Britain’s last steamship is set to return to the high seas in 2012

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After a year of setback and hard work both on the ship and behind the scenes significant progress has been made on funding, and offers of assistance to get the SS Shieldhall back to sea. Draft sailing plans are being drawn up to ensure the SS Shieldhall plays her role in this year’s programme of extensive maritime celebrations and memorials.

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In December 2011 the trustees of the Headley Trust awarded the SS Shieldhall a grant of £32,000 to help fund the repair work to the engine-room framing, this award has significantly raised hopes of getting “Shieldhall” back to a sea-worthy condition. This will give supporters and the public the opportunity of experiencing again the last steam ship operating in the environment she was designed for – the open sea.

Significant progress is also being made on other grant applications which will help to secure Shieldhall’s longer term future and enhance the many learning and recreational opportunities available. A new target has also been set to raise a further £170,000 for the charity by corporate and individual donations.

This is all in stark contrast to the bleak position “Shieldhall” faced at the same time last year. Increased fuel costs, the affects of the economic climate, the impending cost of its annual sea worthiness certificate, and the devastating news of subsequent major failure.

The first challenge was to raise the intial £80,000 necessary to enable “Shieldhall” to be dry-docked in Falmouth in May 2011 for her annual survey. This was successfully achieved within days of the deadline with tremondous support from volunteers, organisations and the great British public.

Devastating news followed, during the dry dock survey the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Surveyor identified a number of badly corroded hull frames in the engine-room. The result of 56 years in a very aggressive environment. The passenger certificate was suspended until suitable repairs could be made and all passenger sailings had to be cancelled for 2011 and onwards. The initial cost of repair and re-inspection was massive and the main source of income to keep the ship operational was lost. A repair specification was agreed with the MCA and work is now well under way to regain the passenger certificate in early 2012 funding permitting.

Sailings are planned to start in April, with two “Titanic” related events on the 10th and 14th April. As a mark of respect for the events of 100 years ago, “Shieldhall’s” colour scheme has been altered to feature a black hull. This is our memorial to those who were lost on the 15th April 1912, but also to all those lost at sea in peacetime and war. The season will continue with excursions to view the three Cunard Queens in June, the seven ships of the P&O fleet in early July, when P&O celebrate their 175th anniversary and many other events taking place along the south coast in the summer.

Graham Mackenzie Managing Director says. We have had massive support in the last year from around the world, small and large donations. We would like to sincerely thank everyone for their contributions to date. However, there is still a long way to go. We need financial support more than ever either through donations or sailing with us otherwise without sufficient income, we cannot sustain the old lady for the future. To sail ten nautical miles costs £500 in fuel oil! In this year of maritime reflection, and celebration I would encourage all to experience “Shieldhall”, based in her home port of Southampton Dock Gate 4.

Our website, www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk will have all the details.

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