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The Supreme Marine Achievement of Man’s Invention !
From The Gabbarts to The VIC's and The Diesels
The puffer was a descendant of two vessels, the scow and the gabbart. Canal boats in Scotland were called scows, they measured about 60' by 13' 6", carrying 70 or 80 tons of cargo on a draught of 5 or 6-feet and though narrow enough for The Monkland Canal locks were a foot narrower in beam for those using The Union Canal. They were wooden-built, round-bilged, double-ended, craft, the first iron-hulled scow being built in 1824. Fore and aft were short decks with a small day cabin below deck aft, for the three crew. One man was in charge of the towing horse, usually a Clydesdale horse towing from a stud on the foredeck, the other men steered and worked the locks and drawbridges. Some scows were open but those carrying perishables had a hatch and hatch boards, the open ones being used for minerals, pig iron, coal, coke, limestone and foundry sand. In 1802 the stern-wheeler Charlotte Dundas was tried but the canal proprietors feared that damage would occur to the canal banks as a result of her wash and although other trials were made, the scows remained horse-drawn until 1856. In 1833 The Forth & Clyde Canal experimented with an iron scow carrying carts, it was able to take up to 18 carts on deck, while two years later tramroad waggon scows were successfully tried, carrying 14 waggons loaded with a total of 40 tons of coal. The waggons were run on to the deck at the canalside terminus of The Monkland & Kirkintilloch Railway at Kirkintilloch. The 1
Forth & Clyde had a large fleet of scows and another important owner was The Carron Co, users of the canal from the start and The Leith, Hull and Hamburg S. P. Co., shipowners. The steam scows lasted on The Monkland Canal until about 1900 and on The Forth & Clyde until the 1920's but they never went on The Union Canal because the fixed bridges were too low for them. A few scows became steam suppliers to grain elevators in the Glasgow docks and three were at work as late as 1954. Dumb steel scows were built for canal use as late as 1948 and they remained until the late 1950's on The Forth & Clyde, towed by 'puffers'. In 1856, James Milne, the canal engineer, fitted a twin cylinder, 10” stroke and 6½” bore, tmospheric engine, powered by a 3’ diameter boiler working at 35 lbs pressure, into one of The Forth & Clyde's iron horse-drawn scows, the Thomas, a ‘standard’ canal barge, at a cost of £320, converted to operate between Port Dundas and Falkirk and the puffer was born. With a four-foot pitch ‘screw’ and the engine turning at 130 revolutions per minute, the Thomas, capable of carrying some 70 or 80 tons of cargo, was able to do some 5 mph and ‘the puffer’ was born, her atmospheric engine ‘puffing’ merrily along exhausting steam directly into the atmosphere and sky ! As an ordinary canal barge, she had been worked by two boatmen, a horse and a horseman, now the Thomas needed just two crew. The following year, 1857, at Kelvin Dock, the Swan brothers, David, John and Robert, built and engined the Glasgow, the first purpose-built ‘puffer’ and in the same year one James Hay set up business at Port Dundas as a shipping agent. Ten years later, as J. & J. Hay, James and his brothers John and Robert, both engineers, took over Crawford & Company’s boatyard at Kirkintilloch to build ‘puffers’, most given ‘tribal’ names, for themselves. By 1858 there were seven steam scows on the Forth & Clyde Canal and two years later twenty-five. They carried mainly minerals such as coke, ironstone, foundry sand and limestone. With a single long hatch and hatchboards they could also carry perishables, but were unable to venture into the river because they had no anchor gear. And so, in the 1860's, Swan & Co at Kelvin Dock on The Forth & Clyde Canal started to build small steam vessels for use on the canal and river. Constructed of iron, heavy belting was put on just above the waterline to reduce damage at locks and this gave them a heavy appearance in proportion to their size. The engines were single cylinder types, 12 inches bore and 12 to 34 inches stroke. As the water in the Forth & Clyde Canal was fresh, no condensers were fined, the engine exhausting direct to the atmosphere via the funnel and giving the peculiar puffing sound, something akin to a railway engine and it was from this that the name 'puffer' was derived. A wide variety of cowls or shovels were fined to the tops of the funnels to increase draught as the boiler had only natural draught. Improvements were made and the range increased. Derricks were fitted, not always with a steam winch, for cargo work and for putting a man ashore to work locks and drawbridges on rhe canal. These iron-hulled craft were called canal puffers and with their three man crew, skipper, mate and engineer, ventured down the Clyde as far as Greenock and to Leith on the Forth. They were allowed no further for they had no bulwarks abreast the hatch, being flush decked with little sheer. To go under Glasgow bridges their masts lowered in a tabernacle, while they retained, long-handled, tiller-steering better suited to canal work. The canal puffer measured 66' by 14' to 16' beam, carrying 80 tons on a draught of 6' or 7'. Engines and boilers were more powerful than those in the scows and Currie's of Leith (The 2
