The Thames Tugs

Thames to Ramsgate

These are some of the tugs that I worked on, but being initially on Relief Crew no 4, I had experience of working on many more which aren’t featured here.



The Cervia was my first experience of working on the River Thames steam tugs. When I joined her as cook at the age of 15 at six o clock one cold winter’s night, I was so excited. She was oil-fired and had an enclosed wheelhouse, so was luxurious in comparison to the Atlantic Cock, Water Cock and Gondia, the three coal-burning steam tugs that I served on as Junior deckhand. In 1954 she was girted and five members of the crew perished. My cousin was one of only three survivors.

She was the last steam tug to operate in the UK waters and she now lies at Ramsgate Royal Harbour where she is being passionately restored by a dedicated team of volunteers led by Mike Houkham.  Mike is an ex tugman, employed during the same period as myself and like me, he served on the Cervia. Whilst writing “Paid to live the Dream”, I flew to the UK to visit Mike and am grateful for the amount of time he spent with me, showing me around the Cervia. More information on the Cervia can be found on the website, and also at

Cervia’s towing hooks
Engine room
Cervia’s engine room



Chapter 3, ‘Death and Sex’, ‘PAID TO LIVE THE DREAM‘.  I was on the Gondia when I made my first visit to the Ramsgate shipyard. The Gondia was chocked up for her refit and I had a great time.

Chapter 3, ‘Death and Sex’, ‘PAID TO LIVE THE DREAM‘.  I was on the Gondia when I made my first visit to the Ramsgate shipyard. The Gondia was chocked up for her refit and I had a great time.

The SS Richard Montgomery, an American liberty ship that ran aground on the Nore sandbank and broke her back. She lies 250 metres from the Medway approach channel. All three mast are visible at all states of the tide. There are still 1400 tons of deadly TNT explosives in her holds that could explode through any number of reasons. The explosion could throw a 1000 ft column of water and debris 10,000 ft into the air and cause a mini tsunami.


Water Cock

I worked on this tug as Junior Deckhand for a short while before I joined the Atlantic Cock. We had a good crew, lots of fun. I met my mate John, the very one with the grotesque glove in Part 1 Chapter 3 of ‘PAID TO LIVE THE DREAM’, on the Water cock, where he was one of the two Firemen aboard. She was built in 1923 by the firm Cockrane and Sons and was smaller than the other tugs and less powerful. She was 86 ft long, with a beam of 24 ft 5 inches, a draught of 11 ft 8 inches and had a 750 hp steam engine. She was scrapped in 1966.


The Atlantic Cock Lying at Tilbury Docks

Some of my best memories were aboard this tug. I had my first permanent post as Junior Deckhand and also a two week spell as a Fireman. She was built in 1932 by Alexander Hall &Co Ltd in Aberdeen. She was 96 feet 6 inches long,  with a 25 ft beam and a draught of 11 ft 8 inches. She had a 1000 hp triple expansion engine and a Scotch Boiler with three furnaces. She was scrapped in 1971 so had a good run. She was one of 4 gamecock tugs, the others being the Water Cock, Crested Cock and Ocean Cock but all 4 were part of the Ship Towage feet. She had a powder blue funnel with a black top.

Atlantic Cock
This is a wonderful painting that was kindly sent to me of the Atlantic Cock towing a ship. What a pity I don’t know who the artist is or was. It certainly brings back happy memories


The diesel tug Moorcock

Joining this tug as Senior Deckhand was a great experience and such luxury after the old coal burning steam tugs. We had a lovely warm wheelhouse, a clean, comfortable cabin and all mod cons, which was nice but there was plenty of polishing to do. One day I was polishing the brass telegraph in the wheelhouse and to get better access pushed the handle down to the full astern position but before it got there it came to and abrupt halt at the halfway position, so I put it in the upright position and slammed it down again. What I hadn’t realised is that the other deckhand, Ken, was crouched down polishing the flying bridge telegraph and I’d smashed him on the head with the handle and flattened him. There was never a dull moment with danger around every corner! This was the same Ken who was chosen by the supposedly good looking one in Part 1, Chapter 6 of ‘PAID TO LIVE THE DREAM’.

The Moorcock was built by Henry Scar Ltd in Hessle. A lot bigger than the last tug I was on, the Atlantic Cock, she had a 1280 hp 8 cylinder British Polar MN16 diesel engine, an overall length of 113 ft 6 inches, a beam of 28 ft 8 inches and her draught was 12 ft 6 inches. She was scrapped in 1981.

Click on a picture to enlarge