Various vessels have featured in M&ISS voyage reports over the years from cruise ships to ferries, passenger launches to at least on sailing vessel. However a DUKW has never appeared before!
Some months ago Mersey & Irish Sea Shipping News Update announced that a new company was to commence city and dock tours using two former World War II DUKWs. Operations commenced in early April.
Having travelled on various types of vessel, the prospect of a trip on an amphibious craft was certainly appealing.
The tour commences from the Gower Street bus stop within the Albert Dock site. Tickets being obtained from the company's office which occupies the former Seagull Tours Office in the Atlantic Pavilion Warehouse block nearby.
Tickets for tours are sold on a first come first served basis on day of issue only for a specific timed tour. Obviously, booking early will ensure a greater choice of departure time. However, if you do have to wait a while there is the Maritime Museum and Tate Galleries to keep you busy. One cannot really emphasize the shopping opportunities at the Albert Dock at present as so many of the retail units are now vacant.
My ticket was issued for the second tour of the day due to depart at 11:45. The ticket office appears well laid out for such an operation - there is a ticket rack containing piles of card tickets for each tour. As tickets are sold the clerk marks the ticket sold on a chart for each departure. I bought my ticket at around 10:50 and about half a dozen places appear to have been sold. When I arrived at the departure point at 11:30 there was a large queue!
Passengers board via steps at the rear. The craft have been completely rebuilt for their new passenger role. The majority of passenger seats are bus style 2 and 2 facing forward. Two inward facing seats for three are located in at the rear by the entrance to the saloon at a higher level. The master and mate [yes they wear MN uniforms complete with rank stripes !] sit in two seats at the front.
Towards the rear of the vessel on the angle of the saloon roof are displayed the craft's DoT Class V vessel certificates.
The sides of the craft's saloon comprise yellow plastic sheeting with zip fitted windows. Obviously in warm weather these can rolled up.
After the skipper gave the usual safety brief [Lifejackets are in racks above the seats] and explained the many safety features including the power and hand pumps it was time to commence the tour.
Somehow I expected the DUKW to be somewhat loud and hard riding, rather like older buses. However, I was rather surprised at the fact that the engine noise appeared somewhat remote and that the craft ran quite smoothly both on road and in the water.
The first half of the tour is road based - a map can be found on the www.liverpoolducktours.co.uk web site. An informative commentary is provided on tape for the road part of the tour. It is quite well done and points out items of maritime and historical interest. However, as with most taped tours, things could have been better researched as I noted a few errors. Which probably don't really matter, but can prove to be niggling if one knows the correct facts.
On departing from the Albert Dock and swinging out onto Wapping ["Dock Road"] the archway in the gable end which is all that remains of the Salthouse Dock transit sheds was described as one of the last remains of the Liverpool Overhead Railway - Oooop!! There are some nearby remaining support columns in the wall outside the Wapping Dock warehouses which the craft passes later in the tour.
Running along the Strand the WACKER QUACKER I turned into Mann Island and ran down to the roundabout on the southern end of the Pier Head Piazza with the usual landmarks identified.
Albion House, former headquarters of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company was given some attention in the commentary given the Titanic connection. However, one must question that the sinking of the vessel bankrupted the company. This did not occur until 1932 when the Australian Government foreclosed for the non-payment of £1m in instalments for the purchase of the Commonwealth Line taken over by Oceanic Steam Navigation in 1928.
The tour continues via James Street, Lord Street, North John Street with a short pause at the beginning of Matthew Street for the Beatles connection. From North John Street the WACKER QUACKER 1 proceeded along Victoria Street, passing up St. John's Lane and along Lime Street before climbing Mount Pleasant. A run along Rodney Street, Hardman Street and Hope Street followed.
As WACKER QUACKER 1 ran down Upper Duke Street it provided an unusual sight for Navy and Merchant Navy seafarers past and present who were leaving the Anglican Cathedral at the conclusion of the annual Battle of the Atlantic Service. With several blasts on the horn. Actually the horn appears to be used quite a lot throughout the trip!
Past the superb Chinese Arch, reputedly the largest outside of China, in Liverpool's famous China Town the craft ran along Great Georges Street before swinging down to Wapping ["Dock Road"] and returning to the Albert Dock. Entering the Dock area, the mate closed the watertight coaming at the top of the steps, the controls for the propeller were engaged and WACKER QUACKER 1 swung onto the top of the Salthouse Dock slipway. "We'll go in fast said the skipper" and off we accelerated.
Because the interior of the craft is so like a bus, something inside suggests that you shouldn't really be doing this! Running into the water there is a noticeable deceleration as the craft becomes afloat - however, the transition is quite smooth. Once afloat the commentary is continued by the mate using the PA system.
The DUKW travels southwards through Salthouse, Wapping, Queens Docks before turning by the Watersports Centre at Coburg Dock.
Now I must make a confession. Having lived only a couple of miles away from the Albert Dock area, I have to admit to never taking a trip afloat through the south docks, even though boat trips have been on offer for many years. You tend to think everything that can be seen from adjacent roads. However, this is not the case. Interesting architectural features not apparent from the road come into view at this lower elevation. In Queens and Coburg Dock long Dragon Boats could be seen with one team practicing for races later in the day. These are long canoe like boats whose rowers use canoe style paddles and are accompanied by a crewman who beats the time on a drum.
Turning by the Watersports Centre WACKER QUACKER I retraced its route to Salthouse Dock, before passing under the bridge into the Albert Dock for a circular sail. Passing back under the bridge to Salthouse Dock the mate explained that whilst in the water DUKW driving wheels continued to rotate. This was for the purpose of navigating shallows and sandbanks. He also explained that whilst in military service the craft were fitted with facilities for adjusting tyre pressures to vary traction on mud banks and difficult surfaces.
All to soon WACKER QUACKER I was heading back for the Salthouse Dock slipway were a smooth transition back to its road wheels was made. Within a minute or so we were back at the departure point where another capacity load was waiting for the next trip.
It is certainly a very interesting experience and I certainly want to try it out again in the near future. Organisation and operation is very professional and friendly. Though the craft date from the 1940s, there extensive and passenger carrying modifications gives them an "as new" feel.
The proprietors of the venture appear to be on to a winner. This is a trip all maritime enthusiasts should take especially if you think you have travelled on most vessels! - Highly recommended.
Fares are £9 Adults with concessions for OAPs, Children, Students and Families.