The Steam Tug Portwey was ordered by The Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co.Ltd. in November 1926 and launched 9 months later at the Govan yard of Harland & Wolff. Four days after leaving the Govan she arrived in Weymouth and after sea-trials went into full service.
During WWII Portwey was drafted into the war effort and worked on Admiralty service including a spell under the control of the US Navy in and around Dartmouth.
In 1967, after nearly 40 years of non-stop work, Portwey was laid up ready to be scrapped. Fortunately, in October 1967 she was bought by Richard Dobson, the Assistant Harbour Master at Dartmouth, and with the help of three friends they hoped to restore her to steaming condition.
By the beginning of the 1980’s the restoration and maintenance was becoming too much for Richard and his small band of helpers, so she was donated to the Maritime Trust and left Dartmouth in May 1982 arriving at St. Katherine’s Dock on the 7th June.
After many crises of funding The Steam Tug Portwey Trust Ltd. (a registered charity) bought Portwey from the Maritime Trust and she is now berthed at South Quay, West India Docks.
It is appropriate that Portwey is spending her retirement in Docklands as she not only represents the almost lost heritage of shipbuilding in the UK, but also the long association of ships of this class with the once bustling docks. From the 1920’s until their final closure hundreds of tugs like Portwey worked the river and docks in and around the Pool of London. Tugs like her were, in their day, a cross between the modern White Van and a farmers Land Rover. They were the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ runabouts that kept the traffic flowing up and down the Thames. Their lives were not glamorous like the smart liners or adventurous like the huge cargo ships but, without Portwey and her sisters, London would not have become the busiest dock in the world.