Latest news from Ivan Corlett

  • A chip off the old block

    10:41 15 March 2016
    By Ivan Corlett

    Sidney the Sea Serpent has returned to Coniston having been completely recarved, painted and gilded by Peter Hall & Son over the winter period -  a rather unusual commission for our local craftsmen.

    Here is the old Sid arriving at Peter Hall’s workshop in nearby Staveley last December.

    The old Sidney arriving at Peter Hall & Son

    This is not the first time Peter Hall & Son have been involved with Gondola. About 14 years ago they did some major work in the First Class saloon - lining the ceiling with calico and supporting it with wooden vaults as well as reupholstering the seating in plush red buttoned fabric, thus reinstating the saloon to the way it had been in its original form.

    Refurbished first class saloon

    They’ve also done repair work on the old Sidney in the past, replacing rotten wood and re-gilding Sid.

    Further repair work this time was not practical because of the amount of rot to Sid. So a new Sid was needed. The first step saw blocks of English oak glued and cramped together to form a rough 'blank' from which the new serpent could be carved.

    English oak blank for the new Sid

    Whilst work was going on, the old Sid was never very far away, keeping an eye on developments.

    Here are the old and new Sids lying side by side (or perhaps more appropriately, Sid by Sid).

    Old and new side by side

    Once the body of the new Sid had been carved, the next step was to create his scales using a 'V' tool to cut the grooves of the cross hatches.

    Carving Sid's scales

    The final step was to give Sid his golden coat, firstly by applying numerous coats of yellow paint and then covering him in gold leaf.

    Gilding work begins on Sid

    After much careful gilding work, the new Sid was complete. The finished serpent is seen here with his creator, Ian, who I think you'll agree, has done a magnificent job.

    Sid and his creator, Ian

    Ian and the team brought the new Sid back to Gondola just in time for the start of the season. Here they are fixing him back on the prow of the boat.

    The new Sid takes his place on Gondola

    Most of the work on Sid has been paid for through generous donations from friends and admirers of Gondola. We’re still £1,500 short of what we need to meet our target, so the fundraising is still going on. 

    Find out how you can Support Sidney.

  • One Man and His Dog

    15:34 20 August 2015
    By Ivan Corlett

    Gondola has a new mascot – my terrier, Billy.

    Billy on the jetty

    Billy’s tale is the doggy version of a rags to riches story – from the dogs’ home to the luxury of a Victorian Steam Yacht.

    He had a difficult start to life and ended up at the Yorkshire Rose Dog Rescue, which is where I first came across him.

    I liked the look of him and, although he was a little nervous, he didn’t seem to be too put off by the look of me so I offered to foster him. Once we’d got to know each other I started to bring him on Gondola where he gradually came out of his shell.

    He’s now showing off his true personality and living the life of Riley, spending summer days on board the boat with the wind in his fur. What could be better?

    Billy looking at Coniston fells

    He’s a real hit with the passengers and managed to get actress Penelope Keith to fall for him during her recent filming day on Gondola. She even asked if she could take him home with her.

    Penelope Keith

    In fact she had me so worried that I immediately phoned Yorkshire Rose Dog Rescue to push through my formal adoption of Billy.

    Now we’re living our own version of the Good Life here on Coniston Water. He seems quite happy about that.

    Billy and Ivan

    Billy isn’t territorial and is always pleased to see other dogs on board Gondola. Our Weekend Walkers’ cruise is very popular with dog walkers – a great combination of a boat trip down the full length of the lake followed by a walk above the eastern or western shores.

    Billy and I hope to see you on board soon.

  • Save our Sidney

    13:19 23 July 2015
    By Ivan Corlett

    To misquote one of the most memorable phrases of the Sixties, ‘Coniston, we have a problem’.

    Don’t worry, Gondola is not about to sink, but Sid the Sea Serpent is poorly - we’re sending out an SOS to help Save Our Sidney.

    To be more accurate, it’s an SOS to ‘Swap our Sidney’ because what we really need is a new Sid.

    Sid, in case you don’t know, is the golden sea serpent figure that sits on the prow of Gondola giving the boat an extra star quality.

    Gondola at Brantwood jetty

    We couldn’t ever envisage Gondola without Sid. It would be like a Rolls Royce without the Silver Lady. Like the Houses of Parliament without Big Ben. Like Marilyn Monroe without her beauty spot. Like the Venus De Milo without arms. Ok, we’d better scrub that last one, but you know what I mean, Gondola just wouldn’t be Gondola without Sid.

