Dunkirk Little Ship Sundowner to leave Ramsgate after sale is agreed and due to be finalised

The Sundowner is expected to leave Ramsgate this week

The sale of Dunkirk Little Ship the Sundowner by the trust in charge of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum has been called a ‘backward’ move by Thanet councillor and heritage enthusiast Tony Ovenden.

The historic vessel, currently moored at Ramsgate’s Inner Harbour, is understood to have gained a price of £40,000 although the sale is yet to be finalised.

The Sundowner was one of the Little Ships that took part in the World War Two Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.

It is understood the 58ft motor yacht will be taken to Chertsey where it will be fully restored at Dennett’s Boat Builders for the new owner who is an enthusiast for Dunkirk Little Ships.

The sale was made by The Steam Museum Trust which holds the lease to the Ramsgate Maritime Museum and associated facilities.

John Walker, from the Ramsgate Society, said: “The Sundowner is in need of a complete restoration, so for the sake of the boat I’m sure this is the right decision.

“No doubt we’ll see Sundowner again when she sails from Ramsgate on the regular Dunkirk trips.”

However Cllr Ovendon says the sale is stripping away Ramsgate’s heritage and highlighted that the Cervia steam tug, also part of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum collection, is up for sale as well.

He said: “The sale of the Sundowner symbolises the direction Ramsgate’s maritime heritage has been heading for some time. That is backwards.

“The Sundowner is the centrepiece of our Dunkirk heritage. Take that away, then what have we got? The approach to Ramsgate’s maritime heritage is in decline. The Steam Museum Trust does not  appear to be interested . I fear they will start asset stripping the museum, starting with the sale of the Sundowner and having the Cervia up for sale.”

The Steam Museum Trust has been contacted for comment about the sale.

The former Admiralty vessel Sundowner was built in 1912  and went into private ownership in 1929 after being bought by Charles and Sylvia Toller.

The 58ft motor yacht was requisitioned on May 31 1940 to sail to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. Lightoller, aged 66 and retired, volunteered to take her, along with his eldest son Roger, and Gerald Ashcroft, an 18-year-old Sea Scout.

On arrival at Dunkirk 75 men were crammed into the cabin, and another 55 on deck, a total of 130. Sundowner then returned to Ramsgate, avoiding fire from enemy aircraft through evasive manoeuvres on the way, though the greatest danger was being swamped by the wash from fast-moving destroyers. After disembarking the troops, she was preparing to return for France for another load, but by then only ships capable of doing 20 knots were allowed to continue.

Sundowner remained in service as a coastal patrol until 1945, and after a refit was returned to Lightoller in 1946, and once again used as a family boat.

Sundowner was bought by the East Kent Maritime Trust after the last owners had to put into Ramsgate harbour in 1986 for repair to the hull after suffering heavy damage in rough weather. She was restored in time for the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk in 1990

In 2008 the EKMT, which had been responsible for the Ramsgate Maritime Museum, became defunct. It taken over by The Steam Museum Trust, under the trusteeship of Michael List Brain, after a lease was signed with Thanet council in 2012.

The lease covered the clock house, Smeaton’s dry dock, 30 Military Road and related facilities and runs until 2037.

Credit Stavros1 / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

The maritime museum, which closed when EKMT became defunct, reopened in 2015 with volunteers on a seasonal basis. The Steam Museums Trust and The Ramsgate Society put forward proposals for the repair and complete restoration of The Clock House building; the reorganisation and curation of the Maritime Museum Collection by creating a modern heritage centre and exhibition space; the repair and restoration of the Smeaton Dry Dock, the steam tug Cervia and The Sundowner; improvements to the Pier Yard car park, a pop-up cafe and bar and the creation of a business plan to secure the long term sustainable financial future for the project.

This however was put on hold when Thanet council said it wanted to carry out its own feasibility study. It is understood The Ramsgate Society have approached Ramsgate Town Council about reviving the plans.

Follow the Sundowner’s journey with Michael Dennett Boat Builders on facebook

The Cervia is listed for sale with ‘price on application’ by Preston Services.

Demand for action over ‘shocking state’ of Ramsgate’s clock house and museum artefacts


  1. What else can they sell off from our harbour, what are they going to do when nothing is left ?

  2. Lightoller was the second officer on RMS Titanic the ight she sunk. An increible man with an incredible life story.

          • Lightoller’s biography is told in a book called ‘Lights’. Interestingly, he was a mate on the RMS Oceanic when she hit a rock and sank. You can see the parallel; large ship of the White Star line hits immovable object. This makes him a bit of a Jonah in my view, and someone I would avoid sailing with if possible, not because of his character, but because of his luck.
            His actions on the Titanic have been debated in some circles, but in truth the whole business laid bare the British class prejudices of the time and the laissez faire attitude to safety at sea, which was also prevalent at the time. There are still too many substandard ships at sea, with crews abandoned to their fate in this coronavirus crisis.
            Our cheap goods available at Primark and Amazon has its human price.

