Daybreak was built in 1934 and was the last vessel built in the UK to carry cargo under sail alone. She was built for Thomas Hanley and Sons, a firm of flour millers based in Doncaster. Daybreak and her sister ship Danum, which was launched two years earlier in 1932,  replaced two wooden Humber keels owned by Hanley’s. All 4 keels are shown pictured at Hanley’s Mill some time around 1934 . Daybreak is 61′ 6”  long by 15′ 6” beam, the maximum size that could be accomodated in the locks to Sheffield.  She would carry a cargo of up to 110 tons on 7′ draft. This would have been reduced to 100 tons after the engine was installed. She was built by Richard Dunstons Ltd at their yard in Thorne. She is constructed of riveted steel, although some welding was being introduced by this date and some non-structural elements, such as rubbing bands, were welded. This marked the beginning of a transition to fully welded vessels during the 1940s. A detailed description of the construction process can be found in ‘A Life on the Humber – Keeling to Shipbuilding’ by Harry Fletcher.

In Trade
Daybreak was built to carry grain imported by ship to the docks in Hull to the Hanley’s mill in Doncaster. From 1937 she and her sister ship Danum would be towed on the tidal Humber by Hanley’s Pride, Hanley’s first motor vessel. Daybreak traded under sail until 1939 when, along with many other Humber keels at that time, she was fitted with a Lister JP2 diesel engine. Fortunately it was decided to take the engine room from the hold space, which meant that her traditional cabin was preserved. The predictability offered by having an engine, rather than being dependent on wind, meant keels no longer required living accommodation aboard. Unlike the families on narrowboats, keelmen had homes ashore and many other keels at this time had the cabin removed, or moved to the foc’s’l, in order to install the engine whilst preserving the full carrying capacity.

When the  engine was installed in Daybreak all the sailing gear was removed. Daybreak continued to carry grain from Hull to Hanley’s mill, which was later taken over by Ranks. The mill at Doncaster closed in 1969, the mill at Mexborough closed a few months later and the mill at Rotherham ceased to receive grain supplies by water in 1977, shortly after Daybreak had been sold out of trade.

Daybreak was sold to the B I Transport company in 1954 and they sold her to Dick Holt in 1969. In 1974 or 1975 Dick and his family replaced the Lister engine with a Gardner 5LW, which appears to have been taken from a bus.  However the Lister gear box was retained. This was not a good arrangement because the Lister engine and gear box had an integrated lubrication system that included an oilway running through the centre of the crankshaft. This was not present on the Gardner which meant some parts of the gearbox were not adequately lubricated. After a number of rebuilds the gearbox was eventually replaced with a Gardiner 2UC gearbox.

Throughout her working life Daybreak carried predominately dry cargoes and as a result the interior of the hold is in very good condition. Hanley’s vessels seemed to have been unusual in not carrying return cargoes. Most Humber keels would carry return cargoes of coal after delivering goods from the docks in Hull to industrial areas close to the coal pits. Others worked delivering coal to the numerous coal fired powerstations operating alongside the waterways adjoining the Humber or delivering various chemicals and raw materials, all of which took a toll on the interior of the vessels.    However the state of Daybreak’s decks suggests that during her final years in trade, a lot of time was spent laid up afloat resulting in heavy pitting in areas where rubbish would accumulate and hold the moisture.

Out of Trade
By 1976 the trade on the waterways had declined considerably and the Holts sold her to Maurice Dowdal who operated River Barge Holidays, a hotel boat business on the Thames. He bought two keels, Daybreak and Lex, and brought them down the east coast to convert into hotel boats to replace his wooden keel Guidance. Having brought both down to the Thames he decided to sell Daybreak and she was bought by Sally and Tony who were looking for a Humber keel to replace the  46′ narrowboat on which they were living at the time. (Lex was renamed Cadence and was converted to a hotel boat. Last known in Penton Hook marina on the Thames. Her current location is unknown)

When we bought Daybreak we always intended to restore her to sail, and took account of this when undertaking the conversion of the hold to provide more spacious living accommodation. When we purchased her in 1979 she was straight out of trade and the only accommodation was in the original skipper’s cabin in the aft end, and the remains of the foc’s’l in the bow. When we first moved aboard we lived in the aft cabin, converting the spare bed into a cot for our one year old son. The original hatch covers were retained, but with curved skylights cut to provide light. Using largely recycled materials, we gradually worked down the hold to build the galley, heads and saloon, then sleeping cabins.

