John Sales had an arrangement to meet friends in Harwich on Saturday May 14th already in place when the news was announced the previous day that LV18 had been moved to her new mooring. The ship has a long association with offshore radio broadcasts, most recently the watery wireless recreatons by BBC Essex in 2004, 2007 and 2009. Ship's owners the Pharos Trust, have been fundraising and campaigning for some years to make the historic lightship an important star attraction for Harwich.

We asked John if he would produce a photo report for the Radio London website, which he has kindly done.

Unless otherwise stated, photos are © John Sales – click on small versions to see enlargements.

There's a great deal going on in Harwich at the moment. The council has made a lot of alterations to the road and pavement outside the Pier Hotel. It's not yet 100% finished but it does look rather attractive, with newly-laid paving slabs and the paved areas are now much larger than they used to be. Subsequently, the roadway has been made smaller and the small lay-by adjacent to the Ha'Penny Pier Office has now gone.

(Left) The Pier Hotel and environs, mid-Sixties, as featured in the film Dateline Diamonds (No enlargement available). Right, the hotel in 2011, with the new paving.

Tony O'Neil was on the ship when I reached the Quay. I was spotted and immediately invited to come aboard, via the super new all-aluminium gangway, which cost £20,000! Its installation had been completed only the previous day, at 2300, after which all involved celebrated by going for a drink in the Pier Hotel. Here, they had the pleasure of running into the Manager and they exchanged a few words with him. Tony believes that relations with the hotel, which initially opposed the ship being berthed on the Quay, are beginning to thaw.
The complete exterior of the LV18 has been sandblasted to remove all rust and previously-applied paint. Unfortunately this was a very messy process. The sand compound used has gone absolutely everywhere, including below decks, and Tony and his volunteers are frantically trying to clean it all away. The Radio Sunshine markings have now gone, so it's the end of that era of her life and the ship has moved on!

The new red-and-white paint job, which looks so nice, is a recreation of how the ship appeared in 1958 when she was new. The paint has been applied after a two-part undercoat of primer, so hopefully she will continue to look good for the foreseeable future. Most of those familiar with the LV18 can only ever remember seeing her coloured completely red, but apartfrom when she was brand new, she was also painted in the red-and-white livery around the 1976-1977 period of her life, as records held by the Pharos Trust show. 

Major work has been carried out on the ship's hull to attach the three "saddles" that ride up and down the steel piles which were driven into the sea-bed last year. (Left) This is the mechanism which allows the ship to ride with the tide without any human intervention whatsoever. When the ship was tied-up to the Ha'Penny Pier during the last Pirate BBC Essex broadcast she was moored using ropes, but these had to be adjusted regularly, either in or out, by volunteers like Mike Barrington and Carley, to keep them sensibly taunt. Had they not been correctly loosened as the tide went out, then the LV18 could have been left "hanging" from the Pier which wouldn't have been a very good idea for either the Pier or the ship! However, the new mooring system doesn't require anyone to control it as it's completely automatic. The part of the Pier where you catch the Foot-Ferry has exactly the same sort of mechanism. The difference in water levels at Harwich between high and low tide is around 4 metres, so there has to be that much allowance for movement. Of course, the access gangway also has to allow for this large range of movement, but this is pivoted at each end. A gate has been placed at the shoreside end of the gangway, so that the ship is secure when nobody is aboard.

From the photos, you will also see that the rear lattice mast, which used to be mounted on the heli-deck, has now been removed. Tony says it is in storage in case it's required for use in the future. The heli-deck now sports brand new railings all around. 
At present the ship is not open to the public. While I was there, several visitors did come along to the entrance to the gangway but they were politely informed of the later opening plans. Tony's intention for the ship is to have two different mini-exhibitions down below in some of the cabins. They will both have the same theme, "Men Working and Living Together at Sea in The 1960s", but one will be dedicated to manning a light-vessel, the other will be about working and living on a pirate radio ship. A clever idea, that should be successful. Tony is hoping to have the ship accessible to the public in around 5 weeks' time, but there is still much work to be done.
In the evening my friends and I tried a new restaurant in the town called The Kusturi. As we walked along Church Street to find it, I very quickly realised that it's what used to be the East Coast Rock Café! After being the café, it had closed and stayed empty for several years, then it became a Chinese Restaurant. Now it's an Indian.

(Right) One of the loo door signatories, Willy Walker, poses outside the East Coast Rock Café during the 2001 Offshore Reunion. (Photo © Chris Payne. No enlargement available). Behind Willy, John Edward chats to Sharon.
It felt a bit strange eating in the East Coast Rock Café again after all this time, knowing full-well about the previous Offshore Radio reunions staged there. There's even the same loo upstairs where some of the DJs who attended autographed the door in felt pen. Needless to say, the signatures aren't there now!

John Sales

(Below) Shore connection: The £20,000 LV18 gangway

Feature © John Sales and Radio London, 2011

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