ONCE UPON A TIME AT THE YARD: JIM SMITH

I started working in the Campbeltown Shipyard drawing office as a draughtsman in April 1973. I had served my apprenticeship with Scottish Machine Tools and Kelvin Marine Engines in Glasgow. Douglas McNaught was the Naval Architect and George MacGregor was the other draughtsman.

Douglas had worked at Denny’s yard in Dumbarton and George had worked at other Clyde yards. George was also, for some time, at the ring net fishing in Campbeltown.

The first ship I was involved in was the Xmas Rose (now fishing as Lapwing) and I thoroughly enjoyed this first experience.

The Campbeltown built Xmas Rose FR 125 (Yard no. 16) is still fishing under the name Lapwing PD 972. Photo courtesy of Peter Bruce.

At that time all the many calculations, for example, vessel stability, tank capacities and drive calculations, etc, were done manually or with the aid of a slide rule – all very time consuming. Soon afterwards, David MacMillan joined us as an apprentice Naval Architect and the following year came into the office with the first calculator we had ever seen. This fairly speeded up the calculations and we all began to use this amazing new technology.

THE PROCESS – from the Drawing Office perspective.

After Les Howarth had identified prospective Skippers and Owners he would have meetings with them. Following this, a costing would be undertaken and a specification and general arrangement drawing were produced. After the contract was signed, Douglas McNaught or one of the other Naval Architects would produce a lines plan of the hull. Engines, deck machinery, electronics etc, would be ordered together with hundreds of smaller items. The Draughtsmen would then produce the steelwork drawings including profile and decks, bulkheads, wheelhouse and casings, etc. Seating plans for the engines, winches and power blocks would be drawn following the receipt of details from the manufacturers. Engine room layouts, system plans and many more drawings followed. Further drawing office involvement included various troubleshooting undertakings, vessel stability, sea/fishing trials and meetings with government departments the DTI and the Sea Fishing Industries Authority.

The Loft

One of the most important departments in any shipyard is an efficient Loft. A Small vessel has very little midship section with the forward and aft plating full of very complicated curvature in both vertical and horizontal axis., together with skewing we are talking super complex. For example, looking at our cruiser sterns or the bow of our vessels, shows these shapes. The drawing office would produce what Is called a hull plating shell expansion drawing and from this the loft would produce the plating drawings. Around the years 1975 or 6 the yard invested in a profile burning machine called a Hancosine, which at that time was a state of the art technical advancement. The steel plate for cutting would be placed on a large bed with the gas burning nozzle above on an x/ y carriage. A 5th scale acetate drawing produced by the loft would be placed round a drum and a few controls were activated to burn / cut the plate to full size. The plates were then taken to the platers, who would then roll them, heat them and batter them into shape. Just imagine the hard work involved on producing some of our beautiful hulls.

Campbeltown Shipyard circa 1977. L-R Marjorie Brown, Douglas McNaught, Leslie Howarth, Jim Smith, George McGregor, John Munro. Photo courtesy of Jim Smith.

THE DRAWING OFFICE PERSONNEL (at various times):

Douglas McNaught
George MacGregor
Jim Smith
David MacMillan
Tom Morris
Donald Cameron
Bobby Wylie
Archie Coffield
Archie Sharp
Frazer Silcock
Jim McCutcheon
Quin Dickie
Alistair Dick
Jim Wallace
Stuart Aitken
Frank Blake
Ian Paton

JOB SATISFACTION

Working at the yard provided me, and I am sure all the workers, with a great deal of job satisfaction. Being involved in the building of beautiful fishing boats for over twenty years gave me a lot of pleasure and great memories. From Douglas producing the fine hull lines to the issue of the production drawings, l would follow the progress of the steel cutting from the 5th scale loft drawings, the laying of the keel, bending of frames, burning and welding until the hull took shape.

The skill of the workforce during fabrication was evident from start to finish. Then came the involvement of the engineers, electricians, joiners, and painters to produce a fine vessel ready to launch. After the launch, which was a marvellous celebration for all, would come the final fitting out, the sea/fishing trials including a stability test and finally the handover.

Of course this is a simplified and perhaps a nostalgic account and as with all production lines, and this indeed was one, problems arose. At our most successful period we were producing 5 or 6 vessels a year so every holdup at any stage could have consequences further down the line. This was where the leadership skills of the managers and foremen were evident. All the workers responded with hard work, an abundance of teamwork and of course, humour.