We have tried to retain as much space as possible in the hold, with a large open plan galley and split level saloon. In contrast the 3 sleeping cabins are small, but together with the cabin and the foc’s’l it means we can accommodate 11 people.

Restoration to Sail
When Daybreak was motorised in 1939 all sailing gear was removed. This was done extremely thoroughly, with riveted fittings such as the chain plates being removed and new rivets being put in the holes. It was likely that at this time she was also converted to wheel steering and a small wheelhouse constructed on the aft deck. This wheelhouse was removed following a close encounter with Henley bridge and we later removed the wheel and replaced the tiller.

Quite early on the lutchet, the case that supports the mast, was replaced. The restoration of the outside was done to restore her to how she would have looked when she was originally built. The mast was made from a 50′ pole that was left in a field belonging to a local farmer. He was happy to donate it to Daybreak and we just managed to rescue it before it was cut up and burnt. The pole was the right length, but much too wide, so it had to be first squared off and then rounded again to the right diameter.

Over the years we collected as much original sailing gear as we could find, but there was very litle available and we have had to fabricate many of the winches, known as rollers, using the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society’s Comrade as a model. Although this generally worked well we did find some problems arising from the fact that Comrade was orginally built as a lighter rather than as a sailing keel, so there were some important differences , such as the height of the coamings.

9 thoughts on “History

  1. There would seem to be some discrepancy in the information regarding the installation of the Gardner Engine. I was present and help my Father, Leslie Holt and Uncle, Dick Holt, to install not only the 5 cylinder Gardner in Daybreak but also the 6 cylinder in Lex. From memory I believe this was around 1974/1975, but will check when I visit My father to see if he can remember.

    Glyn Holt

  2. in 1961 i joined j ranks on the barges danum and daybreak running wheat from hull to doncaster mill the daybreak had a 21 lister engine and danum had a 30 hp lister three cy linders and then there was the hanleys pride

    • Hi Peter,
      thanks for the information. It would be great if you could get along to see Daybreak and to talk to you about her working days. We are in Hull Marina for the next week and then will be up in Beverley.

  3. Hi I have read the history on Daybreak and agree there are some discrepancies. I worked for Joseph Rank 1964-1970, as a heavy goods fitter. All three barges were maintained by garage staff. If you want to know more please contact me.

    Ken Sykes

  4. Hi, My cousin lives on ‘Guidance’ in Shoreham Harbour, Sussex; she is still afloat and loved but could do with some hull refurbishment. Although I do have some photos of her in an earlier life, I am trying to find photos or information of her when she was a hotel boat when based on the Thames (Reading, I believe). Does anyone have any brochures/photos/info of ‘Guidance’….all info gratefully received.
    Tim Deacon, Southampton.

    • Hello Tim ….. I hope this gets to you after all this time. Only just came across this blog today
      My name is Simon Baker and I ran the Guidance out of Reading with my wife and her Stepfather ( Maurice Dowdall) and mother in the early 70’s to early 80’s
      If you and your cousin are interested I have photographs and brochures from those River Barge days that I can copy to you.
      I knew the old Guidance was in Shoreham and think I found a photo on line …. she has changed a bit and it is wonderful to know she still floats.
      Simon and Annie

  5. Hi
    I went as mate with Skipper Harry Brackenbury in 1954 and served on Daybreak for 2 years, then left to do my National Service. On return from that service I returned to Hanleys as mate on Hanleys Pride before taking the job as skipper of Daybreak when Harry went to work for Harkers of Knottingley on one of their Trent tankers. Later I did a spell as skipper of Hanleys Pride before leaving the water to take a driving job with the same company. I do have many fond memories of Daybreak as I guess applies to all who have been connected with her over the years.
    Arthur Whitehead

    • Great to hear from you Arthur and we will add the information to the crew list we are compiling. It would be lovely to read any stories you have from her working days.

    • my family Dean, Grandfather anf family worked on barges. im presuming Hull Doncaster and area canals. very interested in these histories. Would you have come across Dean’s names Harold Thomas Richard Clarence Rose etc kind tegards

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