Latest news from Ivan Corlett

  • The second coming

    15:47 05 February 2015
    By Ivan Corlett

    Welcome to philosophy corner.

    Gondola is a little like Trigger’s broom in the well-known episode of Only Fools and Horses where Trigger, a road sweeper, announced that he’d won an award for using the same broom for 20 years – ‘it’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles’.

    Known to philosophers as Theseus’ paradox, this tricky conundrum is often on our minds on the Gondola team - does a boat that has had all its component parts replaced remain fundamentally the same boat?

    The original Steam Yacht Gondola was launched in 1859. No doubt it had a few parts replaced over its working life before it was retired in 1936, but we suspect that the majority of the boat was still original.

    Gondola 1934

    The boat subsequently fell into disuse and ended up at the bottom of Coniston Water. It was eventually resurrected from the depths by the National Trust in the late 70’s, but was in such a poor state of repair that it had to be completely rebuilt. Its hull, although in reasonable condition, was deemed of insufficient thickness to meet modern regulations.

    Recovered from the depths

    The rebuilt Gondola was launched back on to Coniston Water in 1980, which leads us to the big question - if Gondola has been rebuilt, is it really the same boat?

    Gondola today

    Well, to borrow a reference from another popular television show, we like to think of Gondola’s rebuild as a ‘regeneration’. 

    Peter Capaldi may not be the original Doctor, but he’s still Dr Who!

  • The Long Haul

    16:55 25 November 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    The operating season for Steam Yacht Gondola finally came to an end on 31 Oct, after a summer that provided us with amazing weather and more than 20,000 passengers. Gondola is unique in the UK as the only large pleasure cruiser powered entirely by steam, so it's been no surprise that visitors came from as far afield as Australia just to see her and experience the serenity of a cruise aboard this iconic Victorian steam yacht.

    Gondola (courtesy of Cumbria Life)

    The long season takes its toll, however, and once the crowds have departed, the Gondola crew and volunteers face the challenge of hauling her out of the water for the vital winter refit period. In simple terms, this consists of placing a 42 ton vessel securely onto a rolling cradle and dragging the combined weight up an inclined rail track to a final position at the top of the slipway.

    Hauled Out

    With no powered winch available, this called for a team of four to man the double handles of a manual winch. 

    Winch Team 1

    Each full turn of the massive winch mechanism draws Gondola another inch up the slipway and the winding team can manage just 30 turns before grinding to a halt and putting the brake on. 

    Winch Team 1 beginning to tire

    The next team of four then take up their positions and continue winding - hour after hour.

    Winch Team 2

    Fortunately for the Gondola crew, it's a long tradition in this part of the Lakes that our friends from nearby NT properties turn out in force to add their sweat to ours - all for a cup of tea! So, we'd like to thank Craig, Glen, Rob and all the others who willingly lent a hand to this year's hauling out ceremony, in the best spirit of the Trust.


    Following on from the day of the long haul, Steam Yacht Gondola has had her own frame and cover erected over her to protect her from the winter weather and she now closely resembles a giant toothpaste tube.

    Under cover

    The boat is now ready for the crew to set to and carry out the myriad of refit tasks over the coming winter in reasonable comfort. These jobs range from stripping down the immaculate steam engine for servicing, to painting and varnishing almost every surface on the boat. By next March and the start of the 2015 season she will once again be a vision of perfection and beauty.

  • Essential Equipment

    09:14 08 October 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    This week on Gondola I was aware that I had a problem in the engine room, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

    Engine room

    There was enough fuel in the firebox.


    Steam pressure looked good.

    Pressure gauges

    I’d oiled everything that needed oiling.

    Oil can

    And then I realised what the problem was. You can probably spot it in the next picture.

    Tea in the engine room

    That’s correct, I’d forgotten to drink my tea!

    It’s important to keep the engineer fuelled as well as the engine you know.

  • The Tiller Boys

    13:42 16 September 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Sorry to disappoint you, but the Tiller Boys doesn’t refer to a line of feather-costumed, precision dancers high kicking their way along the deck of Gondola.

    Instead, I’m referring to the boys in the crew who, in an emergency, need to work the tiller to steer the boat.

    In normal operation the Helmsman steers the boat from his position up on the helm using the wheel.

    Steering wheel

    However, should the steering mechanism fail for any reason we have to be able to steer the boat using the tiller.

    Two of our new recruits, Jack and Dave, were put through their paces on an emergency tiller exercise recently to make sure they know what to do if we have a steering failure.

