RML 497: An Introduction to her restoration

Fairmile RML 497

RML 497 is a Fairmile B motor launch boat and a unique survivor from the Second World War. The 34-meter long rescue vessel served in the Second World War as air sea rescue. She carried a crew of 16, working from bases all around Britain including Devon, Suffolk and Scotland.

RML was one of the first mass-produced vessels and can be likened to a modern day flat pack.  Although this type of craft was very much needed by the Royal Navy as the war progressed, it was not possible for them to be built in the Admiralty's very busy shipyards.  The designs were therefore spread around the small boatyards of the UK, which were well capable of undertaking the construction of these wooden hull craft, quickly and easily.

After the war, RML 497 passed between various owners, always being used as a passenger ferry, largely along the Dorset coast. In 2009, she was sold to Greenway Ferry Services and returned to Brixham where she was renamed Fairmile after an extensive refit to pay tribute to her military background. 

Then in 2015, The National Museum of the Royal Navy was offered the unique opportunity to purchase one of the very few remaining Rescue Motor Launches which had been built during the Second World War. RML 497 had just retired from her second job as a ferry in the West Country and, luckily for the Museum, she had been owned by ferry companies which had been keen to maintain as many of her original wartime features as possible.

It took a few years to organise and raise the funds to move RML 497 from Southampton, where she had been berthed, to the Hartlepool site of The National Museum of the Royal Navy. Previously, the only resident ship was HMS Trincomalee, a 202 year old Royal Navy frigate. 

RML 497 took refuge under a newly built shelter in the car park, no doubt very pleased to be out of the water, having been afloat about 74 years longer than ever intended - we mustn’t forget that these relatively fragile wooden boats were built for the War and that the Royal Navy had no use for them afterwards. Those that got a second life as ferries fared much better than the ones that ended up as houseboats; these were usually abandoned as expensive projects which had obviously seemed like a nice idea at the time!

Almost a year later and RML seems quite comfortable in her new home, despite a few cracks appearing as she dries out; this will clearly take a couple of years as progress is very slow. We have been monitoring moisture levels with a digital meter which tells us that she loses about 1% of moisture each month. A gentle drying out process is much preferable for the timber, but the boat will receive regular treatments of a Borocol spray throughout her interior which will kill off the mould and fungus which thrive in the damp environment. 

More blogs will follow on the subject of RML 497. We will have a closer look at the boat, explain a bit more about the work we have been doing on her, and talk about what the plans are for her future. 
As a charity one of our biggest focuses is, of course, fundraising. If you want to support RML 497’s conservation project you can click on the button below.

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