Sad end for Strand Quay warship

RML 526 remains on the river bed as the tide rises around her

A Notice to Mariners, issued by the Harbour Master on behalf of the Environment Agency recently, notified them that vessel RML 526 had sunk at its moorings in Strand Quay and could constitute a danger to shipping. Fortunately, it had remained secured to its moorings and has since been refloated.

Possession order fixed, as tradition dictates, to the mast

She has lain at moorings for many years, initially undergoing work to restore her to her original WW2 profile. The cost of restoration, however, spiralled beyond even the deep pockets of her owners and for some time she has been abandoned to rot and with harbour dues left unpaid. The Harbour Master, on behalf of the Environment Agency has served notice that unless the owners take action to remove the vessel with 48 hours of March 22 (which they have not done) it will be subject to legal distraint, removed and destroyed as a survey of condition has revealed that the hull is irreparably damaged.

It is probable therefore that before too long this familiar sight in Strand Quay will be removed; but before it can be disposed of, a further inspection will be required to ensure that it is free of contamination.

The 112ft long vessel is of considerable historical interest. It was built in 1942 at the Solent Shipyard on the River Hamble, leading to Southampton Water, to a then revolutionary design incorporating the use of plywood in the frames of the ship’s hull. Such vessels, known as Rescue Motor Launches, were used during the Second World War on convoy protection duties and for recovering downed aircrew in the seas around Britain. It has been reported that RML 526 was later used as a target towing vessel for gunnery practice.

How RML 526 would have looked in WW2 – a sister ship

Decommissioned in 1946, RML 526 served in successive conversions as an ambulance launch, a smugglers vessel, a private yacht and as a ferry operating between Brixham and Torquay. An arrangement had been made with the Royal Navy to conserve the ship as only one of five remaining examples of its class still in UK waters, but sadly this fell through at the last moment.

Image Credits: Charles Bronsdon , John Minter , Rye News library .


  1. This would be an awful shame – especially as I understand that the vessel played an important part in the D-Day landings.

    If it is no longer sea-worthy then, rather than dismantle it, couldn’t it be removed from the water, given a lick of paint, and displayed in some sort of cradle or dry-dock as a visitor attraction?

  2. So sad its a part of historical heritage, it only 1 of 5 left and its going to get scrapped,disgusting and what a waist,i dont believing its irreparable, council wants the mooring revenue i suppose.

  3. Even as this gallant old lady is about to fade away, the lands-people insist of referring to her as ‘it’. Shameful for such an old harbour as Rye who should know better……

  4. Why this unnecessary sentiment? It served its purpose; now it’s just an eyesore. I look forward to its overdue removal.

  5. More inaccurate reporting, yet again. Your picture shows RML 628 NOT RML 526!
    Basic journalism. Come on! You should read the caption more carefully, we never said it was 526 but since you did not understand this, have made a small alteration/addition to make it even more clear. Editor

    • I was a passenger many time while this historic boat served as a ferry between Torquay and Brixham. As I walked her decks, I could feel the history and power beneath my feet. A trip to the on board toilet (head) was always a must, where the structure of the boat could be clearly seen. It’s so sad that she has declined so much since then, especially as she was the subject of being restored to her war time appearance. For those of you interested in these boats, the good news is that her sister ferry boat RML 497 (Western Lady 111) was acquired by the National Museum of the Royal Navy and is being restored as a static display.

  6. If she’s one of 4 wouldn’t a maritime society or museum take it on and do it up. Seems such a waste otherwise.

  7. These vessels were built in WWII to fill an immediate need for coastal patrol and defence duties. They were only ever intended to last as long as they were needed. They were built from a kit of parts, so that small boatyards anywhere could assemble them. Due to their design, there were some inherent faults that were acceptable, mostly concerning poor ventilation below decks, and areas where condensation and rainwater could collect. During wartime service of a few years, this wasn’t a problem, but to prolong their lives after the war, they needed constant attention, and regular repairs. If they were neglected, they would rot from between the double diagonal timbers of the hull planking, resulting in what has happened here. Her sister vessel, RML497, now at Portsmouth appears to have similar issues which are being addressed by the RN Historical Dockyard. This is a sad sight for me personally, as I worked on this vessel when she was in Torbay as Western Lady IV, in the early 1970’s. I have happy memories of her carrying passengers to Brixham, Torquay and the River Dart in the summer months. I was Master of her sister vessel, Western Lady, ex RML 535.

