One Man's Passion
Martin Stevens has a passion for saving historic steam ships.
He owns a steam tug which is kept at Chatham Historic Dockyard and since 1972 he has been responsible for saving several special vessels which would otherwise have been scrapped.
In 2001 he formed the Medway Maritime Trust, a charitable trust dedicated to the rescue, restoration and conservation of historic ships. Robert Prescott, a founding member of the Medway Maritime Trust and the man responsible for drawing up the Register of Historic Vessels for The National Historic Ships Committee, once said that every preserved ship had to go though the phase of being rescued by a "Maverick". Martin fits that description. Somehow the established preservation organisations need to be shown what has to be preserved.
The significant vessels in the Trust are JOHN H AMOS, the last paddle tug in the UK, and the 1902 Customs Cruiser VIGILANT.
John H Amos was acquired by Martin in 1974 when she was based at Stockton on Tees. He and Michael List Brain, his then partner in what they called the Medway Maritime Museum, rescued the paddle tug from being scrapped, and towed her to Chatham with the steam tug CERVIA, (now the last remaining Empire class tug, and based in Ramsgate). After decades of drama, sinking, and being moved on, John H Amos has now been lifted, all 300 tonnes of her, onto a pontoon at Chatham Docks. The Trust has decided that full restoration of John H Amos should wait until the next generation and that she should come ashore and be open to the public.
For further information on John H Amos visit www.johnhamos.org.uk
Vigilant on the other hand is going to be fully restored, starting now.
She was rescued by Martin when she was sunk in a scrap yard in Portsmouth. He pumped her out at low tide and when she floated he towed her to shore with his van, and had her towed to Faversham.
Vigilant is one of the most significant historic ships. Part steam, part sail, she led the 1911 Spithead Review of the Fleet, and is the only survivor of the entire fleet.
Like every vessel that Martin has saved, Vigilant has been moved on again and again. Until funding can be organised berths have to be for free. Not easy. Yes, and she too has sunk at her moorings.
But her time has come. Having retired, Martin has decided not to rescue any more lame ducks for the moment but to concentrate on bringing back to life what will be one of the most attractive, stylish vessels afloat. His personal thoughts are that perhaps the Queen would have used her for her Jubilee celebrations had Vigilant been restored. Perhaps she will be ready for the next coronation !
Berthed at present in Chatham Docks, it is planned that the restoration will take place at the Medway Maritime Trust's facilities in Sheerness Docks where the Trust rents an historic workshop.
Restoration is very different from rescuing. It requires different talents and a business-like approach. Martin and his present trustees realise this. They are recruiting trustees who have experience of big business while at the same time share his passion for saving our heritage.