Classic steam ship La Palma

Posted by Chris Graham on 15th March 2021

The restoration of the 1912 classic steam ship La Palma is proceeding well on Tenerife, as  Phil Barnes reports.

steam ship La Palma

A general view of the classic steam ship La Palma, at the Muelle Sur, showing the good condition of the ship resulting from all the restoration work carried out so far. (Pic: Phil Barnes)

At the moment, the classic steam ship La Palma can be found moored by the cruise terminal building on the Muelle Sur (south mole) in Santa Cruz, on Tenerife, and is the subject of an on-going restoration project headed by Fundación Canaria Correillo La Palma

The ship was built by W Harkess & Son of Middlesbrough, and launched in February, 1912; not long before the Titanic disaster, and the same year as the famous TSS Earnslaw was assembled and launched in New Zealand.

La Palma entered service in April 1912, working for Elder Dempster Lines, and was classified as a ‘Correillo Maritimo’ (maritime mail) vessel, which gave her special status. She changed owners in 1930, to the Spanish state company Trasmediterranea, where she remained in the same role, carrying mail, freight and passengers between the Canary Islands and Spanish West Africa.

The ship had begun life as a coal-fired ship but, around 1951, she was converted to run on oil. Also, at about the same time, an enclosed, wooden bridge was fitted.

She continued with this work until March 1976, when one of her two boilers failed. As a result, she limped into La Palma on Gran Canaria where she was laid-up until a decision could be made about her future.

Of course, one of the consequences of being out of use for so long is that, unfortunately, the elements have taken their toll on her overall condition. It’s also been the case that various items have been stripped-out over the intervening years, making her look even more derelict.

steam ship La Palma

The stern of the vessel, clearly showing the lack of a rudder and propeller. (Pic: Phil Barnes)

Ultimately, a decision was necessary regarding the ship’s future which, to many, seemed to hold nothing more optimistic than a one-way trip to the scrap yard! But in, 2003, thanks to a final acceptance of La Palma’s historic significance, a Restoration Trust/Foundation was formed.

This organisation’s role was to initially preserve and then restore La Palma as a floating museum, but it also had a longer-term goal of making her operational once again. These objectives have been backed by several Canary Island governments and restoration groups and, so far, several million Euros have been spent on the project.

Over the years, La Palma has undergone some major work. In about 2007 she was ‘slipped’ at Santa Cruz, to provide access to the ‘wet hull’ for re-plating work, followed by a repaint below the waterline. Then she was re-floated in 2008. Also, the 700hp MacColl & Pollock triple-expansion engine was removed for rebuilding ‘off ship’, and the old boilers were cut up in-situ so that they could be removed and scrapped; with these weighty items gone, she now rides ‘high’ in the water.

As things stand, steam ship La Palma can only be visited by prior arrangement. However, a virtual tour is also available and, to find out more about this, and the on-going restoration work more generally, you should send an email to: correillolapalma@tenerife.es

For a money-saving subscription to Old Glory magazine, simply click here