The W.J. Reynolds tug Vussel was abandoned in Tamerton Lake.
Ex-Admiralty rowing gig converted to a tug boat.
Vussel is a 42ft (12.8m) long 12-oared Admiralty rowing gig thought to have been built in Gibraltar for a Royal Navy warship. Torpoint tug operator W.J. Reynolds bought the boat in the 1930s and initially used it as a floating workshop barge having fitted cutting and welding gear on board. After WWII the boat developed rot in her keel so was hauled out at Carbeile and a new keel was fitted, at the same time they fitted a petrol/kerosene engine, stern tube and propeller, and fitted a wheelhouse aft. Now a motor tender, Vussel was used as a general runabout and workboat.
In the 1960s, Reynolds won the contract to dump Plymouth's sewage sludge at sea and Vussel was modified to be used for this work. A new Kelvin diesel engine was fitted, the wheelhouse was moved forward and a large samson post was fitted so that Vussel could be used for towing. Vussel was low enough to be able to pass under Laira Bridge so was used to take the sewage tankers up from the bridge to Plympton. A larger tug would take the big steel barge (see Budeaux Barge ) up to the bridge then the little Vussel would take over, heading up the shallow and winding channel to the head of the Laira on the flood tide. The barge would be turned around and moored alongside the tall concrete pillar that supported the overhead sewage loading gear, the hose connected to the barge and pumping commenced. Vussel would then wrestle the now heavy tank barge back down the Laira on the ebb tide to the Bridge where the larger tug would be waiting to tow the barge out to sea to be dumped. Vussel would also be used to take the sewage barges into the shallow Hooe Lake to load sewage sludge at a similar concrete pillar loading facility. Vussel was also used for towing the coaling barge Test around the rest of the Reynolds fleet so they could load coal for fuel and when not on duty she was used as a pleasure craft taking fishing trips into Plymouth Sound and up the River Tamar. Vussel was the last boat to be used commercially by Reynolds before the company was taken over, Vussel was converted to look like a steam pinnace and was used during the filming of the BBC TV series Onedin Line. The vessel was laid up once her TV career had finished, but a newspaper article about the abandoned barge further down the lake, Tamerton 3 or 'Noah's Ark', suggests that this was the tugboat used to bring the barge to the lake and it was originally owned by farmer and preacher the late Richard Simmons.
This vessel appears to be intact and still afloat in 1981 when she was photographed by John Cotton on a mooring at the head of the Lake but her rudder was missing. When photographed a year later she had been beached stern on, perhaps so repairs could be made to her transom. By 1996 she had been moved to her current position with her bow up on the foreshore, broken and flooding with the tide, but with her rudder fitted. In 2017 when we photographed the boat there was little left visible above the mud other than the remains of the bow.
Much of the information about this vessel has coome from the book Tacky's Tugs, W.J. Reynolds Ltd of Torpoint by Captain Stephen Carter.
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The black painted hull of this 12m long vessel was wide for her length and with a low freeboard amidships, raised bow and stern and flat transom, reminiscent of Mediterranean harbour vessels so the idea that she was built in Gibraltar may be correct. The hull is lightly constructed from two layers of teak diagonal planking held together with iron fastenings and reinforced with iron knees. The sturdy single mast laid flat on her deck in 1981 suggests a sailing ship but she may also have been powered as the gap between rudder and transom may have been for a propeller. Large towing bitts were fitted on her low deck aft and deep bilge keels on her hull show that she was once used as a tug.
Very little now remains of this vessel, last investigated by The SHIPS Project in 2017. This may also be the 'unidentified Maltese tug on Tamerton Lake' identified by Richardson et al. in 2000.
Tamerton Lake, off Mill Quay
From Tamerton Foliot take Station Road and the remains of the hulk are 150m from the head of the Lake on the north side.
Last updated 18 June 2023
Position OS: SX 46488 60903
Position GPS: 50.427867, -4.162639
Admiralty rowing gig / tug
12.8m / 42ft
3.5m / 12ft
Timber, diagonal planking
None, then kerosene engine, then diesel
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