Leith, Hull & Hamburg S. P. Co. Ltd.) had some with single furnace return tube boilers needing tall thin funnels to obtain sufficient draught. Some of the Currie boats had vee type diagonal engines. Other prominent owners were The Carron Co., whose sea-going vessels and puffers carried a cannon ball at the masthead, H. Salvesen, Jacks & Co. and John Hay. It was common for a puffer to tow a scow on The Forth & Clyde although they were cargo carriers rather than tugs, transhipment taking place at Grangemouth, Leith and Bowling. Amongst the host of small cargo-carrying Clyde sailing craft were the gabbarts, some schooners but most ketches of about 50 registered tons, 60-feet long, 15 to 17-feet in beam and about 7 to 9-feet in depth. Their shallow draft, flat-bottomed hulls, suitable for grounding on beaches where they could discharge their cargoes, were full-bodied with a good sheer, had generally rounded, though some were square, short counter sterns and outside rudders and all of a size able to fit the locks on The Forth and Clyde Canal. All were cutter-rigged with gaff main and topsails, jib and staysail. The earliest known report of cargo vessels sailing from Cumbrae comes in a series of Government reports, among which is listed the sailing from Cumbrae of eleven vessels between 1707 and 1712. At least three of these vessels would have been decked: Mary I, 30 tons; Robert, 36 tons; William, 36 tons; the others would be smaller open sailing fishing boats. A newspaper of March 3, 1712, reported that "One (French) cutter took the Providence of Cumbrass from Dublin with leather, 40 tons, Robert Montgomery, and ransomed her at the 'back of the land' (Luce Bay) for £40 and 2 guineas". One of the earlier ventures of cargo-carrying between the islands in the Firth and Greenock was by a vessel called The Nimble in 1811. The vessel had an interesting history being a Dutch fishing smack captured in the North Sea on December 12, 1809 by the British armed cutter H.M.S. Albion. She was in Burntisland for two years after being sold at a Prize Court and then came to Millport. Her cargo capacity was about 30 tons. About 1870 a local fisherman, Walter Kerr, decided to become involved in cargo-carrying to the island, presumably using an old fishing boat. Certainly he was a skilled sailor as he was noted in The Western Yacht Club notes of May, 1878, as skippering the yacht, Polly, which led throughout, "being splendidily steered by Walter Kerr". Perhaps, like many Millport boatmen, he spent time working as a yacht crew for the wealthy visitors. By 1880 he was ready to order a new smack for the cargo trade. This order went to Fyfe of Fairlie, and the result was the Jessie Kerr, costing £250 complete with sails and gear. The boat was clearly a splendid acquisition and Kerr went back to Fyfe a few years later for a second sailing smack, the Mary Kerr, which was likewise a great success. The two Kerr ships sailed together till the 1900s. Their main cargo was coal, for both domestic and gas company use. The Mary Kerr was sold to an Arran owner in the 1900's and lasted with various owners until after World War II. The Jessie Kerr came to grief on rocks near Horse Island while entering Ardrossan Harbour in 1912. As a replacement, Walter's son, Finlay, bought the 56-foot 'fifie' yawl, The Sisters, for £30 from east coast owners, renamed her the Betty Kerr and had her converted to a ketch, with a cargo capacity of 30 tons, at Ardmaleish on Bute. 3
Here a list of some the Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead-based sailing sloops and 'gabbarts' includes Flora - Neil MacCallum, Neil MacEwan, Donald Crawford, Norman Sinclair, Dasher - Sloop - John MacEwan, Donald MacDougall, Duncan MacEwan. Kitty - Duncan MacDougall, Duncan Gillies, Duncan MacCallum. Hope - 20 tons - John Mitchell, Peter Thomson, Malcolm Angus. Jessie - 22 tons - John Morrison, Duncan MacColl, Archie Sinclair. Jessie 23T - 22 tons - Donald Dewar, Alex Crawford, Archie Dewar. Flora - Malcolm Sinclair, Dougal Maclntyre. Marianna - 30 tons - Hulett McCallum, Malcolm Fletcher, Donald MacCallum, Angus Fletcher, Charles MacMillan, John MacFarlane. Mary and Catherine - 27 tons - John Campbell, Malcolm Campbell, Donald MacTavish. Janet - 38 Reg. Tons - Alex Harper, Peter Sinclair, Janet MacNab owner, James MacGilp, Donald MacVicar. Smack - 42 Reg. Tons - Owner A. MacNab, Glasgow - Alex MacKellar. Mary Sinclair - (1) Malcolm Sinclair. Duncan Campbell. (2) Smack 30 Reg. tons - Dugald Maclntyre, John Sinclair; (3) 50 tons cargo - Hugh MacEwan, John Sinclair, John Cummings, Mal Maclntyre, Mal MacColl. Catherine and Isabella - 31 Reg. Tons - John Kerr, D. MacVicar, Duncan Kerr. Mary - 38 Reg. Tons - John Leitch. Archie Nicol, Hugh McCallum. Mary Scott - 27 Reg. Tons - John Mitchell, Peter Mitchell, John Mitchell. Margaret Dewar - 38 Reg. Tons - John Dewar, Archie Dewar, Archie MacTavish. Owner—A. Dewar, Silvercraigs, Lochgilphead. Elizabeth - Schooner, 50 Reg. Tons - Duncan Blue. Jennie S. Jean - Smack. 