Seabourne Alpha An Aggregate Dredger
Model Engineer|4626
Michael Nicholson builds a model of a ship he worked on as a teenager.
Michael Nicholson

To be honest, Seabourne Alpha was a rust bucket and certainly not an attractive prototype for a scale model. Launched in March 1912 as the Hartford she almost certainly served as a freighter during both WW1 and WW2 but by 1950 she had been modified to collect gravel from the seabed, had been renamed Seabourne Alpha and had fallen on hard times. In 1962 I worked on her as a 16 year old deckhand - thus the interest.

I can well remember her dangerous state; the port anchor couldn’t be dropped because there was a knot in the chain, the majority of her doors were rusted OPEN and one of the lifeboats took half a day to launch and then promptly sank! There were many other horrors so where the owners acquired the Certificate of Seaworthiness I know not, but I have my suspicions!

Perhaps my biggest scare was to be pulled up to the top of the mast in a Bosun’s chair armed with paint and a brush. The pulley at the masthead was slowly moving downwards because the wood was completely rotten!

In photo 1 I show the ship as she was originally constructed and named the Hartford. Photograph 2 shows the ship (in model form) as she looked after alteration – note the wheelhouse and pipes and tubes.

She collected about 700 tons of gravel and sand from the sea bottom using a 90 foot long tube which was lowered over the side. The slurry was pumped into a small hold near the bow and this was in turn pumped out into a large open hold. Excess water flowed out via the scuppers. The slurry could be distributed around the hold using a large manhandled chute so that even loading could be guaranteed. The settled slurry in the holds behaved like a quicksand.

The gravel was collected from off the strait north west of the Isle of Wight (between the Needles and the New Forest Shore). The sea here is shallow and continuously silts. Once loaded we delivered the sand and gravel at ports anywhere along the south coast. It took about four hours to load the aggregate and then we would set off to the destination.

I decided to build a model of Seaborne Alpha as she would have been had she enjoyed lots of TLC. I adopted a scale of 1:35 producing an overall length of 1300mm and a beam of 230mm

I will tell you more about the ship’s condition as I describe the construction of the model.

The Hull

Seabourne Alpha was, of course, built from riveted panels. The problem I had was to make a realistic compromise. A set of ribs was created in 5mm plywood, working from photographs because no drawings were available. The skin was built up from 15mm wide strips of 1.5mm plywood softened in water to form the curved sections. With care a reasonable profile can be obtained. To seal the hull the inner surfaces were coated with liquid polyurethane and cotton material. In photo 3 you can see the result.

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