Fleetwoods and Campbeltown Shipyard – Iain Fleetwood

Campbeltown Shipyard, Fleetwoods, Lossiemouth, Hopeman and Burghead

My family owned Henry Fleetwood & Sons Ltd, mostly known as Fleetwoods, which closed just over 10 years ago as another victim of the fishing downturn and decline in shipbuilding in Scotland. I now work as a Marine Technical Superintendent in Oil and Gas. Having been established and operating in Lossiemouth since the early 1930’s, Fleetwoods had long connections with the Arthur Duthie Organisation and also the Campbell family, supplying and repairing machinery to their fleets over a couple of generations.

This led to our first involvement with the Campbeltown Shipyard, before my time in the business, which was manufacturing Sterngear, propeller shafts and stern tubes, for the first 80’s Argosy and Ajax, which subsequently resulted in mostly all the Campbeltown vessels that followed with fixed pitch propeller systems being fitted with Fleetwood Sterngear. In total this must have been approximately 35 of the total vessels built with shaft sizes ranging from 100 to 160mm diameter. The rudder stocks, shafts, tubes and pintles for the last two vessels built, Shemarah and Steadfast were also made by Fleetwoods as these were too big for the capacity of the machine shop at the  Campbeltown yard.

In the early days of the Campbeltown Yard, as an early teenager in Lossiemouth, I can remember John Carmichael and Les Howarth being brought home by Father, John Fleetwood, in the evening for a dram and a blether when they came up to Lossiemouth, after the new boats were delivered or Tenders were being negotiated and finalised for subsequent projects. They were mostly joined Willie Campbell or by the Skipper for any proposed new build to finalise the machinery package arrangement.

D F Sutherland, also in Lossiemouth, made the combination Seine and Trawl winches and Step Up drive gearboxes for the hydraulics from the front of the main engines for the first of the 75’ and 80’ vessels.

An initial problem with first of the 75’ and 80’ vessels, especially when they added rope reels later, was the loading of the hydraulic systems on the Main Engines at low Seine Net towing speeds. Three of the early boats I can remember were then fitted Volvo Penta Auxiliaries to drive the deck machinery to resolve this problem and leave the main engines for propulsion only. These were Opportune, Falcon and Defiance. Defiance, at only 75’, broke the seine net record the first trip when she sailed from Lossiemouth after the new auxiliary and set up was installed. Some of the first vessels to be built from new build with auxiliary engines for driving the deck machinery were Surmount, Kestrel, Andromeda and Aquarius and then many more followed right up until the Campbeltown Yard closed in various configurations as equipment became larger and more complex.

The Campbeltown-built Aquarius INS 222 (Yard 23) built at Campbeltown Shipyard in 1975 for Cyril Scott. Photo courtesy if Bob Anderson.

The early auxiliary engines for the deck machinery were around 120hp but the later Seine Net vessels had sets up to 300hp, these were the Lossiemouth Sunbeam, second Boy Andrew and Budding Rose. These vessels also had a smaller set around 40 to 50 kW for domestic load and possibly the landing winch or crane when in Port.

When the Yard started mainly building trawlers, they had Controllable Pitch Propellers so could run the Main Engines at higher speeds to drive the Deck Machinery so the auxiliary sets were used for Power Generation only. The configuration there was a small set, again around 40- 50kW plus a larger set up to 150kW for when they were fishing to run the towing pump for the Auto Trawl Heave Compensation.

Falcon INS 117 (Yard No. 017) built in 1974 at Campbeltown Shipyard for George Sutherland of Hopeman. Photo courtesy of Ronnie McNally.

In the early 90’s, it was becoming apparent the Fishing Vessel Building was drying up with no UK or EU financial assistance and foreign competition from very modern subsidised Yards in Poland and Spain for limited new builds opportunities. The fish on the grounds were also becoming harder to find and more expensive to catch with vessel operating costs increasing, longer trip patterns at sea and boats fishing further offshore.

Then, at exactly the right time for us all, came the biggest contract award Fleetwoods did in conjunction with the Campbeltown Yard. This was the Thorsvoe, an Inter-Island Ferry for Orkney Island Council. This was during my time in the business and a considerable diversification and challenge for everyone involved. The vessel was also the first major New Build for the designer in Montrose.

The machinery package Fleetwoods supplied for the vessel was twin Volvo Penta TAMD162A engines, 495hp at 1800rpm to keep it below 1000hp installed power for the requirement for a Chief Engineer. These drove Schottel Azimuth (rotating 180° for manoeuvrability) Thrusters for propulsion with long drive shafts through water tight bulkheads and a complex Control and Monitoring System for all the equipment. Also supplied were two 50kW Volvo Penta Auxiliaries and 320hp Volvo Penta forward for the Jet Thruster.