42 Reg. Tons - Duncan Leitch, Colin Leitch, Donald MacGilp. Bought by Duncan Blue Gem - Schooner/Ketch 50 Reg. Tons - Duncan Sinclair, Lachlan MacGregor, Duncan Muir, John Fletcher, Colin MacLaughlan. Pultewey - Schooner, 50 Reg. Tons - James Carmichael, Archie McEwan, James Millar. Alma - Schooner, 45 Reg. Tons - Archie Campbell. Mary - Sloop, 34 Reg. Tons - John Dewar, Donald Crawford, Donald Dewar. Grace - Smack, 34 Reg. Tons - Donald Sinclair, James MacDougall, Donald McLean, Donald Muir. Ann S. Jean - Sloop, 25 Reg. Tons - Neil Campbell, Hugh MacKinnon, Neil Campbell, John Duncan, Hugh McCallum. Margaret - Smack, 37 Reg. Tons - James MacGilp, Ardrishaig, John Crawford, John Leitch, Archie McLellan, John Fletcher, Hugh McLellan. The Sisters - Lighter. 42 Reg. Tons - James MacGilp, Lochgilphead. John MacKellar, John Leitch. Bought by Alex Leitch, John MacGregor, John Wilkie. Janet - 34 Reg. Tons - Peter MacCallum, John MacCallum, John Fletcher, Archie MacEwan, Neil MacPherson, Peter Clark, Neil Campbell. Bought by Hugh Gillies. Ann MacCormick - Schooner, 50 Reg. Tons - Robert Morrison, John Morrison, Donald MacCorkindale. Owner Angus MacTavish, Ardrishaig. Ann MacTavish - Schooner, 76 Reg. Tons - Angus MacTavish of Ardrishaig. Of those above, the Gem was a top sail schooner sailing from Ardnshaig in the west coast trade tor 40 years and during this time was altered to a ketch rig. Built of iron, the register tonnage was 511 net and carrying 100 tons cargo (slate, coal, wood etc). She sailed from April to the end of December, after which she was laid tip for the winter at Miller's Bridge, Oakfield.
MacDonald, the bakers in Lochgliphead, supplied the Gem with a large order of hard-baked sea biscuits, referred to as "crumpers. They were the best baked biscuits in the trade and the main item in the dry stores of the local sailing boats. When navigating through the Crinan Canal, the Gem was towed by horses hauling on the front bank and Hugh MacTavish was probably the last of the local contractors in this trade. Sailing in all kinds of weather this fine boat came through many a stormy passage running through The Minch for Crinan and Ardrishaig. The master of the Gem was Duncan Sinclair and although most of the crew came from The Western Isles, quite a few who sailed on her came from around Ardrishaig and Lochgilphead including Hugh MacEwan, Archie MacEwan, Archie MacTavish, Malcolm MacArthur, Archie Murray, Neil MacEwan, Lachlan MacTavish, Peter MacFarlane, Duncan MacLellan, John Shaw, Andrew Grinlaw and Donald Leitch. The master of the Gem, Duncan Sinclair started as a boy crewing on his father's (Malcolm Sinclair's) smack, Mary Sinclair, in the Loch Fyne herring and coastal trade. Her registered tonnage was 29 tons net and carrying 50 tons of cargo, mainly coal. The crews were all Lochgilphead men and they sailed as far as Skye in the coastal trade all year round. The Gem was sold and went to Ireland in 1931. More than fifty years had passed since the Charlotte Dundas had shown the viability of steam-power on the canal, a technical success which was not then followed through by the canal proprietors who feared the effect of the steamer’s wash on the canal banks. By 1870 puffers were being built for coastal service, the 1868-built Kelpie a pioneer. They were given bulwarks and later a quarterdeck, a punt for getting ashore from an anchorage and a foresail and gaff mainsail to save coal, the mainsail degenerating into a trysail. Their hull was modelled on the sailing, gabbarts and had more sheer than canal puffers. The crew of 3 or 4 were accommodated in the foc'sle whilst the wheelhouse was situated right aft behind the funnel. Much later, some puffers were built with wheelhouse forward of the funnel but the typical puffer as we know it, had the wheelhouse behind the funnel even though this must have obstructed the view of the helmsman. The engine controls, reversing lever, etc, were placed in the wheelhouse so that only one man was needed on deck whilst at sea. The small dinghy, often referred to as a 'punt', rested on the hatches whilst at sea. Two types of puffer appeared, the smaller 'shorehead' boats within the Firth of Clyde, and the coasters or 'outside' boats which penetrated The West Highlands to The Outer Isles via The Crinan Canal and across to the coasts of Antrim and Donegal. On the east coast they went up to The Moray Firth and down to Tyneside and Middlesbrough. The shorehead boats with a crew of three measured up to 66' by 15' to 16' with a loaded draught of up to 7', carrying 80 tons. The coasters, with a crew of four including a deckhand, were 66' by up to 18'6" beam with a loaded draught of 9'6", the limit for The Crinan Canal, carrying up to 120 tons. At a reduced draught they could still use The Forth & Clyde Canal, where indeed many were built of iron and later steel, at Hamiltonhill, Maryhill and Kirkintilloch. Others were built at Larne, Greenock and notably at Scott & Sons, Bowling.
