yes, the France Hayhurst has sunk again, this time due to water ingress, followed by the failure of a water pump. It's a sorry sight, with even the LED Christmas lights still draped around the outside. A cordon has been placed around the edge of the dock for the public's safety.
However, nobody is giving up on this doughty vessel. The group in charge of looking after and maintaining the Hayhurst is the self-dubbed 'Last of the Summer Wine: Marine Division' or more formally the Marine Radio Museum Society (MRMS). They are mostly made up of retired radio officers, including Nautilus Professional & Technical Forum chair Clive Evans, Bill Cross, Bob Bunker, Mike Carter, Alan Waddington and 'Southport Dennis'.
Members of the MRMS have worked on many historic vessels, from the Planet lightship to the HMS Bronington. They also have a collection of historic radio equipment, which once had a long-term home in a museum at Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton, but then had to be split between locations when the museum was no longer financially viable. One of these locations was the France Hayhurst. Often, when working on the tug, the MRMS will welcome members of the public onboard. 'Everybody is so gobsmacked at how big it is inside, and we give them a card, and sometimes they donate,' says Clive Evans.
Even if the Hayhurst is a bit damper than usual (as is the MRMS radio equipment which is still onboard!) this hasn't dampened spirits. The MRMS members assemble twice a week in Liverpool, coming from as far as Shropshire and Derbyshire. They have a coffee and a laugh in the Tate Cafe and continue work on another historic tug, Brocklebank. A Just Giving campaign to save the France Hayhurst has been set up, with over £900 currently donated.
Help is also on the way thanks to the vessel's connections with the France Hayhurst family and Bibby Maritime. Following talks to enable divers to look at the tug and start the lifting process, the level of the water at Canning Dock has even been lowered with the help of the Canal and River Trust, and a date of 10 April has been set for the lifting.
It's a huge logistical operation to pull the tug out of the water. A crane will be required, but getting a crane to the Merseyside site is easier said than done. When the vessel is drained and lifted for the second time, a temporary home has been found across the Mersey in a dry dock. From there, a long repairs process can start, so that the Hayhurst can prove that the third time's the charm.