    Unfortunately Sid is no longer a young serpent. Time in the open air on Coniston Water has taken its toll. Despite the fact that he still looks ok on the surface, underneath there’s too much rot for us to be able to patch him up again.

    Sidney the Sea Serpent out on the water

    The only answer is to source a new Sidney, but the problem we have is a lack of funds. A new Sidney doesn’t come cheap and it’s not an amount that can be absorbed within the general running costs of Gondola.

    So we’ve set up a fundraising drive to raise £5000 for the new Sid and we’re looking for donations. We’ll have a collecting box on board Gondola and in other locations dotted around Coniston. We’ve also adopted 21st century technology to help generate funds – you can now donate by TEXT.

    Donate by text

    Text GOND15 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 towards the restoration of Gondola’s Sidney the Sea Serpent. If you would like to donate a different amount simply replace the ‘£5’ with the figure you wish to donate - £1, £2, £10, £20, etc.

    [National Trust Registered Charity Number 205846. 100% of your donation will go towards the replacement of Sidney the Sea Serpent. Please obtain the bill payer’s permission. NT Supporter Services Centre 0344 800 1895.]

    Front view of Sid

    Just look at that face – how could you resist!

  • Jersey Boys

    11:11 27 May 2015
    By Ivan Corlett

    It may strike you that the crew members of Steam Yacht Gondola are unlikely to be at the forefront of modern fashion, but you’d be wrong.

    The style these days seems to be all about going retro and that’s exactly what the Gondola crew have done in putting together their new outfits.

    But they’ve not just gone back to the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s, at least not the 1960’s, 70’s or 80’s. The new retro jerseys are based on the tops worn by the original Gondola crews back in the 19th Century.

    Below is a photo of some of the current crew modelling the new jerseys.

    Crew wearing the new jerseys

    Jack on the left is wearing one of the former tops as a comparison – he’s so last year!

    Hop on board soon and let us know what you think about our new look.

  • The Long Haul

    16:55 25 November 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    The operating season for Steam Yacht Gondola finally came to an end on 31 Oct, after a summer that provided us with amazing weather and more than 20,000 passengers. Gondola is unique in the UK as the only large pleasure cruiser powered entirely by steam, so it's been no surprise that visitors came from as far afield as Australia just to see her and experience the serenity of a cruise aboard this iconic Victorian steam yacht.

    Gondola (courtesy of Cumbria Life)

    The long season takes its toll, however, and once the crowds have departed, the Gondola crew and volunteers face the challenge of hauling her out of the water for the vital winter refit period. In simple terms, this consists of placing a 42 ton vessel securely onto a rolling cradle and dragging the combined weight up an inclined rail track to a final position at the top of the slipway.

    Hauled Out

    With no powered winch available, this called for a team of four to man the double handles of a manual winch. 

    Winch Team 1

    Each full turn of the massive winch mechanism draws Gondola another inch up the slipway and the winding team can manage just 30 turns before grinding to a halt and putting the brake on. 

    Winch Team 1 beginning to tire

    The next team of four then take up their positions and continue winding - hour after hour.

    Winch Team 2

    Fortunately for the Gondola crew, it's a long tradition in this part of the Lakes that our friends from nearby NT properties turn out in force to add their sweat to ours - all for a cup of tea! So, we'd like to thank Craig, Glen, Rob and all the others who willingly lent a hand to this year's hauling out ceremony, in the best spirit of the Trust.


    Following on from the day of the long haul, Steam Yacht Gondola has had her own frame and cover erected over her to protect her from the winter weather and she now closely resembles a giant toothpaste tube.

    Under cover

    The boat is now ready for the crew to set to and carry out the myriad of refit tasks over the coming winter in reasonable comfort. These jobs range from stripping down the immaculate steam engine for servicing, to painting and varnishing almost every surface on the boat. By next March and the start of the 2015 season she will once again be a vision of perfection and beauty.

  • Essential Equipment

    09:14 08 October 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    This week on Gondola I was aware that I had a problem in the engine room, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

    Engine room

    There was enough fuel in the firebox.


    Steam pressure looked good.

    Pressure gauges

    I’d oiled everything that needed oiling.

    Oil can

    And then I realised what the problem was. You can probably spot it in the next picture.

    Tea in the engine room

    That’s correct, I’d forgotten to drink my tea!

    It’s important to keep the engineer fuelled as well as the engine you know.

