Alex Williamson on board a traditional launch at Bowness Pier

Meet Windermere’s "Boat Doctor"

Published: 8th July 2023
Categories: Media Release

Alex Williamson was just a teenager when he began a “part time” job working on Windermere Lake Cruises famous passenger vessels.

That was nearly 40 years ago.

He loved it so much he’s still there after all these years and has earned the nickname “The Boat Doctor” – on call 24-7 to make sure visitors never miss out on a Windermere cruise – that quintessential part of any Lake District visit.

Alex in his workshop in Bowness-on-Windermere

“There’s nothing worse than seeing a boat stuck at the pier unable to sail for one reason or another,” says Alex. “My philosophy is a boat needs to sail – that’s what they were made to do!

With four-decades of knowledge behind him he knows more than most about the historic vessels which make Windermere Lake Cruises one of the country’s leading tourist attractions.

He sees it as his job to make sure they are looked after and preserved so future generations also get to enjoy them.

Alex at Bowness Bay and as a boy beginning his lifelong love of Windermere’s boats - on one of the traditional wooden launches.

📷: Alex at Bowness Bay and as a boy beginning his lifelong love of Windermere’s boats - on one of the traditional wooden launches.

“That’s why I’m always available and on call to fix whatever problem there might be.

“It can be anything from breakages, things wearing out, even sticking door handles,” he explains. “If a vessel doesn’t sail it can mean disappointment for passengers and I hate that to happen.”

Alex was just sixteen when he first started crewing vessels then owned and operated by the Bowness Bay Boating Company which later became Windermere Lake Cruises.

Alex standing at Bowness Pier with modern launches behind him

He did a six-year apprenticeship as a boat builder to develop his all-round skills. Now aged 55 he has his favourite vessels: “The fleet of traditional wooden launches! They are just lovely. I see myself as their custodian and I will not let them fall into disrepair on my watch.”

Indeed, it was the little wooden launch “Queen of the Lake” that gave him one of the best memories of his long career. He oversaw the operation to transport the vessel to London to take part in the incredible Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

“To be part of history and one of 670 vessels involved in that flotilla is something I will never forget,” says Alex. “It was a once in a lifetime event and I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck sticking up now just thinking about it!”

Queen of the Lake takes part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012

📷: Queen of the Lake takes part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012

Queen of the Lake, built in 1949, had never been away from Windermere.

“Getting her out of the water, transported down south and then on to the river Thames was a real honour,” he says.

“The funny thing is I’d been to London loads of times and never really liked it. But seeing it from the water - it is a lovely place!”

Things have changed a lot over the years. Technology on new vessels like MV Swift, which entered service in October 2020, is far removed from that on the heritage “steamers” like Tern, Swan and Teal. But Alex says he wouldn’t change a thing about his life working on Windermere’s vessels.

“I just love to see the excitement of everyone getting ready to board and head out onto Windermere. There is something magical about it. I get such a thrill when I hear people coming back from a trip saying what a wonderful time they have had,” says Alex. “I’m sat here now by the bay and lots of people are getting on the boats ready to head out onto Windermere – I just love it!”

ALex stads between two traditional launches last winter

John Woodburn, Operations Director for Windermere Lake Cruises, says: Alex has always been hard working and conscientious. He learnt his boat building skills from the "old hands" and these traditional skills are almost a lost art. He has a rare talent for fixing boats.

“The slipping of our 533 seat steamers during winter maintenance is an impressive process to see and without Alex and his colleagues experience l am not sure how we would manage these large projects.”

And its been noticed how much he loves the traditional wooden launches: “He always has a wide smile on his face when the onboard brass work is polished, and the newly varnished vessels are prepared each spring ready to receive the first passengers of the summer!”

Occasionally you will see Alex skippering one of the company’s modern launches – he still has his passenger licence and is a qualified Boat Master. On days off he likes to go out touring on his motorbike – but often cruises along the promenade at Bowness. You might even spot him sitting by the water watching the boats. “I have to be careful because if anyone from work sees me they shout ‘Can you come and fix this, Alex?’”

And to be honest, even on his day off, he probably would!

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