If you’re visiting the Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine’s Dock in London this September, you may be asking, “Where’s Portwey?” For many years, Portwey’s cheerful whistle and jaunty red funnel have been a fixture of the Festival.

We’re sorry to say that Portwey won’t be at the Festival in 2023 as she is undergoing essential repairs to the hull.

Portwey is the only coal-fired, twin-screw, pre-World War II tug still in operation in the UK. Many of you will have enjoyed our summer cruises on the Thames in previous years.

We’re looking for volunteers to maintain and crew our historic tug. If you want to be part of keeping Portwey going to her 100th birthday in 2027, we want to hear from you.

You don’t need special skills or experience to volunteer on Portwey. Obviously, if you do have skills in engineering, boat handling, woodwork, or DIY, we’d love to hear from you, but everyone is welcome, whatever your age (provided you’re over 16) or level of experience. We are also looking for people to manage the Steam Tug Portwey Trust as charity trustees.

We run work sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays at our berth in the West India Docks in east London. If you want to volunteer, or are interested in becoming a charity trustee, please contact: Chris Nursey, Chief Engineer. Email: jillandchrisn@supanet.com. Phone: 07810 132232.


Portwey’s first outing in full steam since 2018 was a great success.

Initially it was thought we would have to withdraw from the event at St. Katharine Docks due to lack of crew on the date most suitable for entry into the docks but after careful consideration of the high water tide figures it was decided that we could delay entry until Thursday 8 September when a full crew could be mustered. The problem was our draft which the docks office took to be the tug’s maximum of 9ft whereas the real figure would be between 7ft and 8ft. Also there had recently been heavy rain upstream on the Thames which would help to increase the maximum tide height.

Our normal skipper was unavailable so our ever resourceful chief engineer made some enquiries and found a skipper able to help. He came well recommended with vast experience of tug handling and dock operations.

So on Tuesday 6 September the fires were lit and at 1100hrs on 8 September the ropes were cast off (not an easy task with the Massey Shaw fire boat berthed outside Portwey) and the tug made her way into the South Quay lock.


Once the water was at the same level as the Thames the road bridge was raised, the lock gates opened, and Portwey steamed out onto the river.


The trip up river went without a hitch with the newly refurbished tail shafts and bearings working well. Various manoeuvres and safety drills were performed en-route and soon Portwey arrived at the Docks Entrance lock and was given the green (you may enter) light.

A swift reconnaissance was carried out on our berth and once the lock gates were opened Portwey was manoeuvred into position and tied up.

Our new skipper remarked how easy the tug had been to manoeuvre.

The next morning in the early mist

Portwey from the stern

This photo is taken from the starboard stern quarter and shows the late Queen Elizabeth’s launch “Gloriana”.

These photos were taken on Sunday 11 September and show how busy the crew were, giving information about the tug and answering the many questions from the public.

Some of the crew members who made the event so successful

To sum up, a very big thank you is in order to the crew who took part in the preparation and display of Portwey at this event. It was a magnificent effort which showed Portwey off to her very best.

A note should be made of the way the team worked together and picked up the skills needed to prepare the tug for steaming, running the engine and boiler rooms on the journeys and guiding guests around the tug. Whilst the weekend was tiring for everyone it was good to see different members of the team covering off the work of others as they needed a break or rest.

Well done to all !


A great deal of work has been ongoing to get Portwey back in steaming condition.

When the newly refurbished tail shafts were rotated under power for the first time they were found to be leaking oil, albeit in small quantities. After much thought about the cause it was decided to measure the wear on the thrust blocks which prevent the shafts moving fore and aft. Sure enough they were out of tolerance and so new ones were made and fitted after their housings were cleaned out.

Starboard side thrust box being cleaned out.

The new thrust blocks have been installed and a successful trial run carried out under steam with the tail shafts rotated one at a time at minimum speed.

Meanwhile much scraping and painting has been carried out to keep Portwey looking smart.

There has been much discussion about the difficulty of sourcing supplies of coal for the steam heritage sector so we were lucky to be able to buy 6 tonnes of suitable welsh coal which is now safely stored in the bunkers.

This all means that we are at last ready to go steaming and our plan is to attend the Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks over the long weekend September 9th-11th. Portwey will be in steam and open to the public on those days


A lot of work has been carried out so far this year on Portwey.

The focus has been on repainting the hull bulwarks and superstructure and raising steam in order to test the newly refurbished propeller tail shafts with their new bearings. Both these major tasks have been ongoing throughout this year with more still to do.

This photo shows how smart Portwey is looking now after much scraping and painting. There is a wisp of smoke from the funnel as the fires are lit for the first time in 3 years.


Portwey has now had her refurbished tail shafts, associated bearings and glands, and propellors re-fitted.