    At the stern of the boat there’s a removable hatch above the rudder where a tiller locks into place so that the boat can be steered by moving the rudder directly, as demonstrated to our new recruits by crewman Greg.

    Demonstration of using the tiller

    Using the tiller requires quite a lot of muscle so it’s a two man job and it also means the boat has to travel a little slower than normal as running at full steam makes it almost impossible to move the tiller.

    But it’s not simply a question of brawn, brain is also required. The tiller boys work under the direction of the Helmsman, who shouts out instructions to tell them to move the tiller to port or to starboard.


    And here’s where the brain is needed because if the Helmsman wants the boat to turn to port the tiller has to move to starboard and if he wants the boat to go to starboard the tiller has to move to port. The Helmsman therefore has to think which way he wants to manoeuvre the boat then ‘flip’ his instruction the other way around for the tiller boys.

    If things go wrong the boys can end up doing a funny little dance backwards and forwards with the tiller as the Helmsman corrects his instructions – not quite the dance of the tiller girls, more like the hokey cokey.

    Using the tiller

    Using the tiller

    I’m pleased to say that in our exercise, no such tomfoolery ensued and we sailed in a controlled fashion under precise instruction from the helm from our base at Pier Cottage all the way to Coniston Pier for our first pick-up of the day.

    Anyway, back to those Tiller Girls ….

  • Wakey Wakey, Rise and Shine

    11:06 26 August 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Those of you who have stood on the jetty at Coniston Pier awaiting the first Gondola sailing of the day at 11am may think that the crew have only just turned up, flicked a switch and sailed Gondola serenely round the bay from her berthing point at Pier Cottage.

    Oh no, no, no. If only it was that simple. Like a prima donna actress, it takes quite a lot of organisation and effort to get Gondola looking her best and ready for action in a morning.

    The crew turn up at 8am to start the day’s work. Admittedly, the first task of the day involves switching the kettle on, but whilst we drink our tea we sort out the allocation of duties, discuss any items for special attention that day and review the latest communications from National Trust HQ.

    No sooner have we done that than it’s time to open up Gondola.

    Opening up

    We have to get the fire going early for the steam engine so the first job is to remove the chimney cap which keeps out any overnight rain.

    Removing the chimney cap

    And then build the fire with screwed up paper and small pieces of the environmentally friendly blazer logs (it’s not rocket science!).

    Preparing the fire

    Whilst Dave, our new volunteer engineer, takes on the job of firestarter, our other new recruit Jack makes the place look spick and span, firstly with the hoover

    Hoovering up

    And then he begins cleaning the brasses.

    Cleaning the brasses

    Meanwhile Greg and Paul load two barrow loads of blazer logs.

    Loading blazer logs

    And Jack cleans more brasses

    Polishing more brasses

    Peter fixes the steam whistle to the chimney, attaches Gondola’s bell and puts out the red ensign.

    Attaching the steam whistle

    Attaching the bell

    Putting out the flag

    As Helmsman for the day, Peter has overall responsibility for the boat. He runs through a series of safety checks, tests the PA system and does a VHF radio check with our local coastguard at Liverpool.

    Finally, it’s time to pop back to the Gondola office for another cup of tea whilst the crew change out of their civvies and into their Gondola-branded outfits, and (you guessed it) Jack polishes the last of the brasses.

    Polishing more brass

    And then we’re ready for the off, as another day finally ‘begins’.

    Ready for departure

  • Coming to Heel

    17:05 25 March 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    The man from the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) came to carry out a heel test on Gondola last week. The test aims to determine how Gondola tilts or ‘heels’ with changes in weight distribution, as would happen if all the passengers suddenly decide to move to one side of the boat.

    Obviously, we don’t carry out the test with real passengers. We have to replicate the weight of each passenger with barrels of water. Here’s a picture of us filling the first few barrels.

    Filling Barrels

    Gondola is licensed to carry 86 passengers. Each passenger is represented in the test by three 25 litre barrels of water, so that meant filling 268 twenty-five litre barrels! You have to take your time otherwise there's water everywhere - throw in a couple of giant foam rubber costumes and it would be like ‘It’s A Knockout’.

    The barrels are distributed around the boat where the passengers normally sit. It took a while to wheel, drag and carry all 268 barrels into place.

    Loading Barrels

    After a while, with all hands to the pumps, we managed to get all the barrels into position. Here is the forward saloon seating area, chock-a-block with barrels ready for the test to start.

