Type: Motor yacht
Draft: 4ft 3ins
Displacement: 10 tons approx.
Engine: 2 x Nanni 4220HE Diesels
Construction: Pitch pine on oak
In 1939 the Rampart Boat Building Company of Southampton (then Rampart Boatbuilding Works) had 9 of its ships commandeered for war service. It is believed that a Rampart was the last to leave Dunkirk; several remained there permanently.
'Lady Lou' was one of the survivors and, after the Dunkirk evacuation, was used for coastal patrol duties and was eventually repurchased by her pre-war owner (1937-1953) after her release from service in 1942. Whatever repairs and changes might have been made at that time did not affect her original design which can be seen from the drawings published in November 1936 in 'The Motor Boat' magazine.
Rampart was an enterprising family business, starting before the First World War building dinghies, then experimenting with buying ex-Admiralty pinnaces and converting them to motor cruisers, building their own 30' motor cruiser in 1926. In 1935, they designed and built a 40' twin screw motor cruiser which was to be the forerunner of all their subsequent designs.
In a letter to the ADLS in 1980, John Desty, a grandson of the company's founder, gave 'Lady Lou’s date of construction as 1936, whereas in all registration documents it is given as 1937. This would make sense if 'Lady Lou' was the test vessel built, tested and only later sold and registered. The test report also appeared in 'The Motor Boat' in January 1937. Certainly the journalist/tester in that article could have been describing 'Lady Lou'. As part of his two-page description he wrote:-
"The new cruiser has good flare at the bows and a clean run aft. Although we met a short, steep sea outside, and the windows of the deckhouse were continually smothered in heavy spray, I had no difficulty in dealing with my second, or it may have been my third, cup of tea and steering at the same time. This Rampart hull has an easy motion, with no unpleasant jerks. One can tell what she is going to do, and the boat does not do it a different way each time." She is obviously as perfect and accommodating now as she was then, and we never spill the beverages!
In her young days, 'Lady Lou' was fitted out with Morris Commodore Mark II petrol engines, later to be replaced by Perkins Diesels and she now runs with modern Nanni 4220HE Diesels on board. Then, as now, she could make excellent progress against the tide at low revs (top speed 10 kts) and also turn in her own length effortlessly.
'You don't own a Little Dunkirk Ship, you're only the custodian' is a fact you bear in mind thinking of the past names on the registration list. Each person has done his or her best to keep 'Lady Lou' afloat, in good condition and as beautiful as possible as befits such a lovely lady so that she would survive long after they are no longer able to enjoy her to the full.
The London River Yacht Club in Kingston upon Thames has a 'Lady Lou' cup which is presented annually to the best lady crew member, and a lovely photograph of 'Lady Lou' taken some years back on the Thames outside the Club premises which her owner (1953-1958) had found for the club. He sold 'Lady Lou' to another club member and Commodore (owner 1958-1987).
Her previous owner (1988-1996) has innumerable hair-raising stories of his trips in her, especially on the quinquennial Returns to Dunkirk in 1990 and 1995. He also kept her on the upper Thames, moored at the bottom of his garden. What a sight for sore eyes every morning.
Everyone left their imprint on the boat, making her his or her own, keeping the style of the boat intact but creating an environment which they could handle better. Her construction is pitch pine on English oak, mahogany transom, handrails and internal fittings and white painted canvas deck. Her wheelhouse lies well forward, separating the stateroom from the galley and saloon, and gives the helmsman excellent control and visibility. A flybridge was added in the past which gives an added touch of helmsman comfort in inclement weather. A second, mizzen mast, was added for extra stability.
For her 60th birthday 'Lady Lou' had a total overhaul of all her working, weathering and service parts and was reborn with new engines, tanks, controls, steering, canvas and keel shoe as well new gas and electrical installations. Her interior was modified to allow for modern day comfort; in the hands of an expert carpenter at The Maritime Workshop in Gosport, 'Lady Lou' was returned to the style of her former glory. This has all been in keeping with the boat's original mahogany interior. Her saloon is unchanged and features her original art deco glass panels on the lockers and a very stylish gas heater (since removed).
Following the recent formation of the Rampart Owners' Club (ROC), honoured by the membership of Mr Peter Desty, Marine Surveyor, another of the Rampart grandsons, we hope more history will come to light for 'Lady Lou'.
In 2000 Lady Lou returned to Dunkirk and then continued through the European waterways to a new home in Berlin.
In 2015 Lady Lou was sold on to the then Commodore of the ADLS and returned to be based on the River Thames.