Sundowner in Ramsgate Harbour, April 2010
|Tonnage||26 grt (74 m3)|
|Length||58 ft (18 m)|
|Beam||12 ft 6 in (3.81 m)|
|Draught||5 ft (1.5 m)|
|Propulsion||Gleniffer diesel engine, 72 hp (54 kW), single screw|
|Speed||10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
She participated in the Dunkirk evacuation as one of the "little ships" as well as a number of commemorations of the event, and is now a museum ship at the Ramsgate Maritime Museum in Southern England.
Originally built in 1912, the former Admiralty steam pinnace was bought in 1929 for £40 (equivalent to £2,000 today) by Charles and Sylvia Lightoller. The hull was recovered from the mud at Conyer Creek east of the River Medway and was fitted with two masts and ketch-rigged with jib, mainsail, mizzen and mizzen staysail. Due to Sylvia being Australian, they named their converted yacht Sundowner, an Australian term for a tramp or hobo. Originally 52 feet long, she was extended to 58 feet, and fitted with 60 hp (45 kW) Parsons petrol-paraffin 4-stroke engine driving a single propeller, giving her a top speed of 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph).
Sundowner was launched on 28 June 1930, and after trials on the Thames, undertook her first voyage to France. During the next ten years the Lightollers cruised along the northern coast of Europe, taking part successfully in many international competitions. In 1936 Lightoller replaced the engine with a more powerful 72 hp (54 kW) Gleniffer diesel engine giving her an extra 2 knots (3.7 km/h; 2.3 mph). In 1939, with the threat of war looming, Lightoller was tasked to secretly survey the European coast for the Admiralty.
On 31 May 1940, Sundowner was requisitioned by the Admiralty to sail to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. Lightoller, aged 66 and retired, volunteered to take her, along with his eldest son Roger, and Gerald Ashcroft, an 18-year-old Sea Scout.
Leaving Port of Ramsgate at 10:00 on 1 June, the yacht crossed the Channel in company with five other ships. On their way, they rescued the crew of the motor cruiser Westerly, which had broken down and was on fire. On arrival at Dunkirk, Lightoller realized that the piers were too high, and so drew alongside the destroyer HMS Worcester and started to take on soldiers. Seventy-five men were crammed into the cabin, and another fifty-five on deck, a total of 130. Sundowner then returned to Ramsgate, avoiding fire from enemy aircraft through evasive manoeuvres on the way, though the greatest danger was being swamped by the wash from fast-moving destroyers. After disembarking the troops, she was preparing to return for France for another load, but by then only ships capable of doing 20 knots were allowed to continue.
Sundowner remained in service as a coastal patrol vessel in the River Blackwater, Essex. She then moved to the River Clyde under the control of 647 Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps. She was released from service in 1945, and after a refit was returned to Lightoller in 1946, and once again used as a family boat.
Charles Lightoller died in 1952, and his wife Sylvia continued to cruise in Sundowner, taking the helm when she led the Armada of Little Ships on the 25th Anniversary return to Dunkirk in 1965. After passing through several other owners, Sundowner was purchased by the East Kent Maritime Trust after the last owners, Jamie and Baffy Turner had to put into Ramsgate harbour (on passage from the Medway to a new berth in Southampton) in August 1986 for repair to the hull after suffering heavy damage in rough weather. She was restored for the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk in 1990. In 2000 Sundowner also took part in the 60th anniversary flotilla, once more sailing to Dunkirk. On 3 June 2012, Sundowner participated in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant among other "Dunkirk Little Ships".
- "Sundowner". Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. April 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
- "A Brief History of Sundowner" (PDF). All At Sea. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 September 2009. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
- Lord, Walter (1984). The Miracle of Dunkirk. Penguin Books. pp. 225–227. ISBN 0-14-005085-X.
- Birkett, Peter (3 June 2000). "Once more unto the beach for ships that saved an army". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 26 September 2009.
- Dalton, Samantha (1 June 2012). "Diamond Jubilee: Boats prepare to make waves for Queen". BBC News. London. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
- "Dunkirk Little Ships" (PDF). Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2012.