Plans for a model 'shorehead-type' puffer show the general hull form and layout Wooden puffers were rare, one was built on an Arran beach in about 1895 by the Hamiltons of Brodick, their first Glencloy. Some puffers were 'rose on' or heightened by the addition of solid bulwarks to make them shorehead or outside boats, while later some of the 66' boats were lengthened 19' up to 85', the maximum for The Crinan Canal. Wheel steering appeared by the 1870's, placed aft with the engine controls alongside. By about 1910 open bridges were being fitted on the engine casing abaft the funnel, not enclosed to form a wheelhouse until the 1920's. Accommodation had been in the forecastle for all the crew, but by the 1890's the captain was given a tiny semi-circular caom aft over the propeller. Sea-going puffers had compound condensing engines. Most of the compounds were two-crank, although the Burrell yard at Hamiltonhill favoured the single-crank, tandem arrangement. Vertical boilers stayed almost to the end of puffer building, some being Cochrane type. Many puffers were built and launched broadside into the Forth & Clyde Canal from Messrs J. Hay & Sons yard at Kirkintilloch, the Chindit being the last of a long line of vessels so launched in 1946. In actual fact there was a slight hitch at this particular launch which resulted in the Chindit lying diagonally across the slipway for a time. Also at Kirkintilloch was the yard of Peter MacGregor & Sons. Swan & Co built about 60 puffers, Burrell & Sons contributed approximately 50 whilst Cummins & Swan at Blackhill were also builders. Of the builders outside the canal, Scotts of Bowling built about 40 whilst other builders included The Larne Shipbuilding Co in N. Ireland and Messrs Denny of Dumbarton. This latter firm built the Ailsa and Garmoyle in 1904 for A. McG. Leslie of Glasgow. The Garmoyle was later to be renamed North Inch, Stronshira and Arran Rose in a long career, often making the headlines with her exploits before being broken up in 1956. The early puffer owners were Forth & Clyde Canal traders who converted their scows to steam - Carron & Co whose boats had numbers instead of names, The Leith, Hull and Hamburg 6
Steam Packet Company whose boats had letters of the alphabet. Ross and Marshall became puffer owners in 1872 when their stevedoring and coal businesses joined together. They had their own shipyard at Greenock, which was later taken over by Scott's of Greenock and their ships' names ended in "light" or "lite". Other owners included Glasgow Steam Coasters, Warnock & Sons of Paisley and Hamilton of Brodick whose vessels' names ended in "-cloy". The next stage in 'puffer' development was the building of larger vessels for the longer voyages, such as those to the Western Isles. At first the 66 feet long vessels were lengthened. This was done with Stormlight built in 1888 which was lengthened to 86.3 feet in 1891 and Sealight which was lengthened to 85.9 feet in 1911, near the limit for The Crinan Canal. This canal, which can accept vessels up to 88' x 20', takes some 150 miles off voyages to the Hebridean Isles and nearby mainland and allows the vessels to avoid the exposed coast of the Mull of Kintyre. 'Puffers' were built in large numbers and the Mercantile Navy List for 1910 lists 130 vessels of this type, the vast majority belonging to owners in the Clyde area. Owners were numerous as the price of second hand vessels was not beyond the means of a small business man. The position for purchase had been rather different in earlier times as shown by the accounts of William Robertson of Glasgow, which gives prices for two vessels built in the 1860s. The shallow drafted Jasper was built by J. & R. Swan at Maryhill for £906, while the deeper drafted Diamond cost £1,270 and could carry 95 tons of cargo. The price of £1,270 included £783 for the hull, £387 for the compound engine and £100 for outfitting and sails. Both vessels were used in the local coal trade, but Jasper also carried stone from Arran for the construction of Troon Harbour. William Robertson sold both vessels after a short time to concentrate on the coasting trades. Ross & Marshall were established in 1872 and from early days adopted names ending in 'light', which reflected the name of the owning company, The Light Shipping Co., Ltd. The exception to Ross & Marshall's naming convention was the Mellite, pictured at the beginning of this article, which had been built as an iron-hulled dumb lighter, the Salisbury, in 1878. Ten years later, in 1888, she was engined with one of a pair of engines from an 1840ish built steam yacht's hull which supposedly had come to grief, wrecked locally. In her latter years, the Mellite became a water carrier at The Tail of The Bank and supplied the big Cunarders and Canadian Pacific liners on the, by then, summer only North Atlantic run, a trade which came to an end in the late 1960's, the Mellite then sold to Burke's of Greenock and employed on The Holy Loch 'rubbish run' for the U.S. Navy. Despite assurances that the Mellite ended her days at the breaker's yard at Dalmuir, rumours continue that her owner Willie Burke had a fine appreciation of the old lady and that, rather than give her to the merciless hands of the scrapmen, of which he was one himself, he had quietly and very deliberating scuttled her in a quiet area of the river where she could lie undisturbed and well away from even the most curious of divers. The puffer men could usually tell which puffer belonged to whom by her funnel colours, hull colours, names, or sometimes even by the sound of her engines. Ross & Marshall vessels always had a name ending in "light" and had a black hull, yellow masts and derricks and red funnel with black top separated by a broad white above a narrow 7
