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CHALLENGE: Pro Gallery


Type:  Steam Tug 
Length:  110ft 
Beam:  26ft 3ins 
Draft:  6ft 5ins 
Displacement:  238 tons 
Engine:  Steam, triple expansion 1100hp 
Construction:  Steel 
Builder:  Alexander Hall, Aberdeen 
Year:  1931 
Member of the Restoration Trust

Challenge was the last steam tug to serve on the Thames and spent her whole working life based on the river. One of the memorable events of her career was taking part in the evacuation of the Allied Army from Dunkirk in May/June 1940, when as a part of the armada of Little Ships, she helped to save some of the 338,000 servicemen from the advancing German Armies.

Returning to the Thames, she was equipped with a flying bridge to mount an Oerlikon cannon and a fore-bridge for two Lewis guns. Work included towing the Maunsel towers out to the Thames Estuary where they formed the front line of defence against invasion. Later jobs included towing parts of the Mulberry harbour which ensured the success of the D Day landings. In 1944 a VI flying bomb exploded in the water close alongside causing extensive damage and lighting a number of fires. Fortunately, she survived, some of the shrapnel holes are still in evidence.

After the war she continued in service.

In 1950 she, and a number of other vessels, which had been involved with the evacuation, returned to Dunkirk where crewmembers took part in the march past as representatives of all the tug men who took part in the evacuation.

In 1954 she rescued three survivors of the Steam Tug Cervia after she capsized, Cervia was towing the P&O Liner Arcadia. The liner went ahead before Cervia had dropped the tow and she was girted with the loss of six crew. (Cervia is now preserved in Ramsgate)

She was converted to oil fired in 1964.

In 1974 she was sold to the Taylor Woodrow Group just a week before being scrapped. She joined a collection of other historic Thames vessels in St. Katherine's Yacht Haven and spent the next 19 years moored in the dock close by Tower Bridge.

By 1993 she had become a victim of age and neglect and would have been scrapped but for the intervention of The Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust, which had been set up only months before with the object of saving any Dunkirk Little Ship which is in danger of destruction.

Thanks to the generosity of Sun Tugs and the Port of Tilbury, Challenge was moved to Tilbury Docks where work commenced on the restoration. This is being carried out by a team of dedicated volunteers helped by many young people including a team of Duke of Edinburgh's Award qualifiers, thus meeting the second objective of the Trust, which is to educate the public in the skills necessary to rebuild and maintain the vessels.

Work had progressed well with the boiler being fired for the first time in December 1994 and on the 19th January 1995, 21 years after she last moved under her own power, the first manoeuvring tests were successfully carried out in Tilbury Dock. The foredeck has been re-plated, and the steam winch overhauled and re-installed. All of the machinery has been overhauled and is in full working order and much of the electric wiring has been replaced.

Urgent attention had to be made to the accommodation as many of the volunteers come from a distance and need feeding and sleeping arrangements. To this end the toilet arrangements, which were almost non existent, have been expanded to give two toilets with showers and running hot and cold water, the galley refurbished and equipped to do the catering and the accommodation cleaned and painted. Central heating is now in place in order to protect against frost and condensation damage.

Following an approach to British Telecom we were delighted to be presented with two telephone poles which are exactly the correct size to replace the masts after a little shaping.

2004, May, Challenge attended the Dordrecht Steam festival and in July the Brest Festival of the Sea, She was a great success at both shows. She proved very popular in Brest and featured on French TV.

2005 May, Challenge attends the Association of Dunkirk Little Ship cruise to Dunkirk to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940. She was under the command of Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, Vice President of the DLSRT.

2005 June, Challenge was invited to attend The International Fleet Review by Her Majesty the Queen at Spithead, and then in the following week she attended the International Festival of the Sea (IFOS) in Portsmouth.

2006 saw the start of a major refit which will include refurbishing the tail shafts and bearings, realigning of the main engine bearings, and a major overhaul of the boiler.

2009 Challenge is still undergoing the refit at Shoreham by Sea. Much preparatory work has been carried out including dry docking in order to remove the propeller and associated shafting for assessment.

If you would like to be involved in this exciting project, please contact Jerry Lewis on 01489572775 or contact us via the contact page of

OWNERS 1931-1965 Elliott Steam Tug Co. 1965 -1968 William Watkins Ltd. 1968 -1974 London Tugs Ltd. 1974 -1993 St. Katherine Haven Ltd. 1993 - present Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust.

Challenge has now been substantially overhauled after the Trust obtained a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant. There will be a need for further work and maintenance to bring Challenge into prime condition.

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