    Barrels in Fore Saloon

    The man from the MCA, let’s call him Ian (because that was his name), then began taking his measurements around the boat with the help of crewman Scott.

    Measureing the Tilt

    Measurements were taken with a balanced load and then we went through the arduous process of shifting barrels again, this time from one side of the boat to the other to determine the tilt of the boat with the weight mainly on the starboard side. You can see from the balanced load (left) and unbalanced load (right) below that the boat does heel slightly, but not by much.

    Tilt Comparison

    As the final measurements were taken, we all waited to see if Gondola had passed the test. I’m pleased to say that the Man from the MCA, like the Man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes’!

    We have one more test to carry out before Gondola goes back on the water - the ‘man overboard’ test.

    This year we figured we’d go for greater realism and seek a volunteer for the job. One of our crewmen, Dave (the Davina McCall of the crew), recently and somewhat briefly, experimented with open water swimming, so we thought we’d ask him to volunteer. Unfortunately, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I’m fairly sure he answered in the negative.

    I guess we’ll just have to use a dummy as we always do.

  • A Noble Craft

    10:19 06 March 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Here at Gondola HQ we’re very fortunate to have made some good friends over the years and as with all good friendships we’re never shy in asking for a favour or two.

    Recently we begged a favour off our good friend Bill, who is skilled in the art of carpentry having worked for many years as a joiner for the National Trust. Bill very kindly volunteered his time to repair one of the capitol boards that sit on the prow of the boat.

    Capitol Board

    Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed that the capitol board holds a clue or two about Gondola’s noble connections.

    Here’s another shot showing the capitol boards in place on the boat, the two halves butting up against each other to form a coat of arms of three white stags heads on a black background together with the motto ‘Cavendo Tutus’ carved into the red ribbon below.

    Capitol boards on Gondola

    If you never got round to completing your I-Spy Book of Heraldry when you were young you might not be aware that this is the coat of arms and motto of the Duke of Devonshire. You can see the motto prominently displayed in gold lettering on the Duke’s home at Chatsworth House below.

    Chatsworth House

    The 7th Duke of Devonshire was the Chairman of the Furness Railway at the time Gondola was originally built in the late 1850’s which is how the Devonshire coat of arms came to feature on the boat.

    The family motto, ‘Cavendo Tutus’, roughly translates as ‘safe through caution’. We think this is a rather appropriate motto for a boat that carries members of the public, although it doesn’t seem to hold much sway with our public liability insurers judging by the cost of this year’s renewal!

    There’s also another hint of the link between Gondola and the Devonshires - on Chatsworth House a number of coiled snakes are carved into the frieze below the roofline. This is echoed on Gondola by the golden sea serpent on its prow.

    Devonshire snake and Gondola serpent

    And that’s only part of Gondola’s nobility story as the boat also has a link with another Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch. You can see his coat of arms on Gondola’s stern.

    Buccleuch coat of arms

    The 5th Duke of Buccleuch was also a major shareholder in the Furness Railway, but presumably didn’t have as many shares as the Duke of Devonshire.

    Loath though I am to compare Gondola to a pantomime horse, it seems that the Duke of Devonshire pulled rank and opted for the front legs!

  • Stopping The Rot

    14:00 30 January 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    During the past few weeks whilst we’ve been working through Gondola’s winter maintenance tasks we’ve discovered a bit of rot here and there around the boat.

    First of all we found that the benches that sit either side of the smokebox had rotted quite badly so crew member Greg set about designing some new bench seats / storage boxes in solid mahogany.

    Bench seat designs

    It’s like having our very own Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen on the team - I suspect Greg won’t appreciate that comparison, but he is a talented designer! He’ll even be making the bench seats himself.

    The steps into Gondola’s saloons are also showing signs of wear and tear and will need replacing, as will the bulkhead of the purser’s office which, after a bit of 'damage investigation', is badly in need of attention.

    Purser's office

    A mass of varnishing and repainting work has been going on since Christmas. The external paintwork on the engine room is looking really good now – we’ve been using top of the range (and hopefully very long-lasting) high gloss paint to give Gondola a good shine. I can’t wait to see her back on the water in the summer sunshine.

    Engine room

    It’s not only the crew who roll their sleeves up during the winter maintenance programme - we’re very fortune to get help from volunteers from time to time. These two plucky helpers joined us from their usual spot at the National Trust Basecamp at High Wray and sanded down and undercoated the aft end of the saloons all in a single day, and they were still smiling at the end of it!


