Sundowner (yacht)

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M/Y Sundowner
Career British Merchant Navy Ensign
Name: M/Y Sundowner
Namesake: Sundowner
Launched: 1912
Refit: 1929
Fate: Museum ship
General characteristics
Type: Motor yacht
Tonnage: 26 grt (74 m3)
Length: 58 ft (18 m)
Beam: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)
Draught: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Propulsion: Gleniffer diesel engine, 72 hp (54 kW), single screw
Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Service record
Operations: Operation Dynamo

Sundowner is a motor yacht, formerly owned by Charles Lightoller, 2nd Officer of RMS Titanic. One of the "little ships", she participated in the Dunkirk evacuation, and is now a museum ship at the Ramsgate Maritime Museum in Southern England.


Originally built in 1912, the former Admiralty steam pinnace was bought in 1929 for £40 (equivalent to £2,000 today) by Charles and Sylvia Lightoller. Fitted with two masts and ketch-rigged with jib, mainsail, mizzen and mizzen staysail, she was named Sundowner - the Australian term for a tramp or hobo.[1] Originally 52 feet long, she was extended to 58 feet, and fitted with 60 hp (45 kW) Parsons petrol-paraffin 4-stroke engine driving a single propeller, giving her a top speed of 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph).[2]

Sundowner was launched on 28 June 1930, and after trials on the Thames, undertook her first voyage to France. During the next ten years the Lightoller's cruised along the northern coast of Europe, taking part successfully in many international competitions.[1] In 1936 Lightoller replaced the engine with a more powerful 72 hp (54 kW) Gleniffer diesel engine giving her an extra 2 knots (3.7 km/h; 2.3 mph).[2]


On 31 May 1940, Sundowner was requisitioned by the Admiralty to sail to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. Lightoller, aged 66 and retired, volunteered to take her, along with his eldest son Roger, and Gerald Ashcroft, an 18-year old Sea Scout.[3]

Leaving Port Ramsgate at 10:00[3] on 1 June, the yacht crossed the Channel in company with five other ships. On their way, they rescued the crew of the motor cruiser Westerly, which had broken down and was on fire.[1] On arrival at Dunkirk, Lightoller realized that the piers were too high, and so drew alongside the destroyer HMS Worcester and started to take on soldiers. Seventy-five men were crammed into the cabin, and another fifty-five on deck, a total of 130.[2] Sundowner then returned to Ramsgate, avoiding fire from enemy aircraft through evasive manoeuvres on the way, though the greatest danger was being swamped by the wash from fast-moving destroyers. After disembarking the troops, she was preparing to return, but by then only ships capable of doing 20 knots were allowed to go.[1]

Sundowner remained in service as a coastal patrol vessel in the River Blackwater, Essex. She then moved to the River Clyde under the control of 647 Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps.[2] She was released from service in 1945, and after a refit was returned to Lightoller in 1946, and once again used as a family boat.[1]


Charles Lightoller died in 1952, and his wife Sylvia continued to cruise in Sundowner, taking the helm when she led the Armada of Little Ships on the 25th Anniversary return to Dunkirk in 1965.[1] After passing through several other owners, lastly Mr John Sapsford of Norfolk, England, Sundowner was purchased by the East Kent Maritime Trust, to be restored for the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk in 1990.[2] In 2000 Sundowner also took part in the 60th anniversary flotilla, once more sailing to Dunkirk.[4]


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