Traditional wooden launch Muriel II is removed by crane from the surface of Windermere

Winter care regime for Windermere’s historic wooden wonders

Published: 15th December 2022
Categories: Media Release

Four historic wooden launches which have carried passengers on Windermere for over 70 years are undergoing essential work to preserve them for future generations.

The vessels, the oldest of which dates back to 1936, have been lifted from the waters of England’s longest lake, for experts to carry out essential maintenance and treatment to protect them.

The wooden craft getting ready to be put under cover for their annual winter maintenance

Without treatment, the historic vessels - Princess of the Lake, Queen of the Lake, Muriel II and Sunflower, would deteriorate. But the annual winter care programme keeps them in top condition for future visitors and tourists.

“If we did not do this extensive work there is a danger these old boats would, over time, just rot away,” explains Alex Williamson, a boat builder and maintenance manager with Windermere Lake Cruises.

Alex Williamson, boat builder and maintenance manager standing next to wooden craft 'Princess of The Lake'

The oldest of the traditional launches is Muriel II which was built in 1936. The other three vessels all started service between 1949 and 1950.

Alex has been with the company and looked after its many historic vessels for 38 years.

“The first thing we do before they are taken out of the water is strip them down and remove everything that can be removed like seats and safety equipment.

“It’s a delicate job to crane them out of the water onto a trailer and then lift them onto cradles without causing any twisting or damage,” he says. “The Princess and Queen weigh 9 tonnes each and the smaller vessels weigh 6 tonnes each. They are put on a special trolley to support them.”

Bungs are removed from the bottom of the boats and they are meticulously cleaned. Propeller shafts are disconnected and removed.

“When all the preparation is complete, we put a temporary building over them,” explains Alex. “When they are all under cover we can put in heating and lighting and start the process of drying them out,” says Alex. “That process will go on until Christmas.”

Some of the boats from above as they are prepared to get maintained and restored this winter.

Once dried out, the vessels will undergo any repairs required and they will be painted to make sure they look perfect for next season’s influx of tourists and visitors.

“It’s hard work but essential,” says Alex. “The final thing we do is put on an oil-based wood preserver to make sure they are fully protected.”

At the beginning of next year, the wooden vessels undergo an out of water inspection by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to check they are safe to return to the water and resume passenger cruises.

Alex says: “I get a great deal of satisfaction from looking after the boats and keeping them preserved and looking their best. We work in a wonderful part of the country with some of the best scenery you could wish for. When you see a group like a wedding party heading out onto Windermere in one of the boats it is a wonderful feeling.”

One of the highlights of Alex’s career with Windermere Lake Cruises came in June 2012, when he oversaw the plan to enable Queen of the Lake to take part in the historic Diamond Jubilee flotilla in London.

Queen of the Lake during the Diamond Jubilee flotilla in 2012

The 50ft vessel was transported by low-loader all the way from Windermere to the Thames and back.

“It was an incredible operation and an honour to be involved in such an historic event,” he says. “Queen of the Lake was one of 670 boats in the flotilla and it’s something I will never forget.”

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