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.
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