On 4 January she was towed across the river and moored back at her South Quay berth. She now faces East so that remedial work can begin on her port side rubbing strake and bulwarks (see photos).

With lockdown restrictions in force no work is being done apart from safety checks. Wednesday and Saturday working parties will resume as soon as allowed.


On 23 November a call was received from Thamescraft Dry Docking Services with the request that Portwey be towed into dry dock on 2 December for the tail shafts and propellers to be re-fitted and some welding work to be carried out in the aft corners of the bulwarks. This was very short notice and meant quite a rush to prepare the aft cabin to give access to the working area.

The photos below show some of the work in progress.


It has been a strange year for everyone and of course work on Portwey has been affected.

First there was the total lockdown starting in March and lasting for several months which prevented any work being done on Portwey. When the lockdown was finally lifted many restrictions remained in place but finally in late May a list of Covid-19 working practices, following government guidelines, was produced. PPE items were purchased and small working parties were able to resume in June.

The photos below show some of the work in progress.

These photos show the finished work:

The opportunity has also been taken to rebuild the brickwork at the back of the starboard furnace and replace all the fire bars which had become distorted:

On 22 July the refurbished tail shafts were collected but various small fittings need to be made before the tail shafts can be re-fitted. In addition the stern seals must be overhauled. It is hoped that Portwey can be dry-docked for all this work to be completed before the end of the year.

Portwey in dry dock with tail shafts and propellors removed in 2019

There will be further updates as and when we have more news. Meanwhile we wish all our members and supporters continuing good health and look forward to welcoming you back aboard when normality resumes.




The following photographs show the dry docking progress during 2019 up to 2 September with brief descriptions.

Portwey secure in dry dock waiting for the tide to go out.

She’s high and dry now.

Close up view from ahead.

The hull after scraping and washing.

One of several hundred ultrasound readings being taken.
The good news is that the thickness readings show that no areas are giving cause for concern.

The port propellor nut guard being removed.

Both rope guards have been removed exposing the outer seals.

Propellor with gasket, retaining nut, and split pin revealed.

Propellor with gasket, retaining nut, and split pin removed.

Puller arrangement in place and heat being applied. The initial attempt to remove the propellor was unsuccessful. Watch this space !

Paint being prepared for a fresh coat of black. There are two more guys working on the port side.

The port propellor is off! All the blades had to be removed so that a more robust puller could be used. The outer seal has gone for repair locally and the encouraging news is there is very little wear in the bearing so we will not pull the port tail shaft.

The propellor hub.

The propellor blades.

The dock yard staff have started applying new paint They are doing the black between the rubbing strake and the anti fouling.

Portwey looking resplendent with fresh paint and antifouling and also new anodes.

View of the stern showing both tail shafts removed.
They are now being refurbished at a heavy engineering firm in the Midlands.
We are trying to find new springs and sealing rings for the outer stern seals.

Portwey has to be moved to another dry dock to make way for an urgent repair job on another vessel.
This photograph shows the port stern tube sealed ready for the move.

All ready for the move with both stern tubes sealed.

Portwey is now back at South Quay minus tail shafts and propellors.

There has been a delay while the tail shafts and associated bearings and glands are
restored so as the dry dock was needed for other vessels Portwey had to be moved.

The yard is getting very busy again so it may be that Portwey will not have
the tail shafts and propellors refitted until Spring 2020.

Watch this space !


Steam Experience Days

Book a whole day on Portwey and be part of the crew, as a Steam Experience volunteer on any of our steaming days.

Join a crew member in the engine room, boiler room or on the bridge of our unique Vessel.


In the engine room you will have the opportunity to lubricate all of the seven steam engines on board, respond to telegraph instruction from the bridge to change speed or direction of the vessel and support the crew on watch.

In the boiler room you will add coal to our twin furnace boiler as directed to maintain boiler pressure between 100 and 135 psi, keep the water level within working limits by using the GS pump to add water and de-ash the grates as required.

On the Bridge

On the bridge you will be under the supervision of the skipper and will steer the ship to maintain a given course. Use the telegraph to communicate with the engine room to change speed or reverse the ship and assist in keeping a record of course and speed.

On deck, this is your opportunity to view the seascape, help the deck crew tidy away ropes etc. and maintain a tidy ship.

The day costs £250 pp including:
one years membership of the Steam Tug Portwey Trust
plus ploughmans lunch and refreshments.

See information booklet and booking form.

Information and Bookings: stportweyevents@hotmail.co.uk
07833 411160

Filming and Corporate Days Out

Portwey is available for Filming and Corporate Days out in and around Canary Wharf, London -
Information and Bookings: stportweyevents@hotmail.co.uk
07833 411160

Did you know that part of the Channel 4 series TITANIC was filmed aboard Portwey?