Saving the Steam Coaster VIC 96


VIC 96 is one of a few vessels now left which were built in a hurry for wartime duties.

VIC stands for Victualling Inshore Craft. They were built principally to take supplies out to larger ships at anchor.


The design was based on the success of the Clyde Puffers which had proved themselves several decades earlier.

Like TID tugs they were designed with simplicity in mind, using mainly flat steel plates.


Although diesel had become the normal means of propulsion, a traditional compound steam engine was used in order not to waste high tech skills during the war.

VIC 96 was built in 1945 by Richard Dunston Ltd of Thorne, Humberside.

She served at Sheerness Dockyard from 1946 until February 1959 and thereafter at Chatham Dockyard, known as C668, until August 1972.


Bought by a Mr. R.W. Fielding of Dublin she left Chatham under tow, then laid up in the Royal Group of docks in the East End of London until she was removed to Limehouse Basin, Regents Canal Dock, London.

This was when Martin Stevens, now chairman of the Medway Maritime Trust, first became aware of VIC 96 and took the accompanying black and white photographs.



Most of the Medway Maritime Museum fleet was also in Limehouse basin - the steam tugs Goliath, Cervia and John H Amos.

In 1981 she was sold again to become part of a collection of steamships at Maryport in Cumbria.

The voyage from London was made under her own steam, stopping at Newcastle, and onwards through the Caledonian Canal and down the West Coast to Maryport.


The Museum at Maryport was run by the Trelaugh family who found it easier to acquire vessels than to maintain them. The museum failed.

Several ships were scrapped, including the steam tug Goliath which had been sold to the museum by Michael List Brain.



VIC 96 was among those which survived to be bought by Allerdale District Council in January 1986. A restoration programme was set up, first through the Community Programme and subsequently Employment Training.

The last two vessels, (the other was the steam tug Flying Buzzard, ex Harecraig 2 from Dundee), were sold by the local council for 50 pence each on condition that they were preserved.



Unfortunately the person who bought them, Giles Pattison, was interested in more-than-covering his costs rather than in preservation. Flying Buzzard was advertised for £60,000 and VIC 96 for £35,000.

The price of the VIC eventually dropped to £20,000, then to £6,000.

At this stage Martin Stevens thought it was worth keeping in touch.

After a visit to Maryport, Giles Pattison agreed that rather than donate it to the Medway Maritime Trust he would cover his costs and swap it for a woodstove!
( Martin Stevens runs a business selling woodstoves ).

By the time he was telephoned to be told that the stove was ready for delivery, he had sold the ship for £2,500 to Christopher Potter from Carlisle who wanted it as a houseboat.

Once again Martin Stevens kept in contact.



A few months later the new owner realised that VIC 96 was not a houseboat,
and Martin finally managed to get the ship under his control by paying him £2000.
The alternative was for Chistopher Potter to scrap it.

This is the nerve-racking part of the story.

VIC 96 had previously sunk at its moorings and was in dire need of a thirty year makeover. Gales were forecast for the north west of England for the early winter of 2003, and there were signs of more leaks.

Again Martin visited Maryport, this time with friend, a trusted steam engineer Julian Hopper. They "surveyed" the vessel with the help of the boss of Anglia Waterblast, Mel Mitchell, who subsequently gave a quote for stabilising the condition of the ship.

Reasonable as the quote was, it could not be afforded on top of other commitments. Without a favourable surveyor's report the vessel could not be insured. Julian and Martin worked out a plan.



Julian knew that his father-in-law, Derek Gransden, had always wanted a Clyde Puffer, and he already had an interest in landbased steam artefacts including a Sentinel steam wagon.

A discussion established that he was not prepared to take on such a commitment by himself, but would be prepared to share the adventure with like-minded friends.



They calculated the amount of money needed to bring the ship south, and the investment which each "shareholder" would be prepared, in effect, to throw away, thus arriving at the number of people.

Seven of his friends were invited for a meal, and for reasons which each one managed to justify to himself, ranging from extending an existing hobby to a new subject for dinner-party conversation, they signed up.



Three more have now joined in, forming the VIC 96 Trust.

Martin's £2000 was repaid, and the new owners have now made regular working visits to the ship. A large skip was filled on the first visit.


One of the team with workshop facilities had the windlass delivered home for his 2003 winter project.


Another rebuilt the wheelhouse.



The boiler has been retubed, steam engines overhauled, valves restored, and the hull has received long overdue attention in the form of 70 square metres of new plate.

The plan is to steam south during the summer of 2009 to a berth at Chatham via the Caledonian Canal and the east coast.


This is not the end of the story, but another not very important part of our maritime heritage has been rescued and given the chance of surviving another generation.


Link to the VIC 96 website: