Type: Motor yacht
Displacement: 73 tons
Engine: 2 x 160hp Cummins
Construction: Welded steel
Builder: De Vries Lentsch, Netherlands
The boat originally named as Mermaiden was launched from the De Vries Lentsch yard in 1939, alongside a very similar sister vessel destined for the Italian Antinori wine family. Unfortunately, the Company records were destroyed during the war, and there is no surviving information from this source.
The low headroom in the engine room suggest that the intended design may have been for horizontally opposed engines (of a pattern similar to engines made by the Junkers company) but these were never fitted. The Lloyds Register documentation for 1939 records that she was fitted with twin “Detroit” six cylinder engines of 120 horsepower manufactured by a subsidiary company of General Motors.
1939 to 1940 : Lieut. Cdr. P.M. Filleul.
The first recorded owner was a Naval officer, Lieut. Cdr. P.M. Filleul who could only have enjoyed the use of his boat briefly before it was requisitioned for war service to support the evacuation from Dunkirk.
1940 to 1946 : The War Department.
The first documentary evidence of Mermaiden comes from transcripts of log books of the Thames Tug company during the Dunkirk evacuation :
Extracts from the Logbook and Report of the Thames tug SUN IV submitted to the War Department on the 18th June 1940 :
Owner: WHJ Alexander Co Ltd
Tug Master: Mr C. G. Alexander
Naval Officer: Lt J. E. L. Martin RN.
3rd June 1940
1700 Sun IV, Tanga (Lt Cdr R.E. Sherwood) Sun XV (two RN Officers) and Racia (Lt Cdr J.I. Miller DSO RNR) towing between them 14 motorboats sailed for Dunkirk.
Commodore A.H. Taylor OBE took passage in the leading motorboat Mermaiden halfway across he transferred to the W.D. ML Marlborough.
4th June 1940.
0115 One of the MB Mermaiden returned and reported no more troops at Quai Felix Faure and that Commodore Taylor had left the Quai.
0200 Followed the Destroyer Malcolm in to the Harbour with the Racia and assisted her to keep vessel alongside the mole. Sun IV proceeded, picked up the waiting MB Mermaiden, which was slightly damaged and sailed for Ramsgate; Sun XV picked up another vessel halfway across and towed it home.
0230 Attacked by Plane driven off by gunfire
0340 Took Mermaiden in tow, of the 14 MBs which started 8 or 9 had to be abandoned. The remainder found their way back to Ramsgate.
She was first mentioned in the Battle Summary amongst the Little Ships which arrived off Dunkirk on 31st May 1940, and Mermaiden was still in the thick of it on 3rd June. This was the last day of the evacuation, when 30,000 troops, mostly French, still remained to be evacuated.
The records indicate that she was commanded that day by Sub -Lieut. L. Beale, RN with her crew: Petty Officer J. Norton, Leading Stoker W.A.S. Horne, plus one RAF gunner on leave and one "white-haired old gentleman who normally took care of Lord Horatio Nelson's flagship Victory at Portsmouth".
As recorded in the Tugboats Logbook above, Mermaiden was picked by Rear-Admiral Taylor, who sailed in her for some time, to lead a convoy of small, slower motorboats. These had been towed by the tugs and were released off Dunkirk harbour to make their own way to Quai Felix Faure, which was still reasonably intact, and to embark French troops.
Mermaiden made four trips between the harbour and the transport ships at a time when the Germans were already entering the town. Her deck and wheelhouse were riddled by machine-gun bullets and she was so crowded that the helmsman could not see to steer. Directions had to be shouted to him over a cacophony of French voices.
The London Gazette (Issue 34925) dated 16th August 1940 records the Honours awarded to those serving on Motor Launch Mermaiden at Dunkirk :
p 5066 Distinguished Service Medal:
Leading Stoker William Alfred Stanley Horne, R.F.R.
p 5070 Mentioned in Despatches:
Petty Officer Frederick John Norton.
There is no record of her subsequent service until the closing years of the war, although she may have served with similar vessels that were used for Air-Sea rescue operations in the channel.
Mermaiden next appears in 1944 on the River Scheldt in Antwerp, supporting covert operations for General Montgomery. As a small quiet vessel of low draught and height, she would have been able to pass secretly behind enemy lines for night-time reconnaissance missions. Whatever else she may have done, she must have been considered a useful vessel as she was not returned to Lieut. Cdr. Filleul until 1946.
