SS Nomadic (II) – built to transport first and second class passengers to Olympic and Titanic from Cherbourg – is now the last remaining White Star Line ship on the surface. Now recently restored to her original glory – Nomadic has now been opened to the public as a museum ship in Belfast – the place where she was built.
Nomadic as she appeared in 1911.
While Olympic and Titanic were being constructed at Harland and Wolff, Belfast it was known that there was a problem: Olympic and Titanic were going to be too big to be accommodated at Cherbourg, France – the ships first call on their voyages between Britain and America. The solution was two build two passenger tenders to ferry the passengers out to the ships, to be called Nomadic and Traffic. Nomadic was designed to carry first and second class passengers, while Traffic was designed to carry third class passengers, mail, baggage and cargo.
With Titanic and Olympic under construction at Harland and Wolff – construction of Nomadic, yard number 422, began at the same place with the laying of her keel on 22nd December 1910. Nomadic was then launched from Harland and Wolff’s Slipway No.1 on 25th April 1911. Upon her completion Nomadic weighed 1273 tons and could carry around 1000 passengers, first and second class, with an overspill area for third class if needed.
Nomadic successfully completed her sea trials on 16th May 1911, and was then handed over to the White Star Line on 27th May 1911.
On 31st May 1911, on the very same day that Titanic was launched, Nomadic was used at Belfast in connection with Olympic’s first departure from the same place. Olympic, Nomadic and Traffic then at 4:30pm departed Belfast together, all leaving Belfast for the first time. Olympic headed to Liverpool for a visit, while Nomadic (under the command of Captain Boitard) and Traffic headed for their new homeport, Cherbourg – both arriving on 3rd June.
Nomadic transferred passengers to Olympic from Cherbourg for the first time on 14th June 1911 – when Olympic arrived in Cherbourg for the first time, at the start of her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
In Cherbourg on 13th November 1911, Nomadic collided with Philadelphia, a ship belonging to the American Line. Nomadic sustained damage to her bow, stem and a number of her plates.
On the evening of Wednesday 10th April 1912, Nomadic played her part in the lead up to one of the very worst disasters in maritime history, as when Titanic arrived in Cherbourg during her maiden and as it turned out only voyage, Nomadic transferred 172 first and second class passengers from the port at Cherbourg out to Titanic; amongst the group of passengers included John Jacob Astor, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Benjamin Guggenheim and Margret “Molly” Brown. Nomadic also transferred a small group of passengers, 24 of them, from Titanic who were only sailing from Southampton to Cherbourg.
During the First World War, in April 1917, Nomadic was brought into service as a troop transport, transporting American troops. She continued in her role as troop transport until 1919, before then returning to her usual transport services in Cherbourg.
In 1927, following White Star Line being sold by IMM to the Royal Mail Group, Nomadic was sold to Compagnie Cherbourgeoise de Transbordement, but remained in Cherbourg serving as a passenger tender, including (and possibly giving priority to) White Star Line ships.
In 1928 Nomadic was involved in a collision with Orinoco, a ship belonging to the Hamburg America Line.
Nomadic was again involved in a collision on 29th November 1931, when she collided with Minnewaska, of the American Transport Line, causing damage to her stem and denting some of her plates.
Following improvements to the port at Cherbourg, meaning that tenders were needed less often, Nomadic was sold to Société Cherbourgeoise de Sauvetage et de Remorquage in 1934, again remaining in Cherbourg, but renamed Ingenieur Minard.
During the Second World War, as Cherbourg was about to fall to the German’s in June 1940, Ingenieur Minard was involved in the evacuation of soldiers, and staff from Amiot, a French aviation company. Ingenieur Minard then escaped France and sailed to Britain, arriving in Portsmouth, and was then requisitioned to serve in the British war effort. During the war she is believed to have served as a coastal patrol vessel, mine sweeper and troop transport.
After the end of the war Ingenieur Minard was returned to her owners and returned to work as a tender at Cherbourg. Due to the destruction that Cherbourg’s port had suffered during the war, there was plenty of work for Ingenieur Minard.
Ingenieur Minard served as a tender for the last time on 4th November 1968, serving Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. Ingenieur Minard /Nomadic had enjoyed a long and successful career serving some of the most famous ships, including Titanic, Olympic, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, and transporting many well-known people over the years, including Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and many others. With her role as a tender over she now faced being broken up for scrap.
Fortunately Ingenieur Minard was saved from being scraped by Roland Spinnewyn, a French businessman, who intended to convert the ship into a floating restaurant. She departed Cherbourg for the last time on 26th April 1969 and was towed to Le Havre, before then later being towed up the River Seine to Conflan-Sainte-Honorine. So that she could be taken to her intended destination in Paris, her mast, funnel and everything on her upper deck were removed to allow her to get under bridges.
Roland Spinnewyn decided to sell the ship, and then sold her to businessman Yvon Vincent. She arrived in Paris on 17th October 1974 and work began to convert her into a floating restaurant and function venue. Located on River Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower, and renamed Nomadic, the ship opened to the public on 26th June 1977.
Nomadic on the River Seine. Note the substantial alterations to her top two decks to allow for the restaurant. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
In 1999 Nomadic become the victim of new regulations which demanded that she undergo annual inspections of her hull in dry dock; the problem being that due to her height and the height of the bridges on the River Seine, she was effectively stuck where she was, out of reach of a dry dock. Despite her hull being inspected by divers, Nomadic had to close.
Nomadic then sat derelict and began to deteriorate, with her future in doubt. Nomadic was seized by the Paris harbour authorities in 2002, and in that same year her upper deck was removed and the deck bellow removed to ground level to allow the ship to be removed from Paris. Nomadic was towed from Paris on 1st of April 2003, bound for Le Havre.
Nomadic after having her top two decks removed. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
It was attempted to sell Nomadic at auction on 10th November 2005, but with a reserve price of €500,000 Nomadic was not sold. A further auction was held on 26th January 2006, this time with a reserve price of €250,000, and Nomadic was sold to Northern Ireland’s Department for Social Development for €250,001. It was the intension of the Department for Social Development for Nomadic to be brought back to Belfast – the place where she was built. Had Nomadic not been bought it is believed that there was a substantial risk that the ship would have been broken up for scrap.
Nomadic departed Le Havre, France on 12th July 2006, loaded on to the top of AMT Mariner, a submersible barge, arriving home in Belfast in the evening of 17th July. Once in Belfast Nomadic was opened to the public for a time before full restoration work began. Nomadic has now been restored to her 1911 state and was opened to the public as a museum ship on 1st June 2013. Nomadic is now located in Hamilton Dock, a dry dock formerly used by Harland and Wolff.
Nomadic in Belfast, as she appeared nearing the end of her external restoration works. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)