Monday, 23 March 2015

The Alfred Normandale - Wooden Boat History

I have to admit I'm a sucker for wooden boats.  As a child my father initiated me into the ways of these special creations - the unique joy that comes from sanding, painting and generally mucking around with wooden craft.  I was fortunate to spend many weekends at Blunts Boatyard (and here), where the smells, touch, curves and folklore of wooden craft entered my DNA.

So when this grand old lady motored past three weeks ago my heart beat just that little bit stronger.  Very little wake, 8 knots, and the sound of ..... well, very little sound, except that very low growl that can only be a Gardiner diesel.  I was hooked.

The Alfred Normandale is the official pilot boat here in Trincomalee.  Researching her provenance I learned from the crew that "she is English Sir" and is named after one of the first Harbour Masters in Columbo. Trying to trace that has proved difficult, but with the help of Hans Houterman ( I suspect that he was Alfred Normandale, born in Scarborough UK in 1853.  He is listed in the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London (Guildhall Library Ms 18567). He would be really proud to see this old girl still serving.  This is certainly the oldest wooden boat I've seen in official government service.

Some days later we invited the Trincomalee Pilot aboard Crystal Blues - Captain Lakshi is the sole Trincomalee Pilot and also the Deputy Harbour master here.   

We spoke of ships and pilotage, and he spoke of his education in Australia where he did specialist maritime studies. He also commented how comfortable the Alfred Normandale was at sea, even in big conditions. They don't make them like that anymore.

Captain Lakshi is one of the local officials who have worked hard to make cruising sail boats welcome here this year, for which we are very grateful.  

For more images of the Alfred Normandale, click the link the link below.   Further information on her history would also be appreciated....


  1. Neil this fine vessel looks a bit like the old customs boat in Williamstown before the Killara. Can you remember her at Gem Pier?

    1. David yes I do remember her...... there are apparently two of these boats still working in Sri Lanka, one at Trincomalee and the other at Columbo. Six cylinder Gardiner diesels, quiet and surprisingly quick. I'm guessing they are 1930's vintage, maybe earlier ? The timber hull has been glass skinned on the outside - shame. But the pilots love her, say she is much more sea kindly than the modern boats.


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