THPV Bembridge: Pilotage Heritage Preserved

A valuable element of UK pilotage heritage is being preserved by the restoration of the 1938 Trinity House cruising pilot cutter “Bembridge” for use as the head office and museum by the Polish shipping logistics group Magemar based in Szczecin.

THPV Bembridge on station.                    Photo: A Adams’ collection

Having been unable to locate a suitable riverside property for the company, Magemar Manager and shipping enthusiast Rafal Zahorski discovered the old Bembridge rapidly rotting away on the river Medway after plans to convert her into a floating restaurant had been abandoned.

Bembridge rotting on the River Medway          Photo: Magemar

Although engineless and in a very poor state internally, the hull was still basically sound and Magemar purchased her in February 2009 and she was towed across the North Sea to Poland by the Polish tug Argus. Despite encountering a gale on the North Sea passage the Bembridge arrived safely in Swinoujscie after a five day passage but was then nearly lost whilst being towed the short distance up river from Swinoujscie to Szczecin where an ice flow holed the bow.

Bembridge arriving in Poland                      Photo: Magemar

Fortunately salvage pumps were able to cope with the ingress of water and for the last year she has been undergoing a full restoration / conversion. A full survey revealed serious corrosion in many places and some of the hull plating and most of the deck have been replaced but having been sand blasted, primed and coated, the Bembridge is now back in the water being fitted out. With the exception of the office which is to be located in the old engine room Rafal has been scouring the world for authentic fittings to ensure that the rest of the vessel will look as original as possible. This has not been an easy task because the interior has been totally altered since her Trinity House days and despite searching the archives of both Trinity House and Smith’s Yard, where she was built, Rafal has been unable to locate any original plans for the vessel.  With the aid of photographs and the assistance of retired pilots Andy Adams and Hugh Fergusson the external appearance is now correct and by retaining the port of Registry as London she will still fly the Red Ensign and the hull will be panted the original black with a white stripe and will have the original PILOTS and No1 painted on the sides. As a result of his painstaking research and dedication Rafal is gradually accumulating fittings for the wheelhouse and deck and late last year located and purchased what are probably the last two remaining boarding boats in existence.  Rafal’s search is not just limited to items and records relating to the Bembridge but because he has been absorbed by the history he is planning to house a small museum on board devoted to Trinity House pilotage so is also seeking records and memorabilia of Trinity House in general.Can any of you help? Do you have any old photographs log books or even just stories? You can contact Rafal directly or join the blog exchanges on the Ships Nostalgia website via the links below.

History of the THPV Bembridge

Bembridge was designed by Sir William Reed in early 1938 for Trinity House as their first purpose built twin screw diesel engined pilot cutter and as such, a lot of care had been put into the design. She was built by Smith’s Dock Company Co. Ltd. in Middlesborough and launched on 14th July 1938. She was 142 ft (43m) LOA and was commissioned at Cowes on 6th october 1938.for use as a cruising pilot cutter for Isle of Wight/Southampton District operating at the Nab and the Needles stations where she served throughout the war. In 1941 she received a direct hit from a bomb but fortunately it failed to explode and passed harmlessly through the bow.

In 1947 Bembridge was transferred to the London district where she worked as the cruising cutter, alternating service between the Dungeness and Sunk boarding grounds.

In 1968  a launch service operating out of a new, purpose built, pilot station at Folkestone replaced the cruising cutter and she returned to the Solent operating as a Mother ship and communications vessel until finally being withdrawn from Trinity House service in 1970.

In 1971 she was purchased by Arundel Priory for use as a training ship preparing under-privileged children for a seagoing career. That project was short lived and in 1972 she was bought by Cosag Marine Services and fitted out as a survey ship for North Sea oil exploration. Much of her accommodation was removed for this work which she continued to undertake successfully until 1976 when she was sold to the Essex Yacht Club for use as their clubhouse at Leigh on Sea. The conversion to a clubhouse saw the removal of the engines, generators, funnel and deck machinery and other alterations resulted in very little of the interior remaining recognisable.

In 2004 the Essex Yacht Club purchased the GRP minehunter HMS Wilton and Bembridge was towed to the Medway where plans to convert her to a floating restaurant failed to materialise.

Becoming aware of her existence in 2006, Magemar purchased her in February 2009.

At the time of writing this the hull and decks have been restored and fitting out of the interior is underway. Magemar hope to have the restoration complete by early summer this year. I’m sure that you will join me in thanking Rafal and Magemar for undertaking this important restoration.

