SY Gondola

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Gondola on Coniston Water.
Gondola on Coniston Water.
Career (United Kingdom) Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: Gondola
Owner: Furness Railway (1859-1922)
London, Midland and Scottish Railway (1923-45)
Private (1945-70s)
National Trust (since 1970s)
Operator: Furness Railway (1859-1922)
London, Midland and Scottish Railway (1923-36)
National Trust (since 1979)
Launched: 1859
Recommissioned: 1979
Out of service: 1936-79
Nickname: "The Lady of the Lake"
General characteristics
Type: Steam yacht
Installed power: V twin steam engine
Propulsion: Propeller
Speed: 11.7 knots (13.5 mph; 21.7 km/h) maximum speed,
8 knots (9.2 mph; 15 km/h) cruise speed
Crew: 3
Time to activate: 1.5 hours

The steam yacht Gondola was originally a Victorian screw-propelled, steam-powered vessel currently used as a pleasure cruiser on Coniston Water, England, and operated by the National Trust. Gondola is thought to be one of the inspirations for Captain Flint's houseboat in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons.[1]


It is still possible to cruise the northern part of Coniston Water on Gondola which makes regular trips, from Easter to the end of October, from Coniston pier. She sails from the pier five times daily from 11.00am. She makes an anti-clockwise voyage down the western shore of the lake, turning off Torver Common and steaming northerly up the opposite shore to Brantwood where it is possible to disembark and visit the home of John Ruskin.


Gondola was first commissioned by Sir James Ramsden, a director of the Furness Railway.[2] She was launched in 1859 and carried on working until the First World War, when she was laid up. She was returned to service after the war and finally decommissioned in 1936. In 1946[2] she was converted to a houseboat and stayed in that form for many years, slowly disintegrating. She finally succumbed to nature and in the 1960s she ran aground during a violent storm.

An attempt to restore her in the 1970s was met with financial difficulties. However with support from the local community, fund-raising by National Trust staff and donations and sponsorship from large companies, enough funds were raised to complete a hull survey to assess the damage caused by the storm and to see whether a full restoration, preferably to a working passenger yacht, was feasible. The survey was disappointing: the hull was seen to be down to 30% of its original thickness in places (it being constructed of fine quality wrought iron of just 3/16ths of an inch thickness.) Even if the hull had been in good condition, the Department of Trade would have never registered her as working vessel, as her hull plates needed to be a minimum of 1/4" (6mm) thick.

Vickers boat builders in Barrow-in-Furness were approached and asked to make their own survey to see what could be done. They reported that a new hull would be required, the superstructure would have to be replaced in its entirety and if it was to be steam powered again an engine and boiler would have to be sourced. However the wrought iron gunnel plate (the curved edge of the ship where the deck meets the hull) was in salvageable condition and could be used as part of the new hull. Some of the barley-twist wrought iron handrails and railings were also found to be re-usable. Vickers were instructed to proceed with work and funds were again raised for Gondola from the same sources as before.

The boatyard had to build a new hull and to do so lofted the lines of the original boat that had been cut into three sections and transported to Barrow in Furness. They used mild steel which was laid in narrow strakes to mimic the wrought iron plates of the original.

A firm in the North-East of England, Locomotion Enterprises, were given the task of building the new engine whilst W Bertram & Sons of South Shields built a new boiler, its specification being a cut down version of one half of the double boilers used on the locomotives of the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales.

The hull was made as an engineering exercise for the apprentices at the boatyard. All the parts finally came together, and in 1979 the hull was transported in three parts from Barrow to Coniston, where she was assembled. Over the next few months she was fitted out with boiler, engine, superstructure, first and third class saloons, decking and all the fittings associated with a ship this size.

On March 25 1980, she was launched by the Sheila Howell, granddaughter of the first master of Gondola, Felix Hamill. The New Gondola floated a little below her intended lines and sailed her inaugural voyage in June 1980.


The vessel is powered by a two cylinder 90 degree "V" steam engine, which has a slip eccentric reverse system and is a double-acting slide valve arrangement. The steam boiler is of the locomotive type, with 90 one and a quarter inch (35mm) steel tubes passing through the barrel. From her launch in 1859 she has been coal fired. First she used an all-copper design as used by the Furness Railway on their locomotives; this supplied steam to her engines at a maximum of 80psi (pounds per square inch). Around the turn of the last century she was equipped with an all steel boiler supplying steam at 100psi. The boiler and the engines were taken out when she was laid up and converted to a houseboat. When she was re-launched in 1980 an all steel design was again specified, although this time rated at a maximum working pressure of 150psi. she still uses this boiler today. From 20 March 2008 the firing of Gondola became more green; she is now fired on Blazer Logs, these commercially produced logs being made from compressed sawdust which burns very efficiently, giving off little smoke with negligible sulphur content.

The cylinders exhaust to atmosphere after first passing through a silencer. The draft induced by the steam is used to draw the heat and waste products of combustion through the boiler and up the funnel, and so draw more air into the furnace, a force draft system. However now the ship is using a different fuel to fire the boiler a flue damper has also been fitted to produce a finer tolerance of control in the firebox; using less fuel to produce more steam, and hence greater economy. The engines produce a maximum of approximately Template:Convert/Nm of torque at the prop shaft and this turns the 36" diameter propeller at a approximately 150-160 rpm giving a hull cruising speed of about 8 knots (9.2 mph; 15 km/h). The maximum speed of 240 rpm gives a maximum hull speed of 11.7 knots (13.5 mph; 21.7 km/h). However, at this speed, although just four knots faster than cruising speed, the engines use 60% more steam.


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54°21′55.44″N 3°03′46.57″W / 54.3654°N 3.0629361°W / 54.3654; -3.0629361Coordinates: 54°21′55.44″N 3°03′46.57″W / 54.3654°N 3.0629361°W / 54.3654; -3.0629361