black band. G. G. Hamilton had colours of black hull and red funnel and had names with the prefix "Glen", whilst J. Hay & Sons ships bore the names of tribes and had a pale pink funnel with a black top. Small motor vessels appeared before the First World War. The first owner to put his faith in motor ships was John M. Paton who left Paton & Hendry to found The Coasting Motor Shipping Co., just prior to the First World War. In 1911 Paton ordered ten puffer-type motor coasters, 65' long with counter sterns and oil engines of Scandinavian make, some of them Bolinders. Unfortunately they were not a success, due to lack of experienced engineers and were sold during the 1914-18 war. All Paton's motor-ships' names began with "Innis-", the 75-foot long Innishowen, powered by a two-cylinder hot-bulb Kromhout engine, sold to John Summers & Company of Shotton was lengthened and re-engined by them and, having survived both wars, was sold off to Danish owners in 1947 and renamed the Eva Peterson. When World War I broke out many of the puffers were used to service the Fleet at Scapa Flow. Supplies for the convoys were carried by puffer as well as explosives from the munitions works at Irvine to large ammunition ships in the various lochs. They were ideal for the job and performed sterling service throughout the dark days of war. As Grangemouth was closed to commercial trading during the war, so the work for puffers on The Forth & Clyde Canal diminished. However, as this door closed, another opened as traffic to The Highlands and Islands became more and more dependent on these reliable vessels, especially with the closure of the railway lines to the region except for military freight. After the war ended much of the Forth trade was lost and in the 1920's and 1930's the motor lorry was taking over more and more of the transhipment work on the canal. Some of the yards on the canal built their last puffers shortly after WW1 and as it was no longer necessary to limit vessels size for the Forth & Clyde locks, many were built larger but still subject to the size limit of the locks of The Crinan Canal. Warnock's of Paisley and McNeil of Greenock were always busy in the sand dredging trade from the banks in the Clyde estuary. The puffers merely sailed to the sandbanks, waited for the tide to recede, when they would settle on the sand and load overside. They would then refloat on the next tide and discharge their cargo on return to Greenock, Glasgow or Paisley. It was often thought that puffers were flat-bottomed because of this method of loading but, in actual fact, the hull was round-bilged and had a bar keel. Puffers also discharged a variety of cargoes on the beach at various places such as Iona. Cargo discharged or loaded in this way on the beaches was subject to extra surcharges on the freight earned. Other main cargoes included bricks, road-making materials, wood, slates, shale, pit props, fodder, barley and, of course, coal. Unusual cargoes included such things as explosives from Ardeer to the storage bunkers at Loch Riddon and torpedoes to the testing ground at Arrochar. Being a crew member on a puffer was not an easy life. The outside boats carried a crew of four whilst the shorehead boats had only three. Certificates were few and far between but the skippers all had experience in their head which was where it mattered. Most skippers had progressed from the position of engineman so they knew also something about engines. The deckhand was usually cook and relief engineer as well. 8
On some old puffers such as the Elizabeth, which was built in the 1860's, there were only two crew. In 1939 she was still sailing carrying approx 55 cargoes a year between Millpon, Kilchattan Bay, Tarbet, Ardrishaig and Inveraray and one voyage was to Rothesay with coal for the Town Council's Christmas gift to the needy when each recipient got 6 cwts. It cost 30 shillings to load Elizabeth at Queens Dock and harbour dues at Rothesay were 6 shillings. The captain of Elizabeth earned £2.10s.0d per week whilst his mate earned 10s more. This was on account of his technical knowledge of engineering, he knew how to make them work ! The Captain earned his money by steering in tarpaulin as a roof on the wheelhouse. The launch of the puffers Anzac and Lascar for J. Hay & Sons by Messrs Scotts of Boiling in August, 1939, was to mark the start of a new class of coastal lighter. These prototype vessels had a deeper counter than usual and a wider cargo hatch. Anzac and Lascar were the last puffers to be launched prior to the commencement of WWII. The Minister of War Transport, no doubt recalling the sterling service put in by the puffers in World War I, when, in some cases, they were the only link to The Highlands and Islands, and also the service they gave in tendering the larger supply vessels and warships at Scapa Flow, ordered a series of coastal lighters based on the design of Anzac and Lascar. All the lighters were given the name "VIC ....." standing for "Victualling Inshore Craft". The surprising things were that Scotland was virtually ignored for the building of the VIC's and the majority were built with steam machinery at a time when diesel propulsion was on the increase. It may have been that the English yards had more spare capacity at were certainly turned out with great rapidity, and also, no doubt, machinery had greater spare capacity than the diesel manufacturers out on the war effort. Coal was also available at home, this was a vital on the imports of oil. that time, for the VIC's the builders of steam who were working flatfactor, no need to draw