  8. It’s a shame that she has now been destroyed after surviving through the war & over 60 years of passenger carrying service!

    She was a much loved vessel, saved lives during the war & carried hundreds of thousands of people across Torbay.

    Heart breaking that she was allowed to get to such a state to be broken up after surviving for so long!

  9. She was savable. Rye Harbour Authority should have been more responsible with this piece of history and got someone like the museum Chatham involved. She only sank because rainwater was able to get in via the funnel, eventually sinking the boat. With some good pumps and a small tug, she could easily have been recovered. And YES, I have been involved in the salvage of several boats including WW2 boats of similar construction.

  10. This is really sad. It’s was an historical artefact of value. I remember marvelling at it and trying to describe to my kids the role little boats like this played on the heroic St Nazaire raid in March 1942. They were small and vulnerable, as were the men aboard them. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck, looking at this little vessel and thinking of 29 year old Able Seaman Savage VC, serving his gun in support of the Commandos on the St Nazaire raid – totally exposed on the deck of a very similar boat. He died at his post and his VC was posthumous…
    Naturally, all that stuff brings a lump to one’s throat. However, I have to tell myself, that although this is a tragedy, it’s people, their memories and their example that we have to remember and learn from. There’s no point in wringing our hands about this now. This isn’t the first such loss and I doubt it’ll be the last. The best thing is to ensure friends and family understand what these artefacts embody. There’s no point making ‘things’ into shrines and venerating them whilst having only vague conceptions of what it all meant. That’s missing the point. It’s the freedoms they won, the ideologies they fought that are significant. Not, with regret, the vessels themselves…

  11. Can you imagine the amount of room needed if we saved every instrument of war, add to that the civilian artefacts and we’ll all be living in a massive museum.
    Add to this the cost of preserving wooden boats and you start to see the problems, most military museums have charitable status and are struggling at the moment.
    Best way to remember wars is by educating those coming behind and hope they don’t have to go through the same thing.

  12. I believe this particular artefact deserves to be restored in its present resting place. Comments in this discussion above put forward the many reasons why.

    Perhaps the property development company hard at work taking over the Rye waterfront would like to make the financial commitment to secure the future of this historic vessel by assuming the cost etc. of its rescue, restoration, and maintenance. This would be a meaningful gesture, in my view, that would stand out against impending loss of familiar and well-loved [by many at least] ‘neighbourhood’ of boats, paths, natural habitats, and quite spots etc. along the river that commercial development will achieve.

    • Oh blimey. I just saw the date of the article here. 2019…oops! It sailed right by me in the early days [nights?] of lockdown. Well, this is a very belated R.I.P. then, to a ship that has well and truly sailed by. Thanks, John, for the reminder to keep eyes wide open all the time. Cheers.

  13. RML 497 is undergoing conservation and, ultimately, restoration at the National Musem of the Royal Navy, Hartlepool alongside the magnificently displayed sailing frigate HMS Tincomalee (1819) as a future static exhibit. For all the reasons explained by Roy Kennedy 497 is in a very fragile condition and the project will be long and very expensive. For full details see

  14. I am one of the very few WWII RNVR veterans who served aboard Fairmile B types. If there are any others I would like to get in touch with them. During Japanese campaign In the Arakan front, Burma coast we had to consecutively live onboard for three years, unlike our UK colleagues who spent few nights aboard during each short patrol. My personal attachment to RML 526 was because l was a guest of honour of then, First Sea Lord, Admiral Zambalas at a charity gala dinner aboard HMS VICTORY at Portsmouth in Nov 2018 to raise funds for RML 526. On the day before this unforgettable event, my daughter who lives in Australia drove me all the way to Rye and l went aboard the floating hill moored next to the inn where we spent overnight. There was nothing left inside the hull which had been stripped bare, and l did wonder how they were planning to restore her to the original. It was very disappointing for me after flying 5000 miles to attend the gala event as a ninety year old in my twilight years, to see the historic boat in this shape, and now to read that she exists no longer. By the way L am ninety four + and live in Rangoon, Burma where the war is not quite ended under a military regime.

  15. Thanks for your long distance correspondence, and for your service to Britain. It’s very much appreciated.
    I hope Burma sees better days.


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