Campbeltown had built smaller ferries and Fleetwoods had also supplied packages for the smaller inter island ferries for Orkney Ferries and Calmac vessels built in Buckie and St Monans, but Thorsvoe was larger and more complex vessel and there were many meetings and visits to have all the equipment interfaced and installation procedures agreed. The sea trials were on 22nd July 1991, it was day after my son Joe was born. He was born in morning of the 21st July and I still remember leaving him and my wife, Helen, in Spynie Maternity Unit in Elgin hours after the birth to drive to Campbeltown for the trials the next day.

Campbeltown-built MV Thorsvoe. Courtesy of Iain Fleetwood.

The start of the trial was quite eventful. The Yard had employed a local Merchant Navy Captain to take the vessel. Although undoubtedly a Master Mariner he had little experience in manoeuvring smaller vessels, this combined with being unfamiliar with the Azimuth Thruster arrangement resulted in the vessel leaving the Yard fit out berth at considerable speed in astern, fortunately a Tug Master from Orkney Council was on the bridge and grabbed the controls and slowed the vessel by opposing the thrusters against each other then turned it out into the loch. He also had to berth the vessel following the trials and when it went alongside in Campbeltown to drop the compass adjuster off. After the successful trials the vessel sailed to Troon for a short docking and modification to the sea water inlets and is still operating successfully in Orkney 28 year on.

For everyone locally along the Moray coast, particularly those sailing as Fishermen or working ashore in Duthies, Fleetwoods and Sutherlands, the period in the 1970’s of these first steel ships joining the INS fleet was an exciting and rewarding time and probably regarded as the last halcyon days of the Moray Coast Fleet. It could also be challenging and perhaps occasionally stressful. It was not all smashing champagne bottles, Launch Parties and breaking vessel earnings records.

Some of the Skippers and Crews from Lossiemouth, Hopeman and Burghead were moving up from small 50’ to 60’ vessels with around 150hp propulsion power, straight into the 75’ and 80’ Campbeltown boats in conjunction with similar sized vessel from other builders arriving in the fleet. This was around a three to fourfold increase in vessel tonnage and power in one step for the Skippers, also, many of the crews had not often fished further than three to six hours from land, returning to port every couple of days and home almost every weekend. These new vessels were a massive move forward in size, technology and equipment combined with a change in lifestyle pattern for everyone in one sudden step. It did not always suit everyone and there were many debates if it was the correct way forward at the time.

These newer large boats and crews were now working five to eight day trips and up to a day’s steaming from land into the open North Sea or out to St Kilda on the west. This was not close to port or the shelter of West Coast and Hebridean Islands they were used to if the weather deteriorated. There was also limited communication so the crews could go over a week without any contact with home. The Skippers and Owners took considerable investment risks and crews worked very hard on boats with still a very limited accommodation and sanitation area, no recreational space, basic communications and still pretty much an open deck with considerable manual handling of fishing gear and the catch. Success did not come easy for everyone.

An old story that is still recalled in Lossiemouth was the delivery of equipment for new builds Aquarius and Andromeda. In the 70’s everything was planned so a truck would go from Lossiemouth to Campbeltown with the Sterngear for one vessel and the winch and auxiliary set for the next more advanced build.

Local Taxi Driver and Firewood Merchant Ross Anderson was a well-known Lossiemouth character and a workaholic and had just bought a new 12 ton truck and was contacted to do the Campbeltown deliveries. After the stern-gear and auxiliary set was loaded at Fleetwoods premises, the truck went to Sutherlands to load the winch. Whilst the winch was being lowered onto the truck, it swung and hit the base of the auxiliary set. Ross Anderson tried to stop it and had the top of a finger chopped off. He was taken to Elgin hospital by Alex Stewart who worked for Sutherlands at the time, he was a Part Time Fireman and trained First Aider so an obvious choice. The wound was stitched up, and Ross returned a couple of hours later and drove to Campbeltown non-stop through the night and home the next day, probably 24 hours driving, and then started his evening taxi runs when he returned. The story was often embellished by Ross to folk in his taxi that he took the removed fingertip in his pocket, drove to the hospital himself with the loaded truck en route to Campbeltown, had it sewn back on and then continued his journey.

As they say is a small world and during my time in Oil and Gas I have come across a couple of ex-Yard employees and worked alongside an Electrical Superintendent who was in the Yard during the final era with McKinlay and Blair.

Iain Fleetwood

Iain Fleetwood. Photo courtesy of Iain Fleetwood.

Related Images:

No Comments, Be The First!

Your email address will not be published.