A total of sixty-three 66-foot VIC's, 54 steam and 9 diesel-engined, 66.9' x 18.5' x 9.6' and thirty-five 80-foot VIC's, 33 steam and 2 diesel-engined, 80.0' x 20.0' x 9.6', ninety-eight ships in all. Nos. 1-4, 7-10, 21-26, 32, 36-37, 4048, 83-96 Nos. 5-6, 11-12 Nos. 14-17, 19-20, 27-31, 33-35,4951,60-67 No. 18 Nos. 38-39, 52-53, 72-75 Ltd, Nos. 54-55, 97-98 Nos. 56-57 9
R. Dunston Ltd. Thorne Goole Shipbuilding & Repairins Co Ltd I. Pimblott & Sons Ltd, Northwich J. Hay & Sons, Bowling Browns Shipbuilding Co. Hull J. S. Watson Gainsborough (Gainsborough)
Total 40 Total 4 Total 25 Total 1 Total 8 Total 4 Total 2
James Pollock Sons & Co Ltd, Faversham
Rowhedge Iron Works Co Ltd, Rowhedge Richards Iron Works Ltd. Lowestoft J. Harker Ltd, Knottingley Shipbuilding Corporation Ltd, Newcastleupon-Tyne
Nos. 76-78 Nos. 79-80, 101-103 Nos. 81-82, 99 Nos. 105-106
Total 3 Total 5 Total 3 Total 2 Total 98
The VIC's were numbered 1 to 106 and it would appear that the missing numbers were 58, 59, 68, 69, 70, 71, 100 and 104. VIC 100 was to have been built by John Harker Ltd of Knottingley but was later cancelled. The vessel would have been Harker's yard No 185 but was cancelled due to the termination of the war in Europe. Application for registry of VIC 100 was made in June, 1945, and application withdrawn some five months later, whilst VIC 104 was ordered from Richards Iron Works Ltd, Lowestoft and later cancelled. The vessels' compound engines also came from a variety of suppliers such as Crossley Bros, Elliott & Garrood, Crabtree, Sissons, Hayward Tyler, J. Dickinson, Worthington & Simpson, and Aitchison Blair, whilst most had Cochrane boilers. Records are hard to come by as all 98 VIC's appeared between 1941 and 1946, the speed at which they came into service can be seen by the fact that VIC 82 was launched December 16, 1944 and was completed March 12, 1945. Fifty-four of the Anzac/Lascar type were ordered, VIC 1 being built in 1941 by Richard Dunston Ltd of Thorne, Yorkshire, as their yard No 369. Richard Dunston Ltd built a number of VIC's and it was they who also provided a series of nine diesel- engined VIC's of the same type. All nine diesel 66-foot types were built at Thorne in 1944. Later, a modified version of these VIC's was ordered as a second series. Longer, at 80-feet, they were not as good looking as the 66-foot type with no sheer or camber and as much plate work as possible was eliminated to save material and labour. Again however, steam machinery was required and thirty-three of the type were built. Finally, two diesel-engined 80-foot types were built at Newcastle. Many people think that VIC 13 would not have been built due to the unlucky number, but it appears that it was built and was reported as struck off strength at Bathurst, West Africa on November 1, 1945, the identity of her builders remains something of a mystery ! It has been said that two VIC's were built in Scotland and if this is correct it would seem that VIC 13 must have been built there, but this has never been confirmed.
Willie Burke's "Toward Lass", she one of the 'VIC' class puffers The specification of the original VIC's here is typical Type Steel-built, single screw, coal fired steam puffer, straight stem, counter stern, machinery aft; one deck. Dimensions Length 66-feet O.A. Beam 18-feet 6 inches Tonnages Displacement to Statutory Load Line: 124 G.R.T. 95.67. Cargo Capacity 100 tons D.W. Engine Steam compound engine, one shaft. Boiler Vertical Cochrane boiler, one furnace coal fired. Speed/ Endurance 7 Knots (120 I.H.P. at 150 R.P.M.). Bunker Capacity 11 tons at 45 cu ft per ton. Approx. consumption coal 2cwts per hour. Range 700 miles - 4 days 14 hours. Hatch 29 feet x 13 feet 6 inches. Hold 38 feet long, 17 feet wide, 8 feet 9 inches deep. Derrick On Foremast, 32ft 3ins long. S.W.L. 18cwt. One steam windlass. Water Fore peak 10½ tons for domestic and boiler water supplies. Electric Supply None. Navigational Aids None. Complement/ Officers/Crew : Mate in charge, 3rd Engineer, 2 Stokers, 3 Seamen. Accommodation After accommodation only 2 officers, For'd. accommodation 1 Berth, Seamen and Stokers messed in hold. Special Features None 11
Very little is known about these ships' war service except that they were built and employed to carry such cargoes as aviation spirit, ammunition, cement and various stores for the warships and bases. After the war ended many VICs were sold into private ownership, some finding their way back to the traditional puffer routes of Scotland, some were converted to diesel, whilst others were converted out of recognition. The first, VIC 1, was sold by MOD after war service on April 28, 1948 through Shipping Agencies Ltd to The Port of London Authority for £2,000. She required a new boiler which cost £910 so she was not a bad buy as the P.L.A. listed her insurance value as £18,000. She was put to work in the Thames as a buoy lifter with horns fitted to her main bow and was renamed Glengall. In 1966 she was sold to Mr Fielding of Dublin and later scrapped. VIC 7 also went back to the puffer trades as Lady Isle but she was lost at Scarnish, Tiree, in 1956 when owned by Capt. D. McCorquodale. VIC 11 was purchased by J. Hay & Sons for their putter fleet, and renamed Zulu but she sank on passage from Carnlough to Glasgow with limestone on New Year's Day, 1953 and all hands were lost. No trace was ever found of her and it is thought that she never cleared Red Bay before foundering.
