July 2019: An update on the year so far

Julian, Manager at Steam Yacht Gondola, on board the boat.

Well, it’s been a while but here I, Sid the Serpent, am again with a quick round-up on what’s been going on.

To keep the boat in motion, Gondola needs some tender loving care. Things have been taken off, moved around, polished and shined, and put back on in the same place to look as good as new again. The proof of the pudding comes about every year at the end of March when I return to Coniston Water. The familiar silhouette trailing a feather of steam, largely unchanged since the fells first looked down upon us in 1860. 

Last winter, the boiler was due for some serious tender care from our friends at Old Hall Farm in Bouth. More about that here. Next winter our windows and side-decking will be feeling a little love. In all that happens, we are here to maintain the boat as an icon of her time and a window into the age where she was not a quaint artefact from a bygone era, but a shining example of innovation in an age of discovery. 

We’ve also had a small change in the crew, welcoming a new Manager to the helm – Julian Blatchley. Julian’s a Merchant Navy master mariner with many years’ experience on those big oil-tankers, who has a secret hankering for steam engines and a passion for history and sailing. He’s a local lad who grew up in South Cumbria and is delighted to have a chance to join us here. In fact, I’ve heard he’s as happy as a serpent with two tails! 

Here’s what he wrote about taking the job here at Gondola:

“‘The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time'.

T. S. Eliot wrote that, and he being a brainy sort of chap worthy of emulation, I thought I would give it a go. After a lifetime spent at sea and countless miles under my belt, I have given up the sea for the lake. 

On Coniston Water, in the shadow of Coniston Old Man and under the gazes of Ransome, Ruskin and Campbell, there is a quirky, elegant and evocative old steam yacht called Gondola. Present on the lake, in one form or another, since 1860, she continues to cruise over the lake’s surface emitting an occasional toot, a feather of white steam, and a muted chuffing sound which is a world away from the clatter of the infernal combustion engine. And it is to this Old Lady that I now belong, as her Manager and occasional Captain. 

It is an absolute joy to be involved with this ship; to feed the roaring dragon-heart of her furnace, and watch the mechanics of her engine slide smoothly, thrust and turn; to manoeuvre her with spinning wheels, steam valves and a Neanderthal gear lever; to delight in her quiet and in the barest disturbance that follows her sleek hull as she transports enchanted people over the long, narrow ribbon of the lake between the mountains. Above all, it is a pleasure to talk with our guests and watch Gondola cast her spell over them.  

So where does Thomas Stearns Eliot come in? Well, Arthur Ransome created Swallows and Amazons at Coniston, and Gondola was probably the inspiration for Captain Flint's houseboat. As a young boy at Windermere I lived for those books. I cannot remember when I did not know them. I scoured the area to find the locations mentioned in the various stories and tried to create my own adventures in their mould. It was those tales that sent me to sea. What could possibly be more fitting than that I should come to this ship on this lake to continue, and perhaps finish, my commercial sailing career, as the custodian charged with taking this magnificent Old Lady on the next step of her long journey. Geographically as well as inspirationally I am where I started, and I know it for the first time."

Well, I’ll be back soon, can’t afford to rest when there’s a challenger in town. Let’s talk again very soon. 

Mossssst ssssssincerely
Sid the Serpent