1946 to 1947 : Lieut. Cdr. P.M. Filleul.
It is not certain exactly when Lieut. Filleul had his boat returned, but it is certain that it was no longer the pristine gentleman’s yacht that he purchased before the war. For whatever reasons, he soon parted with Mermaiden, possibly after some restoration and repair work, which included replacing the worn out engines.
1947 to 1950 : Harold W F Ireland.
When acquired by Mr H W F Ireland she had been fitted with new Perkins S6 diesel engines, and on delivery, was transferred to a boatyard on the South Coast where she was substantially refitted.
The first entry in the new log was dated 26th August 1947 and records a short cruise off Dartmouth returning to moorings at Torquay.
In the following years she remained in Torquay harbour and used for occasional family holidays and outings with trips recorded along the South coast to Weymouth, Lyme Regis and Brixham. The log-books for this time have only sketchy entries, and much of the information from this time has been provided by his son, Ronald Ireland.
Ronald confirms that when his father took delivery, Mermaiden was fitted with twin Perkins S6 diesel engines – six cylinders in line each with a stroke of 6” and bore of 4”, giving an approximate capacity of 7 litres. [ The Perkins S6 engine was originally designed in 1937. Unlike other Perkins engines which were fitted to a wide range of vehicles, the S6 was only ever supplied as a marine engine, with water cooled block and sump. During the war years it was supplied exclusively to the War Department and was widely used for air-sea rescue vessels. ]
Ronald recalls how the original exhausts ran the length of the boat and were copper jacketed throughout their length to provide a hot water supply system. The exhaust pipes penetrated the watertight bulkheads through sealed gland assemblies ( which Ronald recalls dismantling from time to time) and were led out through the transom to the stern to minimise noise levels. At this time, the engine room was still provided with portholes, two on each side (These have now been covered and welded shut on the outside – but remain visible from the inside. This is understandable as the boat is now ballasted to run much lower in the water than when owned by H W F Ireland, who always ran the boat with a minimum of ballast to give maximum free-board.) The original wheelhouse windows have also been changed since the 1950s – and the wheelhouse may have been completely rebuilt at some stage. The front section was originally arranged as three windows, with a single “Kent Clearview” panel in the centre - whereas there are now two windows with Clearview panels on either side. The fly-bridge was also taller and roofed over, and the original decks were teak planked.
In the 1950s Mermaiden was fitted with a single unbalanced rudder - which was fine when moving forwards at slow speed but made her very difficult to handle in reverse. This rudder was of hollow construction pivoted at the leading edge. It is probable that any subsequent owner would have changed this to a more suitable design
1950 to 1959 : Owner Unknown.
The last entry pencilled in the logbook is dated simply Dec 7 as “Paid Allen up to date” and the sequence of previous entries suggest this was December 1950. Allen was a Mr Allen Kingman, identified earlier in the log-book as being the person with whom the boat had been left in October for the winter months.
She was sold sometime after this last entry, although there is no record of the actual date of sale. Ireland family contacts vaguely recall a sale to an Australian dentist somewhere along the South Coast, but this is by no means certain.
1959 to 1974 : Mr Henri.
It is known that she next was owned for 15 years by a Belgian, Mr Henri of Liege, who next sold her in 1974 – making the date of purchase sometime in 1959.
1974 to 2005 : Frits and Gerda Rouschop.
The new owners returned Mermaiden to Maastricht in her native Holland and restored her to a condition which should make her the winner in any concours d'elegance. As part of a comprehensive refurbishment, the engines were changed again, this time to Cummins engines of 160 horsepower. It is probable that this was also when modifications were made to the wheel-house and fly-bridge, possibly to reduce the overall height and allow transit below low bridges on the inland water-ways of Holland.
During this time, she was renamed as Amazone. She remained in regular use and attended many reunions of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Between outings she was kept in a climatically controlled shed and pampered like a film star.
2005 to the present : Vittorio Bracchi.
The engines have now been changed again for new Cummins units, and after a time in the London St Katherines dock, she has returned again to a boatyard in Holland where she remains – just a one hour train ride from Amsterdam station.