Southampton’s heritage steamship SS Shieldhall has returned looking spick and span following her biennial visit to dry dock in Falmouth.

Her first cruises of the 2018 season will take place over the weekend of 26-27 May, and Shieldhall has had a fresh link of paint applied to her hull and anchors, and routine maintenance work undertaken including anti-fouling, the installation of new foremast lights and the checking of the port propeller shaft.

Shieldhall’s return comes just a few days after the announcement of her National Historic Ships 2018 Regional Flagship status, and thus she becomes the first ship to hold the distinction of holding either the National or Regional Flagship status on two occasions.

A National Historic Ships spokesman noted: ‘SS Shieldhall was National Historic Ships UK’s first National Flagship in 2009. This year (which marks her 30th anniversary in current ownership), she has been awarded regional status in recognition of her continual and extensive sailing programme in the Solent area which has seen passenger numbers increase exponentially each year.’

Graham Mackenzie, who oversaw a HLF project completed on Shieldhall in 2017, was thrilled at the award: ‘There are approximately 200 vessels on the National Historic Ships Register, all distinguished by being of pre-eminent national or regional significance; spanning the spectrum of UK maritime history; illustrating changes in construction and technology and meriting a higher priority for long term conservation.

“Our humble passenger-cargo vessel stands alongside such famous ships as the SS Great Britain, the Royal Yacht Britannia, HMS Victory and the Cutty Sark. What Shieldhall offers of course is the opportunity to go out to sea in a steam ship, and to get up close to Shieldhall’s ‘jewels’ – her mighty triple-expansion steam engines – as they go about their paces.

“It is a great credit to our volunteers that Shieldhall is still introducing the experience of steam at sea to new generations, 63 years after she was first constructed.”

Shieldhall’s first cruise for the 2018 season is a two-hour tour of Southampton’s Docks between 1600-1800 on Saturday 26 May, followed by a three-hour cruise on a Titanic theme the following day, Sunday 27 May, between 1500 and 1800, when guest speaker Ann Victoria Roberts will give a talk on Captain E. J. Smith.

Thereafter Shieldhall stages a number of sailings at intervals until mid-September. Planned trips for the 2018 season include sailings coinciding with the Round the Island Yacht Race, Cowes Fireworks, ‘The 3 Queens’ in Port, the Bournemouth Air Festival and the Southampton Boat Show.

Special group packages are available with a Titanic theme, which include a visit to Southampton’s SeaCity Museum, a guided walk around Southampton’s Titanic Quarter and Titanic Memorials, and a 2hr or 3hr afternoon cruise on the Shieldhall.  Shieldhall has a Galley, Licensed Bar and Saloon, with a selection of hot and cold food and real ale available on all trips.

Tickets for Shieldhall’s 2018 programme may be purchased online at www.ss-shieldhall.co.uk or by contacting the Ticket Manager on 0844 357 2329 2329 (calls cost 7p per minute from landline, calls from mobiles may vary).