    We’re also hoping to get some help to make sections for the new helming position using apprentice labour, building on our skill-sharing initiative from last year when we worked with apprentices from BAE at Barrow-in-Furness. The wood for this task arrived in the last couple of weeks.

    Wood for new helming position

    That’s all for now. Check back soon for my next update.

  • Play is suspended, but work isn't!

    10:45 23 December 2013
    By Ivan Corlett

    Think of Wimbledon and you probably think of Andy Murray, strawberries and cream, warm summer days, grass courts, hawkeye, and if you’re old enough, Robinson’s barley water.

    You might also think of rain delays and the covers going on.

    But what does all this have to do with Steam Yacht Gondola, I hear you ask?

    Well, the company that makes the covers for Wimbledon, Stuart Canvas Products of Warrington, also made the cover for Gondola - if it’s good enough for the aristocracy of tennis we figured it would probably be good enough for Gondola.

    Obviously we don’t bring out Gondola’s cover every time it rains which is a good job given the changeable nature of the weather here in the Lake District.

    Gondola’s cover is only used during the off-season to provide protection to the boat through the harsh winter months and allows us to work in the dry whilst carrying out repairs and maintenance.

    In preparation for the task of covering the boat we first have to assemble the framework.

    Framework for Gondola's cover

    We were a little late getting started this year, partly because we ran our cruises for a couple of weeks longer than usual, but also because the cover was back at Stuart’s for repair - last year, whilst we were shot blasting the engine room in readiness for repainting, the cover took some ‘collateral damage’.

    Anyway, as soon as it arrived back with us we got on with fitting it to the boat.

    Unfortunately, you can’t just line up half a dozen men and tell them to run the cover straight across Gondola. Those Wimbledon guys don’t know what an easy life they have!

    The cover is a 90ft long one-piece heavy canvas. Putting the cover over the boat requires some careful planning and certainly involves a fair amount of manhandling.

    Cover going on

    It took six of us the best part of two hours using rope and bare hands to get the boat covered before the arrival of the gales and torrential rain that were forecast that night, but eventually everything was secured in place.

    Inside Gondola's cover

    Now that Gondola is tucked up in her winter outfit the real work can begin in the dry and relative comfort of the covered interior.

    First job – varnishing the engine silencer lagging.

    Varnishing the engine silencer lagging

  • Start of the Gondola Winter Refit

    12:02 17 December 2013
    By Ivan Corlett

    Late autumn signals the time of year when Gondola comes off the water. However, there’s no time for the crew to put their feet up and look forward to a cosy winter by the fireside.

    It's time to start the winter refit so it’s all hands on deck, so to speak, on the day the grand old lady of Coniston is hauled out of the water and up the slipway at Pier Cottage.

    Hauling Gondola out of the water

    The big day brought beautiful, clear weather. The sun shone all day long, but at this time of year with a chilly north-easterly wind to freshen things up it was cold work for all involved – if only we could have fired up Gondola’s steam engine to keep us warm!

    The stunning weather did bring some compensation in the form of wonderful views of the Coniston Fells and the sight of snow on the summit of the Old Man.

    Old Man of Coniston

    Last year’s refit was a major overhaul, so this year‘s plans are somewhat less daunting, although there’s still a huge amount of work to do – all neatly detailed on the project plan lovingly plugged into Microsoft Project by Gondola manager, Peter Keen.

    Gondola refit project plan

    The aim of the winter refit is to put right what's wrong, fix the things that need fixing and give the boat a good old makeover. This means a bit of weight loss to start with - one and a half tons of lead ballast is removed along with the decks and all of the ships fittings.

    Dismantling of the helm

    It’s a significant task so practicalities take over. For example, ‘Sidney', the boat’s twin-tailed sea serpent figurehead suffered a little indignity as he was removed for his winter renovation. He usually gets treated with a little more respect, but needs must!

    Sidney the sea serpent

    The other big task at the start of the refit is the engine room strip-down. This begins with pipework, valves, gauges, fittings and the steam dome being removed.

    Engine dials

    And all that just on the first day! We'll keep you up to date with our progress over the winter.

News from Ivan Corlett

Photo of Ivan Corlett

Steam Yacht Gondola Crewman.

While working as a Fix The Fells volunteer on the upland paths, cold & soaked through, I saw the beautiful sight of Gondola way below on Coniston Water, so with a background of deep sea marine engineering and steam I thought that would be a nice, warm, dry place to be!

I applied to join the crew in 2008, got the job and have never looked back. I absolutely love it, but the real pleasure is meeting and talking to so many lovely people from all around the world.