        • If I had known that the little ship “Sundowner” was up for sale I would have bought her myself and kept her at Ramsgate Harbour. “Sundowner” should be considered as “The Prize amongst The Crown Jewels of Ramsgate’s Royal Harbour”. I was a Senior Researcher employed by the EKMT Ramsgate Maritime Museum in 1986 when we paid the token price of £5 for the”Sundowner”. Michael Cates was casting the net out wide on our behalf to try and land as many real living exhibits for the visitors to the “Ramsgate Maritime Museum” to enable them to breathe in the the fragrance that the exhibits brought with them. The museum was at the time a living, breathing tardis; a safe house and home for for the “Crown Jewels” to live and thrive in – under his leadership. Michael is a rare breed, a true and honourable Gentleman; a leader amongst men who worked tirelessly yet quietly for the people and the town of Ramsgate building a safe house for our Crown Jewels to live in not shut away for visitors to hear about over a cup of tea! The Ramsgate Maritime Museum under Michael Cate’s leadership was to be a living, breathing challice where visitors could come and let their scences wander freely, soaking up the atmosphere of a time and place long gone by. We are who we are by our actions and motives which led us to to build an empire and to defend it and its’ people from zealots and monsters like Adolf Hitler who wished to take what we could not defend! Perhaps the time has come for the RAMSGATE TOWN COUNCIL and TDC to call in the POLICE to investigate the sale of SUNDOWNER and what has gone on at the RAMSGATE MARITIME MUSEUM and CLOCKHOUSE. For all we know, the building itself could have financial loans secured against it or sold off for a few thousand Bit-Coins?

  3. Has any other English town trashed its heritage the way Ramsgate has?
    Where is the leadership that could put a stop to the endless neglect and decline of the beautiful and historically important environment we inherited and should be holding in trust for future generations? I love my home town but the decisions of its ‘leaders’ often leave me embarrassed and ashamed. Deliberately destroying our Dunkirk links is almost unbelievably crass.

    • Heritage or “beware the sea’s deep” signs, there’ll be far more whining about the latter and so be the thing most likely that gets money.
      Money spent on “sundowner” would be declared by some as glorifying the violence of the past and that the poor of the day deserve the cash instead.
      Never mind that done well a maritime museum and floating historic exhibits could be a quality attraction.
      Be interesting to see what happens to the Dreamland freeholdand with it pretty much any control over the future of margate seafront.

  4. Hardly a decision of our local leaders as the Council doesn’t own it. But obviously-and tragically in my view-nobody has come forward with the necessary cash to buy it and maintain it. We have been a cash-strapped economy for some years and, generally, spare cash for what we would like, as opposed to barely being able to afford what we need, has been in short supply. I could always argue for much higher Community Charges but the howls of outrage would be too much!! So,to use an expression, “we are where we are”.

    • Didn’t the Council offload the museum and the boats to relieve themselves of the burden’ of looking after it. The kind of burden they’re ironically keen to adopt whenever election time comes around.

      • Yes, the Council DID offload the responsibility for the boat etc . It was all the rage at the time and it will probably continue as local councils are being stripped of government funding (ask KCC and near-bankrupt Dover DC). All over the country, councils handed over buildings and boats and parks and libraries and museums to local “Trusts” as a way of saving money.
        It was part of David Cameron’s “Big Society” in which an imaginary active, committed and well-off citizenry took over its local assets and ran them in a , presumably, better way than the cash-strapped local Council.
        We are now seeing the outcome of that failed policy. All over the country, buildings, museums, “community pubs , shops and post offices” are closing due to the lack of local volunteers and , more important, the lack of money as you can’t just keep on raising cash from a struggling population.Or living in hope of a Lottery Grant.
        This historic boat is just Ramsgate’s own example of a government that dressed up funding cuts by calling it “local enthusiasm” or “community volunteers coming together” or some other nonsense to hide the fact that they would not raise taxes on the well-off to fund worthwhile causes like the Sundowner. This could become a real tragedy, an act of neglect verging on historical vandalism. But we have politicians in charge who know “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. To them, “Dunkirk” is just a word they can use to stir up patriotic enthusiasm and votes for their destructive ideologies. And it still works!

  5. It’s strange that a “Trust” can’t be trusted not to sell off items it has been in trusted to care for.
    When one thinks of all the volunteers who have given their time and effort for……….what?
    Shame on them, just remember folks one cannot even trust a trust.

    • But it was only entrusted to them to get the council off the hook of looking after it. Same with the museum building. ( not sure of its proper title) neglected for decades and in a terrible state. Off loaded to a group who despite all the good intentions never had any real chance of bringing it back to its former glory.

  6. As a Thanet resident an retired merchant seaman of 32 years I am dismayed at the lack of positivity towards our maritime history. Ramsgate is the jewel in Kent’s maritime history and for Thanet but the powers to be appear to want to dismantle everything, why? The people in charge should have a hard look at themselves as TDC do not sign the Maritime Museum, the building is suffering from lack of repairs and now these historic vessels are to be sold. What will be left?

  7. Another nail in the coffin of this town and it’s history.what more can we lose. The owner of the maritime museum hasn’t given a dam for years. TDC, as always are all talk and do nothing.

  8. What an absurd thing to do, the Sundowner is surely worth considerably more. What stops it now being sold in another country like the United states. It should be kept for the museum to be enjoyed by the people of the UK and Ramsgate for generations to come

  9. I’m an American, but I was one of the ones that chipped in for the original purchase of Sundowner in 1986, and my wife and I worked on the restoration. She was fully restored and made several trips to Dunkirk and I was on the 40th and 50th crews. If she is now indeed in need of restoration, it is due to neglect, not the original work. It is sad to see this sold off. I guess that there is not much left in Ramsgate anymore. Don’t know any of the politics but I do recognize a bonehead decision when I see one.

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