The Victorian steam passenger launch Alaska was built at Bourne End, on the Thames in 1883, and is part of the National Historic Fleet. However she now faces an uncertain future, hence the appeal being made to help keep her steaming.
Operated by Thames Steamers Limited, she is a popular charter and trip boat, plying her trade from her base near Marlow. Many readers will have no doubt have enjoyed a trip on her from Bourne End, or at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival in Henley.
Unfortunately, while normally self-supporting due to her popularity, she now finds herself in a position where her entire future is in doubt due to the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
As the oldest passenger steamer on the Thames, Alaska brings with her considerable upkeep and substantial seasonal costs. The decisions taken by Henley Regatta and Henley Festival to cancel rather than postpone their major events, along with the cancellation of all her pre-booked charter work, means that if and when a lifting of restrictions allows resumption of river trade this year, she’ll be left, at best, with a very short season. However, this will deliver an extremely limited income-earning opportunity, exacerbated by an 80% reduction in passenger capacity due to social-distancing requirements.
It’s not been possible to carry out Alaska’s spring refit and surveys and, as things presently stand, the operator isn’t eligible for any of the government’s business assistance grants. So, it’s looking financially more sensible to keep her out of service until next year, rather than spend contingency funds for this work if expected income is negligible.
Thames Steamers – both as a company and through trade bodies – is lobbying at the highest level for industry-specific assistance from the government, as all passenger boat operators on inland and coastal waters are being confronted with similar issues; high static costs for certification, survey, licensing, mooring, insurance and maintenance, plus the prospect of low or non-existent income for a considerable period
In this time of increased uncertainty, both for individuals and businesses, it is hoped that the community that has been established through Alaska’s presence on the River Thames, and those keen to see such important pieces of our country’s heritage preserved for future generations, can help ensure that she can continue running – not just into next season, but for future years.
Given many of her costs arise at the start of the season, it’s likely that financial hardship will be faced in the first half of 2021, as contingency funds will be depleted by the end of this year. The operators respectfully ask, therefore, that – if at all possible – those interested could consider making a donation to help keep Alaskarunning.
Donations can be made via the GoFundMe appeal page Help SL Alaska Keep Steaming, which has been set up by Alaska’s captain and Thames Steamers’ director, Peter Green. Further information about Alaska can be found at thames-steamers.co.uk as well as on Facebook page at Thames Steamers Limited.
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