  • The Tiller Boys

    13:42 16 September 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Sorry to disappoint you, but the Tiller Boys doesn’t refer to a line of feather-costumed, precision dancers high kicking their way along the deck of Gondola.

    Instead, I’m referring to the boys in the crew who, in an emergency, need to work the tiller to steer the boat.

    In normal operation the Helmsman steers the boat from his position up on the helm using the wheel.

    Steering wheel

    However, should the steering mechanism fail for any reason we have to be able to steer the boat using the tiller.

    Two of our new recruits, Jack and Dave, were put through their paces on an emergency tiller exercise recently to make sure they know what to do if we have a steering failure.

    At the stern of the boat there’s a removable hatch above the rudder where a tiller locks into place so that the boat can be steered by moving the rudder directly, as demonstrated to our new recruits by crewman Greg.

    Demonstration of using the tiller

    Using the tiller requires quite a lot of muscle so it’s a two man job and it also means the boat has to travel a little slower than normal as running at full steam makes it almost impossible to move the tiller.

    But it’s not simply a question of brawn, brain is also required. The tiller boys work under the direction of the Helmsman, who shouts out instructions to tell them to move the tiller to port or to starboard.


    And here’s where the brain is needed because if the Helmsman wants the boat to turn to port the tiller has to move to starboard and if he wants the boat to go to starboard the tiller has to move to port. The Helmsman therefore has to think which way he wants to manoeuvre the boat then ‘flip’ his instruction the other way around for the tiller boys.

    If things go wrong the boys can end up doing a funny little dance backwards and forwards with the tiller as the Helmsman corrects his instructions – not quite the dance of the tiller girls, more like the hokey cokey.

    Using the tiller

    Using the tiller

    I’m pleased to say that in our exercise, no such tomfoolery ensued and we sailed in a controlled fashion under precise instruction from the helm from our base at Pier Cottage all the way to Coniston Pier for our first pick-up of the day.

    Anyway, back to those Tiller Girls ….

  • Wakey Wakey, Rise and Shine

    11:06 26 August 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Those of you who have stood on the jetty at Coniston Pier awaiting the first Gondola sailing of the day at 11am may think that the crew have only just turned up, flicked a switch and sailed Gondola serenely round the bay from her berthing point at Pier Cottage.

    Oh no, no, no. If only it was that simple. Like a prima donna actress, it takes quite a lot of organisation and effort to get Gondola looking her best and ready for action in a morning.

    The crew turn up at 8am to start the day’s work. Admittedly, the first task of the day involves switching the kettle on, but whilst we drink our tea we sort out the allocation of duties, discuss any items for special attention that day and review the latest communications from National Trust HQ.

    No sooner have we done that than it’s time to open up Gondola.

    Opening up

    We have to get the fire going early for the steam engine so the first job is to remove the chimney cap which keeps out any overnight rain.

    Removing the chimney cap

    And then build the fire with screwed up paper and small pieces of the environmentally friendly blazer logs (it’s not rocket science!).

    Preparing the fire

    Whilst Dave, our new volunteer engineer, takes on the job of firestarter, our other new recruit Jack makes the place look spick and span, firstly with the hoover

    Hoovering up

    And then he begins cleaning the brasses.

    Cleaning the brasses

    Meanwhile Greg and Paul load two barrow loads of blazer logs.

    Loading blazer logs

    And Jack cleans more brasses

    Polishing more brasses

    Peter fixes the steam whistle to the chimney, attaches Gondola’s bell and puts out the red ensign.

    Attaching the steam whistle

    Attaching the bell

    Putting out the flag

    As Helmsman for the day, Peter has overall responsibility for the boat. He runs through a series of safety checks, tests the PA system and does a VHF radio check with our local coastguard at Liverpool.

    Finally, it’s time to pop back to the Gondola office for another cup of tea whilst the crew change out of their civvies and into their Gondola-branded outfits, and (you guessed it) Jack polishes the last of the brasses.

    Polishing more brass

    And then we’re ready for the off, as another day finally ‘begins’.

    Ready for departure

  • Coming to Heel

    17:05 25 March 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    The man from the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) came to carry out a heel test on Gondola last week. The test aims to determine how Gondola tilts or ‘heels’ with changes in weight distribution, as would happen if all the passengers suddenly decide to move to one side of the boat.

    Obviously, we don’t carry out the test with real passengers. We have to replicate the weight of each passenger with barrels of water. Here’s a picture of us filling the first few barrels.

