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An original photograph of the Nomadic serving as a tender in Cherbourg Harbor. This photograph, which was mixed in with a batch of Cherbourg and Southampton pictures, probably dates to the late 1920's to early 1930's. Because of the dark color of her funnel, it seems possible that the photograph was taken after she was purchased from Cunard-White Star (in 1934) and re-named Ingenieur Minard. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

An original photograph of the Nomadic serving as a tender in Cherbourg Harbor. This photograph, which was mixed in with a batch of Cherbourg and Southampton pictures, probably dates to the late 1920’s to early 1930’s. Because of the dark color of her funnel, it seems possible that the photograph was taken after she was purchased from Cunard-White Star (in 1934) and re-named Ingenieur Minard. (J. Kent Layton Collection)

As the character John Bigelow said in the 1980 film Raise the Titanic!, beyond memories there is very little left of the Titanic. Today, there are many artifacts of the Titanic and other liners of the golden age which are available for people to observe, learn from, appreciate, and even purchase. Yet no matter how precious or educational they are, a stray deck chair from the Olympic, a piece of china from the Normandie, and a recovered artifact from the Titanic simply can not add up to the living reality, the actual experience of what it was like to be on those ships.

Fortunately, beyond trinkets, precious items salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic, and memories, there is is actually one remaining White Star vessel. She is the last of her kind, and she has been preserved for the enjoyment of anyone who is able to visit her in person. She is the Nomadic, and she has a special connection to the Titanic herself. She was originally designed as one of a pair of tenders intended to service the Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic when they visited Cherbourg, France. Yet her story is a harrowing one. The plucky little Nomadic almost did not survive her journey through the years. The fact that she was saved and restored to her original glory is a testament to the dedication and hard work of many individuals.

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This photograph of the Nomadic was shot in November of 2005, before she left Paris. She was truly in sad condition. (Photo by Thierry Dufournaud, used with permission.)

History.

During construction of the Olympic and Titanic, it was decided that new tenders would be needed to service them when they made their scheduled stops at Cherbourg, France. The current tender in use at that port was an older, side-paddle vessel. It certainly did not meet the standards that were being set by the Olympic and Titanic. Hence, White Star contracted out to Harland & Wolff to build two new tenders, eventually named the Nomadic and the Traffic.

The Nomadic, Harland & Wolff Yard No. 422, was by far the larger of the two vessels, at 220.7 feet long and with a gross tonnage of 1,273. She was designed to ferry up to a thousand first and second class passengers and their accompanying luggage. Her smaller companion, the Traffic, was designed to carry up to five-hundred third class passengers and the mails.

Both tenders were completed in time to escort the Olympic from Belfast when she left on her trials. Then, they made the trip down to Cherbourg and waited to rendezvous with the Olympic again in the evening of June 14, 1911 – during the ship’s maiden stopover at that port. Apparently, it took some time to make the transfers, for Bruce Ismay – watching the process – seemed somewhat unsettled at the delays encountered. However, the process smoothed out with each use.

The vessels only tendered the Titanic once, and by then the routine seemed well established. There was apparently no contact between them and the third Olympic-class ship, the Britannic. The Nomadic and the Traffic continued to serve the Olympic and other ships for many years. During The Great War, starting late in 1917, she and the Traffic served as troop carriers in Brest.

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This snap was taken on June 10, 1919 at Brest, France. U.S. Navy sailors are coaling a large transport (possibly identified as the U.S.S. Imperator). The lighter closes to the camera is the Rin Tin Tin. Behind her is what looks to be the Traffic, while inboard of the Traffic, the larger transport appears to be the Nomadic. Both vessels are packed with troops who are apparently on their way home. (U.S. Naval Historical Center / J. Kent Layton Collection.)

After the War she again serviced the great Atlantic liners; however, in 1933, a new deepwater dock was opened in the port of Cherbourg. This meant that ships no longer had to anchor offshore and have tenders ferry cargo and passengers out to them. With her primary purpose now jeopardized, Nomadic was purchased by the Societe Cherbourgeoise de Remorquage et de Sauvetage (SCRS), and renamed Ingenieur Minard. Fortunately, the company found good use for her for the remainder of the years leading up to the second world conflict.

Sadly, the Traffic was lost to history during World War Two. Miraculously, the plucky little vessel survived the conflict, and the almost total destruction of Cherbourg Harbor. After the war, she continued to service superliners like the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth through 1968. She was saved from the scrap heap, and opened as a restaurant in 1977 on the River Seine. She continued in that role for twenty-two years. Then, there came an issue: the French Government would not allow her to continue in operation without annual drydocking and hull inspections. Because of her superstructure’s height and low bridges on the river, however, she could not proceed to a drydock for inspection; hence her license was canceled, and once more looked doomed for the scrap heap.

For three years she sat rusting away to nothing. Then, in early 2004, her superstructure was removed, to allow her to leave Paris by passing under the low bridges that stood in her way. Fortunately, when she was placed up for auction on January 26, 2006, one bid was received, and she was sold. For several months, she remained in France undergoing inspections, and finally she was placed on a barge for transport across the Channel and back to her birthplace, Harland & Wolff. Restoration work commenced quickly.

A series of photographs, seen on this thread at the Titanic Research & Modeling Association Forum, show the Nomadic as she appeared in the Summer of 2009. Further information on the history of the Nomadic, and on the Nomadic Preservation Society’s ongoing efforts to assist in the restoration of the vessel, can be found through their site. A forum for ongoing discussions of the Nomadic and other ships, hosted by the Nomadic Preservation Society, can be found here.


Pre-Restoration Gallery

The following photographs of the Nomadic appear courtesy of Thierry Dufournaud and are reproduced with his permission. They were taken in November of 2005, and show the sad condition of the Nomadic before she was restored. My sincerest thanks to all who kept me posted on this project throughout the preceding months. (Note: Not for re-use without the express permission of Mr. Dufournaud.)


Restoration work continued for years. It was painstakingly carried out by a determined team.

This video on the Nomadic was released in 2015 by BBC Northern Ireland:

Titanic Belfast PosterToday, the restored Nomadic is officially a part of the experience at Titanic Belfast, This is the museum and cultural center now open to the public at the birthplace of the most legendary liner ever built. It claims to be the “world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction.” A preview of some of their offerings can be seen here.

The fine video below, All Aboard SS Nomadic, was produced by Nomadic Belfast. Watch the video, then click this link and start booking your trip to see “Titanic‘s little sister” in Belfast.