Steam Paddle Tug John H. Amos

Preparation for The Big Lift

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For more than three decades the John H Amos has waited for this moment.
Until now her restoration could not start because she was on a site needed for development and so had to be moved.


Click thumbnails for a larger image


The vessel could not be towed away because her hull was corroded and could not be trusted to survive a hazardous tow.

It would have been embarrassing for the developers to have her cut up because she is one of the most important historic vessels in the country.

The only option was to lift her with a giant crane and place her on her own pontoon.

To the casual observer the John H Amos was known as "that paddle tug abandoned and sunk at Chatham". Behind the scenes it was very different:

A massive pontoon, the Portal Narvik, was acquired.


A suitably large floating crane, Atlas, one of the largest in Europe, operated by Chatham based GPS Marine, was contracted at a non-commercial price.

The Portal Narvik was put to work to help pay for the Atlas. GPS Marine used the pontoon with a crane on board to help build a jetty at the Isle of Grain.

The proceeds from this co-operation were put towards the cost of the lift.

Timber was found to re-enforce the deck of the pontoon.

Nuttalls plc donated some timber forming a temporary pier used during the construction of the Sheppey crossing, a new bridge over the Swale.

This was collected by a tug and barge courtesy of GPS Marine.

Dock blocks were borrowed.

Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust donated some redundant dock blocks for the John H Amos to sit on.

A suitable mooring was arranged for the pontoon.

Railway lines were borrowed and welded to re-inforce the hull of the John H Amos.
Steel girders were located and transported to re-enforce the deck of the John H Amos.
The eleven-and-a-half inch steel strops were pulled into position by Derek Gransden's Scammell recovery truck.
Martin Stevens cut the pier timbers to support the dock blocks.
Ted Spears, marine surveyor, inspected the Portal Narvik.

Steve Leigh welded 21 metres of new steel plate to the hull of the Portal Narvik.

Martyn Heighton came to inspect the work, which was paid for with the help of a grant from National Historic Ships.

The date of the possible lift changed ten times between mid February and mid March. A difficult scenario to give notice to others involved.

Since the middle of February it was beginning to look as though the crane barge Atlas would have two commercial jobs to do in the South East of England. These had to be in place before a subsidised lift of the John H Amos could be done.

The jobs materialised.

One to lift a crane onto a quay in the Thames and the other to launch a pontoon, destined for Cherry Gardens Pier in London, built within a few miles of Chatham.

Martin Stevens was determined that everything should be ready just in case the big lift happened this time.

After two years of postponement it had never felt so close.

With a small group of volunteers lead by Martin Staniforth, the final preparations were put in place. In the absence of a crane the dock blocks were moved by leverage.

Blocks of greenheart wood were fastened to the end of the girders to protect the lifting strops.
  The Three Lifts

There were to be three separate days to the operation.

Lift one to position extra strops.
The Big Lift to position the tug on the transport barge.
Lift three to transfer the tug onto the Portal Narvik.

Wednesday 26th March 2008

Martin Staniforth was still welding extra steel re-enforcements to the spreader beams, when on the lunchtime high tide the Atlas appeared for the first of the three lifts.

The first part of the lift was to raise the bow of the John H Amos and slide two wire lifting strops under the hull.

The two others had been placed in position almost two years previously. This was to be a critical test of the hull structure. Any vessel with less structural strength would have broken her back.

This having been competently completed, the Atlas retreated until high tide the next day.

Thursday 27th March 2008

The hooks of the Atlas were attached to the four lifting strops.

Onlookers braved the English weather as the John H Amos was raised from what some locals called her "watery grave".

A marine surveyor who had been helping with the preparations admitted to having tears in his eyes.

The John H Amos was turned 90 degrees.

Holes had been cut in the hull of the John H Amos to allow the water to drain rapidly as she was lifted. The crane operator said that the weight on the crane was 330 tonnes when the lift started and 225 tonnes after the water had drained.

Martin Stevens photographed and videoed everything.

When the John H Amos had been lifted and turned parallel to the river, a transport barge was floated under her and she was lowered onto the deck.

About 80% of the weight was still supported by the crane.

In the meantime the Medway Maritime Trust pontoon, Portal Narvik, had been moved down river to a deeper mud berth for the transfer. This was to happen at high tide the next day.

Friday 28th March 2008

The director of operations, Dutchman Jaco Sluijmers, had decided to bring the pontoon Portal Narvik across the river to the John H Amos because there would be more time for the transfer without the restriction of a falling tide.

This was a well judged decision as it proved to be a difficult job to free the strops.
John H Amos was lifted off the transport barge, which was then removed.
Portal Narvik was manoeuvred into position.
The John H Amos was lowered onto her new home.
The lifting strops were extracted from beneath the John H Amos.
John H Amos did not sit quite straight, but was now supported on dock blocks.

So began a tow up river in the dark, past her old home in the dockyard where the John H Amos had spent the last decade, to a buoy in Rochester.

For exactly a year, one of the best views of the John H Amos was from Rochester railway station, where commuters to London regularly telephoned Martin Stevens to tell him "she's still there!"
The disadvantage of mooring in the middle of the river was that almost no work could be done.
On 13th March 2009 the John H Amos and Portal Narvik were towed in turn by the GPS tugs Friston Down and Haulier to a tidal berth on the River Medway in Chatham Docks.

This means initial work can now begin. The first jobs will be to clean the vessel and begin a comprehensive recording programme.

This is necessary because, despite having a complete set of original drawings for the ship, the details added by "old Fred in the shipyard" will ensure that the restored vessel will have all the authenticity of the 1931 vessel.

Now the best view of John H Amos can be enjoyed by the residents of the new apartments in Chatham Maritime!

The John H Amos needs a great deal of urgent preservation work this summer. If anyone is interested they can come and see us at the TID 164 steam tug in Chatham Historic Dockyard on Saturdays, or we have set up a dedicated mobile telephone number for recruitment which people can call or send a text.

Please call 07908 059215 for more information.

The Trust would like to offer sincere thanks to the following

Len Knight, original John H Amos website designer
GPS Marine, who own tugs and operate the Atlas crane
Peel Ports, who control Medway Ports
National Historic Ships
Rochester Bridge Trust
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
G.C. Stevens & Son, Sittingbourne
Nuttalls plc, for donation of timber decking
Derek Gransden, for using his Scammell
Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust

Plus the many individuals and other companies who have helped make this project possible.