Annika Perry's Writing Blog

THE MANY LIVES OF LV18

How long does it take to bring a ship to her moorings? Seventeen years in the case of lightship LV18!

A request for a permanent berth at Harwich docks for this grand old dame was turned down repeatedly in a protracted battle wth the local council; a fight only won once the original councillors ‘left’.

Who knew that a lighthouse boat turned film star could cause such a furore?

By chance my husband and I happened upon this vessel whilst walking along the docks in Harwich one sunny Saturday. How could we refuse the kind invitation issued by 93-year-old Lord Bill of Sealand to climb on board and explore! (He later told us his amazing life story which I may recount in another post.)

Scanning the various signs I was reminded of the start of Superman – what is it? A lighthouse? A Pirate Radio Ship?  A museum? LV18 is a unique combination of all three.

Not knowing what to expect I eagerly trod the board to the deck … one unexpected discovery can be read in my earlier post Flowers Ahoy!

Stepping warily, mindful of the odd sway from the sudden swells, I headed to the top deck, past the helicopter pad, right up to the giant light on the top.

The view across the Orwell estuary was beautiful, looking towards Felixstowe on the other side.

LV18 was launched in 1958 and sailed with nine crew and anchored along the coast as a lighthouse boat protecting mariners through the dangerous waters.

 

This unique historic ship, decommissioned in 1994, is the only surviving light vessel with all its original accommodation still intact, including the crew quarters, galley, mess room … all visible to view but with an additional surprise!

In 1999 a man with a vision, Tony O’Neal, chartered the boat for restoration and LV18 started its second life. This time recapturing the era of the famous Pirate Radios moored in international waters off the East Coast of East Anglia in the 1960s. A couple of you in the comments have already picked up on the Radio Mi Amigo twitter to whom I credited the last photo in my previous blog — the name of Radio Caroline’s ship.

With streaming, youtube, DAB radio readily available with a click, it’s hard to believe there was a time when music, all variety of music, was not easily or widely available. Or even banned and illegal. Try to imagine only three radio stations in the UK which were tightly monitored and served the ‘establishment’ and only permitted up to an hours pop music a day.

In a country hungry for the latest pop songs, the general populace turned increasingly to radio stations outside the country. First Radio Luxembourg, then pirate radio ships. These became the starting ground for many famous DJs including John Peel & Tony Blackburn, all who would embark on small launches from Harwich to take them to the pirate radio boats moored three miles out to sea. At one stage these stations had around 15 million listeners altogether. A very worrying figure for the government of the time. The last pirate radio station was closed in 1967 as pirate broadcasting was declared illegal. BBC Radio 1 started soon afterwards, ironically staffed with a number of ex-pirate radio DJs.

In the first decade of this century LV18 was moored off Harwich and the Radio Mi Amigo days were recreated as well as being a Community radio station for the area. In 2002 its ownership transferred to the Pharos Trust whose patron is Johnnie Walker, ex-pirate DJ from Radio Caroline who was subsequently on Radio 1.

Only in 2011 was LV18 granted a permanent mooring in Harwich and it became home to a permanent exhibition of Pirate Radio memorabilia.

And what about the film star reference? Well, LV18 made a brief appearance in the DVD version of ‘The Boat That Rocked’. Of course, once back home I just had to watch the film. It gives a fantastic exposition of life onboard this wild, on the edge, lifestyle where music played until the very end!

My husband would not forgive me if I did not finish this post with the last song to be played on Radio London which was ‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles.

Finally, no day trip in Harwich is complete without a meal at The Pier Hotel & Restaurant where we enjoyed a delightful, early wedding anniversary meal. It was special to look out to the LV18 on which we’d just spent a wonderful couple of hours!