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HMS Gay Archer Leaves the Quays

Text and Photograph © Dave Billinge 2006

The Gay Archer, the restored 1950 Royal Navy Fast Attack Craft slipped her moorings at Salford Quays on March 25 and began her journey to Watchet Harbour in Somerset, The Ex HMS Gay Archer has been restored by Paul Childs who has with the help of family and friends has brought life back in to the Cold War navy craft.

Paul has another year worth of work left before he completes the restoration of the Gay Archer. Externally she looks every inch a Naval Fast Attack Craft. Internally though the vessel has been reconfigured and Paul is in the process of converting the interior of the vessel which has now become home for Paul and his wife  after he sold his house to finance the restoration.

Once restoration work has been completed Paul will be putting the vessel into service as living memorial to those Mariners who severed in the Royal Navy’s Fast Attack Craft during the height of the Cold War. Running the vessel as a tourist attraction and in the corporate hospitality fields operating in the Bristol Channel. At 1000 hours she completed three circuits of he Quays while her compass was calibrated and then headed down the Manchester ship Canal for Ellesmere Port, where she will lay up at the Boat Museum to await an opening in the weather and from their will depart via Eastham locks and the River Mersey and sail around Anglesey before heading for the Bristol Channel and her new home port.  Gay Archer which was the lead vessel of her class went back into the water for the first time in fifteen years in August last year, after undergoing initial restoration work.

The Gay Archer was the first of the twelve vessels and was launched on August 20th 1952, and the remaining vessels where built by five different yards including Vosper’s the original design contractors who also built, the Gay Bombardier P1042. Gay Bowman P1043 and Gay Bruiser P1044. Thornycroft built the Gay Carabineer P1045, and the Gay Centurion P1047, Taylors at Chertsey saw the Gay Cavalier P1046 and the Gay Dragoon P1050 into the water and Morgan Giles at Teignmouth constructed the Gay Charger and Gay Charioteer P1049, with McGruer at Clynder finished the Gay Fencer P1051 and Gay Forester P1052, which was the last of the class to be launched on March 23rd 1954

The Gay Archer served with the Royal Navy and was sold in 1963 during which time she escaped coming to grief on more than one occasion in Denmark she was along side a second MTB 1023, which caught fire and exploded the Gay Archer sustaining damaged during the incident which happened on May 18th 1953 in Aarhus Harbour. The second incident saw her almost sunk off Southsea Pier when her casing was punctured returning from a search operation for two RN Lts, who went missing after they had decided to row across from 'Vernon to 'Dolphin in a dingy one night. HMS Gay Archer was despatched the following morning to search along the coastline between Portsmouth and Hayling Island. On returning to Southsea 'she' fouled submerged broken boom defence pylon and her casing was holed, saved by an admiralty tug which responded to her May Day.

Very little has been published about her service history, but it is known that she did operate with the latest submarine detection equipment during the early 1950s and that members of the SBS where regularly embarked aboard her for “exercises.” After the incident in Denmark she is known to have operated out of Malta and she was eventually sold by the Admiralty in 1963. She was acquired by Frank Lunt, who took her up to Scotland to Bowling in Dunbartonshire. Before she ended up at Northwich. Paul acquired her two and a half years ago when he began the working on her restoration, and he saw her go back into the water in August of last year. In December 2005 she was then moved up the Canal system under power of her new two new 650 hp Turbo Charged Detroit Diesels from Northwich to Salford quays a move though which saw problems with a drive shaft which sheered a key in a keyway. Where she has wintered and Paul has continued with her restoration. Paul has been heavily involved in the woodwork in the restoration of the wooden hulled vessel, one of the ironic things about this is that Paul was told be his woodwork teacher Mr Parsons who severed aboard the Gay Archer during 1960 when she was employed as a Target Tug to give up woodwork. I am glad Paul did not listen to his teacher and I would be really interested at being a fly on the wall when Mr Parsons get his invite to come on board. The Gay Archer has so far had a new deck a new wheel house manufactured to the original design, facsimile of her torpedo Tubes new engines and gear box a reconditioned hull along with new keel and keelson

The Gay Archer which cost £127,000 in 1951 money is the last of the twelve Types "B" "Short" Interchangeable Fast Attack Craft ordered under contract No BR 8E/52143/51 from Messrs Vosper Ltd of Portchester by the Admiralty in 1951. The twelve vessels where developed from MTB 538/539 design of WW2 and were ordered as an interim measure until the Type "A" (Dark) class came on line.

The Gay class Fast Attack Craft where originally powered by three Packard 4M-2500 marine engines delivering 1500 bhp each which could drive the 75ft 2ins long, craft with her normal crew of 13 through the water at 40 kts, The hull had a beam of 20ft 1in and had a light load draught of 4ft 2ins and in the MTB role initially enabled her to carry 2 x 21in Torpedo Tubes with Twin Oerlikons these where later replaced by a single 40mm Bofors Mk 7. As a Gun boat the gay class would operate with out there tubes with a 4.5in gun forward and Twin Oerlikons on the aft mounting. Only the purists will be able to tell that Paul has armed his vessel with an Mk3 Bofors as opposed to an Mk 7

The Gay Archer has been reconfigured to operate on a pair of Detroit Diesel engines and the re-engineering and the switch over to diesel fuel has meant that she has become lighter and with her two new engines should still be capable of achieving 30Kts. The Gay Archers next challenge will be the trip to Somerset which it is anticipated will take around twenty hours. So as Paul prepares for his journey south we wish him luck for his journey south and on the on the remainder of his privately funded restoration project to keep a piece of British Naval History alive..

Gay Class Fast Attack Craft

FPB1041                   HMS Gay Archer                                           Sold 1963

FPB1042                   HMS Gay Bombardier                                  Sold 1963

FPB1043                   HMS Gay Bowman                                       Sold 1963

FPB1044                   HMS Gay Bruiser                                          Sold 1962

FPB1045                   HMS Gay Carabineer                                   Sold 1963

FPB1046                   HMS Gay Cavalier                                        Sold 1963

FPB1047                   HMS Gay Centurion                                      Sold 1962

FPB1048                   HMS Gay Charger                                       Sold 1967

FPB1049                   HMS Gay Charioteer                                   Sold 1972

FPB1050                   HMS Gay Dragoon                                      Sold 1962

FPB1051                   HMS Gay Fencer                                         Sold 1968

FPB1052                   HMS Gay Forester                                        Sold 1962


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