The fact that we could also follow the vessel’s performance after she left the yard was very enjoyable. We always felt proud when a Campbeltown vessel was cited in the Fishing News as being the top grossing vessel, and this was a very common occurrence – combine a top skipper with a top fishing vessel and there you have it.

AWAY FROM THE DRAWING OFFICE

During my time at the yard I attended many fishing exhibitions in various locations: Glasgow, Hull, London, Ayr and more often Aberdeen. These exhibitions lasted about three days and gave us a chance to “promote” the yard, meet the skippers and obtain information regarding current skippers’ requirements for their new builds. We could also speak to equipment suppliers and view any new products. Other trips away were to attend courses or attend to the odd problem with a vessel. Les Howarth always insisted that his workers stayed in the best hotels when away on yard business.

LAUNCH DAYS

Launches were viewed by all the yard workers with the skipper’s partner smashing the champagne bottle on the bow to send the vessel on its first short journey to our pier. The yard’s famous “Mull of Kintyre” pipers would often play their haunting music as the ship came down the slipway. Beer and whisky would be provided by the skipper at the end of that working day. A launch was like a wedding celebration with a dinner and dance afterwards at a local hotel. A colourful occasion always, and in particular, I can remember the Faroese launches with the female guests dressed in the national costumes. At the time of these launches the Faroe Islands were under strict prohibition and the local hotels and bars did a roaring trade during the launches and subsequent commissioning. When these some of the vessels headed back to the Faroes the fish hold would be full of electrical and white goods purchased in the town. The yard was a great provider of business to the town.

STABILITY TEST, SEA TRIALS AND FISHING TRAILS.

Prior to the trials a stability test was required for all vessels. This involved the vessel being pushed away from the pier with the mooring ropes kept slack. Steel weights were placed port and starboard around midships. A pendulum was attached to the fish room hatch and hung down with the pendulum weight suspended in a trough of water. The weights on deck, usually if I recall, ten 50lb per side, were all moved from port to starboard and vice-versa. The result of this movement was recorded on a strip of paper attached to a wood baton on top of the trough. This test was usually supervised by Douglas McNaught who would then calculate the stability of the vessel and produce a stability book for submission to the SFIA and the DTI.

I was involved in a number of sea trials which took place in a designated ‘measured mile’ in the Kilbrannan Sound. The vessel’s speed was usually around 10 knots. The engine temperatures etc. were also recorded during this trial. The fishing trials were, to me, the highlight of the commissioning. This was where all the deck equipment was put to the test and the skipper could familiarise himself with the array of fish-finding electronics. The trial usually lasted about four hours, mostly in reasonable weather. The odd time the weather was bad us ‘land lubbers’ on board would just have to grin and bear it. I recall Douglas telling me to position myself near the centre of buoyancy of the vessel to prevent seasickness. As I recall this was around the tank top in the engine room. Appetites were usually enhanced by the sea air and we were provided with rolls and scotch pies, often eaten with the pie sandwiched inside the roll.

A memorable trip was when the vessel caught hundreds of dogfish from a massive shoal in the sound. The net was so full that it could not be lifted on board and in fact the A frame was bent trying to haul them on board. This unwanted haul was towed back to the inner harbour in the town and dumped. A JCB was hired from McFadyens and the fish dumped in a landfill. I think the vessel may have been the Renown (Yard No 027).

EPILOGUE

I left the yard in the summer of 1994 after 21 years feeling very sad as I enjoyed my time there. In September of that year I began a PGCE course at Jordanhill College and qualified as a Technical Teacher in 1995. After a couple of months supply teaching in Campbeltown I started teaching in Dunoon Grammar School and was there for 17 years. One of my subjects was Graphic Communications and I taught 3 D graphics using AutoCad and Inventor. How useful that would have been at the yard – I know George MacGregor would have been fascinated.

The yard finally closed in 1997. I often think of the workers who were still there and the sadness they must have felt coming to the end of an era.
To quote from Denzil Meyrick’s Whisky from Small Glasses,

“The thriving shipyard, that had once produced some of the finest fishing boats in Europe, was a shadow of empty, decaying buildings.”

The site of Campbeltown Shipyard, Trench Point, Campbeltown 2019. Photo courtesy of Jan Nimmo.

 

 

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