My living is computers in public transport, so I often had occasion to visit Melbourne's main train station Flinders Street which lies alongside the Yarra River. On some of these visits I took note of a small wooden steam boat working the river, but never had the opportunity to take a closer look.
This summer I took my family to Southbank (the name of the complex on, you guessed it, the south bank of the river opposite the station) to find the boat and have a ride.
Southgate River Tours operate the Elizabeth Anne as a tourist attraction along with many other conventional diesel powered flat boats. The Elizabeth Anne seats 12 (just) and operates a short one hour cruise upstream and back to Southbank from 11am each day. The cruise itself is kinda boring as there is not much to see on that part of the Yarra River - but if you like hearing a steam engine working away then this is a must see.
The boat itself is six years old and was built in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia it is registered as MB 649.
The engine is a vertical marine engine and was obtained from the USA and is eighty one years old. It was built in 1918 by the "Manufacturing Department M.Y.M.I. CAL" which I'm told was the USA War Department. The engine was supplied to a troop ship. It is number 1397 and is marked as "Type M 5 3/4 and 12 x 8". Ron Parola contributed that the engine was made in Mare Island, a naval base in the delta of the San Francisco Bay. This base has just been recently closed, but there is still the "mothball" fleet of retired ships sitting at anchor.
The engine has two cylinders, one high and one low pressure. It seems to operate at about 120rpm (from my poor count). It has traditional reversing gear rather than a gear box. When the operator wishes to reverse the prop, the engine is placed in reverse. The reversing gear is arranged so that the engine can be run at full speed ahead, then set to full speed astern just with the flick of the wrist. The operator did this a number of times whilst turning on the river. The effect on the engine as it quickly comes to a stop, then hesitates before speeding up in the opposite direction.
The whistle is typical of small river going steam boats in that it is very high pitched and piercing, not to mention frightens little kids (one of mine was under the whistle when it went off and cried right through it).
The boiler is wood fired (Australian Red Gum being the fuel of choice) and seems to be quite efficient - the entire tour consumed about 10kg of wood. I could not get any specific information on the boiler design or its water capacity as the operator of the boat (it would be rude to Captains to call him a Captain) had no idea, or was sick of "tourist" questions and simply brushed me off. From what I could see the entire boiler and fire box was around 2m high. The fire box sat on a raised platform in the bilge of the boat, and seemed to be about .8m high, and about 1.5m wide. It was fired through two small doors .2m x .2m mounted low in the box. The boiler arrangement was covered by steel plate, but looked an awful like a big Mammod toy! However it is constructed it looks good and works well, easily providing enough steam for the meager needs of the small engine and the boats whistle.
Interestingly, their brochure refers to the boat as The Elizabeth Anne 1 - seems like they must be planning in advance to lose it :-)