Paddle Steamer Embassy December 1949


 Embassy in Portland Harbour

It was very unusual for any excursion paddle steamer to be in steam in December. Unless connected with some ferry service they mostly sailed only in summer in a period generally bounded by Easter and the end of October although this operational window shrank for most of them as the years rolled by with, in the end, some not starting until July and finishing in early September.

There were exceptions of course and one of these was December 1949 when the Admiralty chartered Cosens's Embassy for a series of experiments undertaken by His Majesty's Underwater Detection Establishment at Portland with the aim of taking noise measurements of a paddle steamer on the sound range and comparing them with the noise produced by a twin screw frigate, in this case, HMS Helmsdale. In its preamble, the 1950 report for this trial states that  it was felt "of great interest to compare the noise contributions made by a vessel or torpedo with local sources on or near the dome of a torpedo as a result of its passage through the water." All fascinating stuff for those with a mind for such things.

Accordingly Embassy raised steam in early December 1949 and on 8th December made a series of runs over the hydra-phone on the Portland Sound Range mostly at full speed but once at half ahead and once starting from stationary to full ahead.

The report goes into extensive detail of the various readings taken but concludes that the sound made by Embassy was about the same as that made by HMS Helmsdale even though the latter was four times bigger. However HMS Helmsdale was fitted with something called "nightshirt". No details of what "nighshirt" may or may not have been appear in the report but it does have rather the feel of something clandestine which might have dropped out of James Bond's briefcase and at the time was terribly secret.

The report concludes that "further trials with a paddle propelled ship of 20 knots are necessary before an assessment can be made of the possibilities of such a ship for furthering the fundamental study of self noise".

By 1950 there were no operational paddle steamers left in the UK capable of 20 knots which would have put a damper on that but there remains the wonderfully tantalising glimmer of a thought that back then in those distant ration filled post war years of austerity with the dawn of the Cold War freezing people's dreams that somebody, somewhere, somehow in the higher reaches of Whitehall had a distant thought, maybe a wild hope fostered by a youth spent travelling on the Clyde paddlers or those of Cosens at Bournemouth, that paddle wheels somehow just might be a way forward for underwater secret weapons to put one over on those pesky Russians. It's nice to contemplate even if it never came to pass!

New book just out: South Coast Passenger Vessels

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