Bertha

Bertha was once known as a dredger – a boat which was designed to keep channels clear for shipping by removing silt. I now understand that correctly she’s a drag boat in that she was like an underwater bulldozer which just shoved silt elsewhere.

I saw her many years ago – in the 1970s I think – at the Exeter Maritime Museum which was a great place.

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And there she is – or at least was. She looks a bit unprepossessing but this little vessel has claims to fame.

Let’s start with the motive power. This is a steam powered vessel but without screw or paddle wheel. She had a specific use in a specific location and she hauled herself along a chain which was anchored at some convenient point. Bertha would have been a dead loss in open waters for she had no method of propulsion other than the chain.

And then there is the age. Bertha dates from 1844 and was built to keep Bridgwater Harbour clear of silt. She was still operational when presented to the Exeter Museum in 1968.

And then there is the question of the designer. This boat is attributed to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Nobody is 100% certain but it is very, very similar to one he did design for use at Bristol docks.

She is currently at Eyemouth – the other end of the country and out of the water. Actually, Eyemouth is in Scotland.

All Brunel fans hope she’ll be returned to working order and will be seen in operation.

 

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