The "Arran Monarch", lying here at Brodick, was one of the 80-foot long 'VIC' class puffers
The larger puffer hulls proven successful, Ross & Marshall built the Moonlight, one of the few boats till then to be built outside Scotland, she was completed in April 1952 by W. J. Yarwood at Northwich, Cheshire. All the accommodation is aft in this post-war vessel, which had such improvements as a wash place and radiators. Cargo capacity was 188 tons, but up to 25 tons of this was taken up by bunker coal. She traded until 1966 when the increasing costs of running a coal burner caused her to be sold to Mr. A.H. Turner who renamed her Hurst. However, no work was found for her and she was sold to The West of Scotland Shipbreaking Co., in 1970 and broken up. In 1953, Hamilton and McPhail had the Glenshira built at Bowling, the first motor puffer to have been ordered since the pre-1914 war ill-fated "Innis-" named motor coasters. The Glenshira was fitted with all "mod-cons" and was more of a small motor coaster than a traditional puffer. Costing over £40,000 to build, she had a five cylinder British Polar diesel engine giving a fully-loaded speed of 9 knots. She was fitted with radar, a far cry from the early puffers which sailed by sight and sound and she had a 10-ton derrick which was the largest fitted on any puffer. With a gross tonnage of 153, she could carry 150 tons of cargo and her measurements were 83' 8" x 20' 3" x 9' 3". The Glenshira's days appeared to be numbered in 1972 when she was sold to The West of Scotland Shipbreaking Co but she was sold on to Captain Duncan McCorquodale who intended using her at Ardyne carrying stone and sand for the building of concrete drilling rigs. However, by that time, Messrs Glenlight Ltd were using larger vessels and Captain McCorquodale found her too small. Her engine did not pass survey and she was laid up for almost a year before her sale to Captain Peier Herbert of Bude. The Glenshira later traded in the Mersey/Manchester Ship Canal area and in the late 1970's was re-engined with a three-cylinder engine by National Gas-Oil Engine Company of Ashtonunder-Lyne and was capable of 6 knots. She later saw service with Ferry Services Supplies Ltd before being sold on to Metal Recoveries (Newhaven) Ltd. and then, working out of Newhaven and Great Yarmouth by The Spithead Salvage Company, she salvaged the bronze bow ram of the heavy cruiser H.M.S. Ariadne, sunk during WWI in The English Channel. For her salvage work, Glenshira was fitted with a four-drum waterfall winch, 12.5 ton S.L.P. on each drum. Colin McPhail's first Gleannshira cost only £2,250 to build at Bowling in 1903. She was broken up by Smith & Houston at Port Glasgow in 1951 after 48 years trading. A further steamer, the Stormlight, was built for Ross & Marshall in 1957, but the trend was now in favour of motor vessels which by this time could show considerable savings over steam. Typical of these vessels was Raylight, completed in 1963 by Scott's yard at Greenock. As can be seen from the profile, the compact machinery leaves considerably more crew space. In addition only 8 tons of bunkers are needed for the oil engine which gave a speed of nine knots in strong contrast to Moonlight with a speed of seven and a half knots and 25 tons of bunkers. The ordering of the Glenshira paved the way for other firms to start converting their vessels to diesel. In 1959, J. Hay & Sons conversed four of their puffers to diesel. Eleven others in the fleet remained in steam, all of which had 'tribal' names. Two tiller-steered puffers, the Slav and the Turk, were still in the fleet at this time together with the Boer and the Inca which had been used in some of the scenes for the film "The Maggie". 13
The life of a pufferman was not without danger. Often they had to sail in rough water with only a few inches of freeboard. Many puffer casualties were listed around the turn of the century and these have continued to recent times as we have mentioned previously with the Raylight. In 1954 the Jennie, owned by Campbell & Co of Glasgow, hit rocks off Eigg and sank before she could be beached, whilst, a little later, McNeill's Lythe attempted to raise her and she hit the wreck and sank herself. When Alastair Kelso of Corrie in Arran sold the Roman for breaking up in 1957 he had owned her for 28 years and in that time he had carried all manner of cargo to places as far apart as Campbeltown, Inveraray, Tarbert, Ardrishaig, The Crinan Canal, Bute, Arran, Cumbrae, Lochs Long and Goil, Colliniraive, Tighnabruaich, Kames, Cowal and The Forth & Clyde Canal to the sawmills at Anniesland. His cargo during that time included two flittings and a crashed aircraft. The Pibroch was always 'the whisky boat', carrying cargoes of coal, malt and empty barrels to the distilleries on Islay from the mainland and returning with full barrels of whisky to The Clyde. The Pibroch was owned by Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. of Edinburgh and built by Scott of Bowling in 1923. Her engine room casing was painted and grained to represent wood and she had a varnished wheelhouse which was in keeping with her appearance. The first Pibroch too was easily recognisable by her black hull on top of red with a white band running round her hull at deck level whilst she had a black funnel, a white horse too at her mast-head. She traded regularly until 1958 when she was replaced by another vessel of the same name, again from the yard of Scott's of Bowling.
The new Pibroch had a British Polar engine and was equipped with echo sounder and radar and rolling steel hatch covers. She was re-engined in 1976 when a Scania was installed. Meanwhile, the original Pibroch was by no means finished. After her years on the whisky run the 1923-built Pibroch was sold to Duncan McCorquodale of Troon and renamed Texa. Later, in 1960, she was sold to McNeil of Greenock for use in the sand trade, already mentioned, until 1964 when she was sold yet again to Burkes of Greenock who renamed her Cumbrae Lass. She was used from time to time on the torpedo trades from Fort Matilda to Arrochar but later was regulated to the garbage run from the American Naval Base at Holy Loch to Greenock for disposal. In 1965, at 42 years of age, the end came when she was sold to Arnott Young Ltd at Dalmuir for breaking. So another puffer, typical of her type, used in many trades, disappeared from the scene. 14
Today the Pibroch lies rather forlornly alongside a remote pier at Letterfrack in Donegal, it unlikely that she will sail again.
