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Our work on Steam Yacht Gondola

The Steam Yacht Gondola full of passengers on Coniston Water in the Lake District, Cumbria
The Steam Yacht Gondola on Coniston Water | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

While a ride on this rebuilt Victorian steam boat may give off the illusion of calm and splendour, behind the scenes there’s lots that goes into looking after her in the 21st century. Discover how our work on Steam Yacht Gondola helps ensure she can continue to give visitors a glimpse of a time when she was a shining example of innovation, in an age of discovery.

Maintaining and repairing the gondola

In early November, after seven months cruising up and down Coniston Water, Steam Yacht Gondola is hauled out of the water, a crane brought in to remove the funnel, wheel and crew housing then she is covered up for the winter. We use this time to give the boat a little TLC.

Things are taken off, moved around, serviced, polished, painted and shined, then put back on in the same place to look as good as new again.

One of the most time consuming jobs in the varnishing. We estimate well over sixty pieces of wood from the boat - steps, window frames etc - are removed, condition checked, sanded, varnished (several coats) and anti-slip strips added where required.

Bigger projects

This is also the time when bigger projects are tackled – this could mean repairing the deck or hull, installing new window frames, upgrading the ship’s ‘throne’ or fitting an echo-sounder.

Over Winter 2023/24 work on the side decks was undertaken. Most of the port side and about 35% of the side was replaced with new timber from Douglas Fir.

The beating heart of Gondola, the steam engine, and boiler undergo regular servicing. It’s a huge job, as the engine casing has to be removed to get to the boiler and enable checks and tests to take place.

When the Gondola is back up and running, passengers will be experiencing the sum of 160 years of passion, dedication, sweat and tears – a real showcase of local skilled craftmanship and engineering expertise.

Steam Yacht Gondola out of the water on her winter moorings for winter
Steam Yacht Gondola out of the water on her winter moorings for winter | © Alister Stewart

Making the site safe

To make Gondola more accessible, new bridge steps and handrails have also been fitted.

Jetties used by Steam Yacht Gondola are also checked, renovated and cleaned as necessary to ensure safety for customers and crew during the next operating season.

Reupholstering the interiors

You’ll have noticed how plush the two saloons are on this fine vessel. To make sure it stays that way, every few years we have the seat cushions in the aft saloon reupholstered for the start of the new season.

Whenever we outsource repair work, we like to use local artisans, so we were delighted to find some highly talented upholsterers right here in Coniston.

It’s not a small job. Not only did they have to cut out and sew 192 metres of piping – that’s about the length of two football pitches – they also had to make 3,200 buttons.

View of the restored interior of the Gondola on Coniston Water, Lake District, facing towards the stern of the boat, red velvet seating, and quilted ceiling.
Steam Yacht Gondola's restored interior | © National Trust Images/Cressida Pemberton-Pigott

Flying under the four flags of the Gondola

Unusually, Steam Yacht Gondola cruises around Coniston Water flying a total of four flags.

An international flag

At the bow flies the ‘Pilot Jack’. If you’ve ever travelled by ferry to the continent, you may have noticed the same flag flying at the bow of UK-registered ferries. The white border around the elongated Union Flag traditionally indicates that the Skipper is qualified to navigate the vessel independently without the assistance of a pilot.

National Trust and National Historic Ships flags

Moving further down the boat there are two more flags on the coach roof. The upper flag is the National Trust flag and below it flies the National Historic Ships UK house flag. The roundel design of the National Historic Ships UK house flag represents the bow of a ship cutting through the waves.

A special flag

The final flag is located at the stern. It’s a defaced ensign – ‘defaced’ because it includes the roundel emblem of National Historic Ships UK. As a historic ship, we have a special permit to fly this defaced ensign, a version of the UK national maritime flag, popularly known as the 'Red Duster'.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Two passengers standing on the jetty by the Steam Yacht Gondola in the Lake District, Cumbria


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