    Filling Barrels

    Gondola is licensed to carry 86 passengers. Each passenger is represented in the test by three 25 litre barrels of water, so that meant filling 268 twenty-five litre barrels! You have to take your time otherwise there's water everywhere - throw in a couple of giant foam rubber costumes and it would be like ‘It’s A Knockout’.

    The barrels are distributed around the boat where the passengers normally sit. It took a while to wheel, drag and carry all 268 barrels into place.

    Loading Barrels

    After a while, with all hands to the pumps, we managed to get all the barrels into position. Here is the forward saloon seating area, chock-a-block with barrels ready for the test to start.

    Barrels in Fore Saloon

    The man from the MCA, let’s call him Ian (because that was his name), then began taking his measurements around the boat with the help of crewman Scott.

    Measureing the Tilt

    Measurements were taken with a balanced load and then we went through the arduous process of shifting barrels again, this time from one side of the boat to the other to determine the tilt of the boat with the weight mainly on the starboard side. You can see from the balanced load (left) and unbalanced load (right) below that the boat does heel slightly, but not by much.

    Tilt Comparison

    As the final measurements were taken, we all waited to see if Gondola had passed the test. I’m pleased to say that the Man from the MCA, like the Man from Del Monte, he say ‘Yes’!

    We have one more test to carry out before Gondola goes back on the water - the ‘man overboard’ test.

    This year we figured we’d go for greater realism and seek a volunteer for the job. One of our crewmen, Dave (the Davina McCall of the crew), recently and somewhat briefly, experimented with open water swimming, so we thought we’d ask him to volunteer. Unfortunately, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I’m fairly sure he answered in the negative.

    I guess we’ll just have to use a dummy as we always do.

  • A Noble Craft

    10:19 06 March 2014
    By Ivan Corlett

    Here at Gondola HQ we’re very fortunate to have made some good friends over the years and as with all good friendships we’re never shy in asking for a favour or two.

    Recently we begged a favour off our good friend Bill, who is skilled in the art of carpentry having worked for many years as a joiner for the National Trust. Bill very kindly volunteered his time to repair one of the capitol boards that sit on the prow of the boat.

    Capitol Board

    Those of you with a keen eye will have noticed that the capitol board holds a clue or two about Gondola’s noble connections.

    Here’s another shot showing the capitol boards in place on the boat, the two halves butting up against each other to form a coat of arms of three white stags heads on a black background together with the motto ‘Cavendo Tutus’ carved into the red ribbon below.

    Capitol boards on Gondola

    If you never got round to completing your I-Spy Book of Heraldry when you were young you might not be aware that this is the coat of arms and motto of the Duke of Devonshire. You can see the motto prominently displayed in gold lettering on the Duke’s home at Chatsworth House below.

    Chatsworth House

    The 7th Duke of Devonshire was the Chairman of the Furness Railway at the time Gondola was originally built in the late 1850’s which is how the Devonshire coat of arms came to feature on the boat.

    The family motto, ‘Cavendo Tutus’, roughly translates as ‘safe through caution’. We think this is a rather appropriate motto for a boat that carries members of the public, although it doesn’t seem to hold much sway with our public liability insurers judging by the cost of this year’s renewal!

    There’s also another hint of the link between Gondola and the Devonshires - on Chatsworth House a number of coiled snakes are carved into the frieze below the roofline. This is echoed on Gondola by the golden sea serpent on its prow.

    Devonshire snake and Gondola serpent

    And that’s only part of Gondola’s nobility story as the boat also has a link with another Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch. You can see his coat of arms on Gondola’s stern.

    Buccleuch coat of arms

    The 5th Duke of Buccleuch was also a major shareholder in the Furness Railway, but presumably didn’t have as many shares as the Duke of Devonshire.

    Loath though I am to compare Gondola to a pantomime horse, it seems that the Duke of Devonshire pulled rank and opted for the front legs!

News from Ivan Corlett

Photo of Ivan Corlett

Steam Yacht Gondola Crewman.

While working as a Fix The Fells volunteer on the upland paths, cold & soaked through, I saw the beautiful sight of Gondola way below on Coniston Water, so with a background of deep sea marine engineering and steam I thought that would be a nice, warm, dry place to be!

I applied to join the crew in 2008, got the job and have never looked back. I absolutely love it, but the real pleasure is meeting and talking to so many lovely people from all around the world.