During his research Rafal has accumulated a wealth of information, not just about Bembridge but also Trinity House in general and the Smith’s Yard and he has placed all the information and links on the Magemar website at the following link:

In the absence of any museum in the UK housing Trinity House memorabilia, Rafal is keen for the Bembridge to fill this gap in our maritime heritage. If you are interested in helping him to realise this vision please contact him directly via the above website.

Ready for fitting out: December 2009          Photo: Rafal Zahorski

or write to :

Rafal Zahorski

C/O Magemar Polska Sp. z o.o.

70-603 Szczecin
ul. Bytomska 7;

Tel: +48 91 430 88 91
Fax: +48 91 430 88 9

There is also a vast amount of additional information on the Ship Nostalgia blog at the following link:


The painting is now complete and Bembridge has been towed to her final berth where every ship visiting Szczecin will be able to admire her in her origianl state:

You will note that the pilot flag is flying from a bamboo pole. This was the practice when in service as retired London district Trinity House pilot Hugh Ferguson explains:

The reason for the bamboo stick was to fly the flag above the truck (top-most part of a mast) of the mast so that the flag would fly above and clear of the mast. To do this, have the stick twice as long as the depth of the flag. Attach it to the halyard with a half-hitch of the halyard in the middle of the stick under the flag-then another half-hitch of the halyard at the lower end of the stick.

With this arrangement, when the flag is hoisted as high as it will go it will be free to fly above the top-most part of the mast and not become foul of the mast as the cutter manoeuvres.


5 Responses to “THPV Bembridge: Pilotage Heritage Preserved”

May 5th, 2010 at 10:56

Hello, I was waiting for some comments – but till now a silence. So I would like to remind our project. Every day, really, we are looking for anything related to Trinity House pilot activity, we are trying to find everybody who remember that nice time, not only people connected with Bembridge but whole TH fleet. We are restoring a history of our THPV Bembridge but as you know we can not do it separately from other vessels. We are looking for any documents – even colour scans are very valuable for us. We know that many Pilots and crew members are gone – but sometimes their families still have a lot. We do now want to have only a nice hull of Bembridge empty from a human history – intention is to fullfill her with many interesting stories, people and the like. If anybody will sent us anything it will be presented on her Every day we are building this web site. Almost everyday there is something new, on ship’s nostalgia we are publishing many pictures and comments every couple of days. How we are doing it on our www? Just to give you an example let me show a page dedicated to Hugh Ferguson:
We wish to show many pictures, biographies, stories and many different places. It will be a long story but finally it will be a very interesting place in Internet. Time is our enemy – it is canceling a human memory – both hardware (so people) and software (their memory). Everybody and any help always very welcome!!! Best greeting from deck of THPV Bembridge – our whole restoration team and Rafal

November 6th, 2010 at 09:18


Here you can see a professional 360 degrees panoramas of the oldest existing Trinity House Pilot Cutter.

I recommend especially to cluck 3 visible arrows on the panorama and zoom mode. You can see a new deck and two fully restored Pilot Boarding Boats – on port side is 44 and on the starboard 46. They are from 1960 and 1961 – both with original fully working engines of Patter.

Now only wooden life boats and davits, additionally ventilation pipes and many, many small elements still missing. But one day she will look brilliant.

Best greeting Rafal

June 21st, 2012 at 12:19

as a fifteen year old boy I joined Trinity House pilot cutters as a cabin boy,this was in the fifties, I first joined the Kihna and went to the Royal Spithead Review on her,I also spent some time on the Pelorus and the Pioneer,I think Ijumped from the frying pan into the fire when I went from the Kihna to the this time I was living in Deal Kent,I am now retired living in Newcastle Upon Tyne,sorry I have no photos to share with you.

August 20th, 2014 at 19:52

Here is perfect virtual tour on THPV Bembridge 1938:

Please enjoy.


Alexander Galbraith
January 24th, 2015 at 17:12

I was an Employee of Cosag Marine Services Great Yarmouth for 5 years
and made a few trips for oil survey as an Engineer on the Benbridge .
I was also on the Sperus at the time when IGS Edinburgh were on board , My brother Bob and I Alex are mentioned in the story given by Alan Woodrow
who I know from my time on the Akraborg
Many names are familiar to me and this bring back fond and sad memories
sad due to the loss of David Bannon off the Sperus as i had just gone on leave and heard it on television new next day .

There was a stewardess on the Akraborg name Kate Clark from Gt Yarmouth
I believe Dave had a Child at the time by her daughter , I hope this reaches Rafal Zahorski , I still posses my Seamans Discharge book with all the Captains Signatures from my time with Cosag


Leave a Reply

UK Maritime Pilots' Association
European Maritime Pilots' Association
Internation Pilots' Association SITE SPONSORS
Navicom Dynamics
OMC International