Somerset, England - 8th August 2006
SS San Valerio - The first 93 years
In August 2005, whilst surfing the Marine and Maritime listings on the internet auction site eBay, we spotted a teak ship's wheelhouse for sale. Now, a year later, we have the wheelhouse sited in a concrete berth in our garden; we've also researched the ship's history and this is the second part of her story.
To read Part 1 of this feature "The Early Years, 1913-1953!" click here
Part 2 - San Valerio - From Ship to Shore!
In Part 1 we detailed the history of the SS San Valerio/Kuphus from her launch in 1913 up until her demise at Youngs & Dorkings breakers in Sunderland. Now read on to learn how her wheelhouse survived and went from gatehouse to painthouse over the next half century!
Youngs & Dorkings decided to salvage the solid teak wheelhouse intact as they had a need for a gatehouse reception area at the breakers' yard. She served in this role until they closed in 1978. The fate of the wheelhouse was again in the balance until it was spotted by a local resident, David Young and he bought it for a very modest price, on the basis that he arranged for its removal. This is where the problems started! The wheelhouse was located on a ledge above the yard and removal presented quite a challenge. It was decided to hire a flat bed truck and the scrap men, who were clearing the yard, were "persuaded" to haul it off the ledge with their crane.
The crane deserved to be in a museum and was originally a rail mounted steam powered device. It was positioned adjacent to the wheelhouse and while an assortment of scrap men guided the structure with ropes, the lift commenced. Unfortunately, once clear of the ledge, the restraining ropes parted, the load swung pendulum fashion and would have overturned the crane had the operator not released the wheelhouse which went into free fall and crushed a car parked below. While the car was reduced to scrap, the wooden building escaped unscathed! The wheelhouse was subsequently installed in David's back garden in Washington, Tyne & Wear where it served for many years as his workshop and den. It was subsequently extended with parts obtained from another cabin to provide a little extra space.
In 2005 David decided he could no longer continue to maintain the San Valerio in the condition to which she was accustomed and he offered her for sale locally to various museums to commemorate the ship building heritage of the area. None of the organisations approached was prepared to take her on and his daughter suggested that he offer her for sale to a wider audience over the internet auction site eBay!
We spotted the listing in August 2005 and hatched a pipe dream that she would make a wonderful showroom for our marine stock and personal collection of "nautifacts". Val, my wife and business partner, surprisingly, was for once in favour of the exercise, but with one major alteration to the master plan - the wheelhouse was to be designated her new art studio to replace the one which our business had taken over with photographic lights, stock and miscellaneous Oldnautibits! Her logic was sound and the plan was agreed. We should bid for the San Valerio at auction and if successful, we would have a new studio moored behind the office.
Tensions were high on Thursday, 18th August, 2005 - at 2011 hours a last minute "snipe" was placed in the final seconds of the auction. We were not alone as 27 other potential owners had also placed bids. We ended up as the high bidder, but sadly we did not reach the reserve price set. All was apparently lost, but the following morning we received a message to telephone the owner and were delighted to hear that he had decided to accept our offer and we were the new custodians of his wheelhouse!
That is where the real challenge started for us. David had sectioned her for transport in 10 components; the solid teak, plate glass and brass fittings made her a hefty load to collect and deliver from North East England to the South West. We eventually found a low load lorry complete with hydraulic lifting arm coming back south, having dropped its cargo in the area and we were able to negotiate a deal for a door to door service. Our "Ikea" flat pack construction kit finally arrived with us in late September 2005.
Our daughter, on seeing the large pile of blistered timber and glass lying in the drive, enquired why we could not have gone to the local garden centre like everyone else and bought a normal shed! Nine months later and after significant work by a whole bunch of friends, we think she now understands why! We hope the San Valerio/Kuphus will give us and future generations many more years of pleasure. This saga concludes, for the moment, with David Young's own words to me shortly after we had completed the delivery: "The San Valerio wheelhouse left an empty space in our garden but many very happy memories remain." In the short time she has been with us, she has already started to work her charms on us!
With special thanks to:-
David Young - for trusting us as the new custodians!
Stuart Gibbon - for building the new base and assembly.
James Telfer-Smith - who served as standby engineer on the Kuphus in 1946, and who has supplied most of the wonderful photographs, the painting and first hand memories of his ship.
Kees Helder - for information and photographs on Helderline Shell Tankers. Kees sailed in the 1960's on the tankers Abida, Vitrea, Koratia and Kosicia. His most informative web site is to be found at www.helderline.nl