J. & J. Hay was the style used for the 'puffer' interests of the Hay family, while the coaster interests were operated by J. Hay & Sons, but both used names of races, creeds or tribes such as 'Spartan'. The coal trade to the Western Isles was largely handled by 'puffers', but the total trade was made up of a large variety of cargoes. For example, when a house was built at Glenmore Bay on Loch Sunart in 1953, the Spartan was chartered by the builders. Bricks, timber, window frames, doors, in fact all the materials needed for con- struction were loaded in Glasgow. Spartan then sailed for Ardrishaig where she entered the Crinan Canal to reach Loch Linnhe. She then steamed through the sound of Mull and into Loch Sunart. On arrival at Glenmore Bay, a smooth part of the beach was selected at low tide and a stake driven in to mark the spot. Then at high tide, Spartan steamed up to the stake and waited for the tide to recede. Carts were then brought alongside so discharging could begin. Coal cargoes were usually loaded at Glasgow, Greenock or Troon and then taken to the small stone jetties of the western coast or isles or beaches if no jetty was available. The cargoes were either delivered to local merchants or perhaps the 'big house' would order a cargo about once a year.
The 'puffer' would then duly arrive and beach herself if necessary. Meanwhile the local farm carts and even wheelbarrows would be mustered, day or night, to unload the ship as quickly as possible, for there could be extra to pay if the ship was unduly delayed discharging. Later the cargo was divided up among the local people. The 'puffer' would then move on to the next quay or beach until all the cargo of perhaps 120 tons had been distributed. Bunker coal was carried to coaling hulks at Stornoway for use by the fishing fleet. Bunker coal was also carried to Port Ellen and Portree for MacBrayne's passenger and cargo steamers, often in Hay's 'puffers'. Hay's also had the contract to supply the local lighthouses and deliveries of coal were made to them twice a year. Some of the largest single customers were the whisky distilleries which required coal, malt, barley and empty barrels. The 'puffers' often returned laden with whisky for export and distribution front Glasgow. Other large coal users were the gas works at Millport, Campbeltown and Rothesay which were supplied with gas coal, the vessels returning with coke for distribution to various users. Coal and other cargoes such as refined salt from Carrickfergus were also moved through the Forth & Clyde canal. The 'puffers' often carried salt to Methil where they also loaded coal which they carried as far as Fraserburgh in the summer months. Scandinavian timber brought to Grangemouth was taken through to Glasgow and beyond, but this trade was lost to the railways by the 1940's. Other cargoes from Northern Ireland were fertiliser and limestone. The limestone was for Nairn's linoleum factory at Kirkcaldy as well as agricultural users. 'Puffers' also carried stone and macadam as required. 'Puffers' were also used to carry materials and prefabricated units between the various Clyde yards. One such item often carried by Hay's vessels was boilers from Rowan's works and the 'puffers' even ventured as far south as Newcastle carrying these, after passing through the Forth & Clyde Canal. The general pattern of trade in later years for these vessels is well illustrated by looking at one day's movements for the 18 vessels in Hay's fleet - The Positions of Hay's Steamers for Friday, November 2, 1956 Turk - Barge work; Slave - Barge work; Gael - On Kirkintilloch Slip; Cuban Discharges gas coal, Rothesay (Monday: Troon to load coal); Texan - On charter to Grand, Sutcliffe & Gell; Inca - Discharging coal, Tighnabruaich (Saturday: Troon to load coal for Ardrishaig for Bell); Cretan - Loads gravel. Bowling for Rothesay (Queen's Dock: Boiler 16
cleaning); Boer - Discharging coal at Ardrishaig for Bell; Chindit - Discharging coal, "Devon Doubles", Dunoon. (Rothesay Dock, Clydebank to load for Rothesay); Moor - ? ; Serb - Discharging bricks at Port Ellen; Anzac - Discharging timber at Dumbarton; Lascar - Discharging coal at Whiting Bay for S. D. & S; Kaffir - Due Irvine to load bricks for Stornoway. (Loading by 1 p.m.); Spartan - Discharging coal at Dunvegan for Dis. W. B. (Loch Ailort/Girvan); Dane - At Kirkintilloch; Celt - Loads coal and coke at Troon for Peterfort. (Sailed 11.20 a.m.) Sir James - On way Port Ellen with casks (Cleared Crinan Canal 1 p.m.).
Though puffers were a familiar sight in Campbeltown, there was also the near 90-foot long, two-masted auxiliary ketch, "Halcyon", owned by Captain William McMillan, she just able to squeeze through the locks of The Crinan Canal. Built as a Humber 'Billy Boy' and registered initially in Hull in 1903, she was slightly larger and shallower than a puffer, she carried 101 tons of cargo and sailed, sometimes under canvas, until July 1966 when her owner, after 51 years at sea, retired, only her owner's age and not any lack of cargo leading to her sale to the shipbreakers in Troon, her National diesel engine removed and given to Hay's puffer "Sitka". Of further interest Tales http://www.scribd.com/doc/26059904/Para-Handy-The-Vital-Spark-
http://www.scribd.com/doc/22990578/In-the-Wake-of-The-Maggie The Clyde Puffer Forum at http://www.inveraraypier.com/clydepuffers01/ VIC 32 Puffer Steamboat Holidays at http://www.savethepuffer.co.uk/holidays.htm
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