Stories from the yard – Billy McLean

Billy McLean, plater- Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean.

It was early in May 1977, in the middle of my final exams, and four weeks away from leaving school, when a notice was sent out to all who were interested, that Trevor Perkins, Manager of Campbeltown Shipyard, was going to be in the school on a recruitment drive. Moira Blair, who was our Guidance teacher, at the time suggested to myself and Duncan McIntosh that it might be worth a visit. So along we went. At that age I had not even considered what I might do when I left, all that mattered was to leave. Trevor spoke about the Yard’s summer intake, all the different trades that were available and the reputation that the yard had built. My dad, Jimmy McLean, had been a painter in the yard and I knew a lot of the men who worked there. I remember myself, Duncan, Kenny Brown, Jamie Martin and John Brown and I think, Jim Williamson, were at the meeting and signed up for a possible interview.

About four weeks later I had an interview with Trevor and explained to him that I was keen to be on the fabrication side of the boat. On 20th June 1977 I walked out of the house wearing a boiler suit ten times too large and crossed the road to get the shipyard bus to my future. I should explain that a bus for workers went to the Yard every day. At the stop on Crosshill Avenue were twins, John and Willie MacCallum, who stayed next door, and Dugald Blair (Gunga), who stayed across the road, so I was in good company. I was placed in the care of the legend that was Peter Stimson, charge hand plater, who I knew from my childhood because he worked with my Grandfather as a cooper in the stills. Pete was a wonderful character as were the rest of the squad – Davy Wilson, Dick Potts, Eddie Morans, Tommy Galbraith, Evan McCowan, George Nelson, Jan Mohamed, Alister McGeachy, Martin Coffield, Robin McGowan, Charlie Martin, Jimmy Dunn and Colin Christie to name but a few…

Billy McLean, plater at Campbeltown Shipyard, working on an outreach project for the yard. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

The boys at the Shipyard enjoyed a drink at the Hall Hotel. Every Friday dinner it was like the wacky races. Everybody would be trying to get to the “Hall” first. The Hall was owned by Alister and Ian Woodrow – the hospitality was second to none and the craic was awesome. When it became the Kingfisher, the owner, Charlie Kenny, would pour a pint for himself and come out from behind the bar for an hour to sit in the corner and roar with laughter at the banter coming from “Mucca Phee”, Andy Parker and “Wee Tommy” Galbraith and the like.

One Friday morning myself and Davie Wike tied a dead seagull onto the car aerial on Andy Parker’s Ford Escort. We hung back waiting for them to come running out to the car for the trip to the Hall Hotel. When they ran to the car they all jumped in and took off without even seeing the seagull. We followed in my car and when the Escort picked up speed the dead bird’s wings began to flap up and down. I almost crashed laughing – the faster they went the more the bird would flap its wings. When they arrived at the Hall and braked the seagull fell down onto the bonnet of the car and when we arrived shortly after they were all standing looking down at the bird because Andy was convinced he’d run it over!

As I have said before, the yard was crammed full with wonderful characters and the bonds were formed with many of these men from day one. So that was the start of my shipbuilding career – I learned many skills both in shipbuilding and advice that still stands me in good stead today. 

Andrew Colville and Billy McLean of Campbeltown Shipyard at Loch Fyne working on Cruive II fish cages, made at Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

While working at Campbeltown shipyard we were often asked to travel around to other yards to help out. One of the yards was in Buckie; myself and big Willie Sloss found ourselves heading there one day, to help finish a steel boat that had been sent in kit form from Holland. She was to be called the Copious, BF 237 and was owned by, if I remember correctly, two brothers by the name of McKay. Some of the pictures show her nearing launch.

Other pictures show myself and big Willie posing with some of the yard boys and at various places around the site slipway, winch shed etc. In other pictures the boat on the slipway is the Kemara, formerly the Campbeltown-built Polonia. It was a chance meeting with local fisherman, Andrew Harrison Jnr, who pointed her out to us. In one picture next to the Kemara, is the fishery survey boat, Calanus, which I had repaired before in Campbeltown. Both myself and Willie found a welcome in Buckie that was second to none including going to Ian ?’s daughter’s school panto! Hello to any of the boys who remember us and thanks for the memories!

Billy McLean at the Shipyard in Buckie doing outreach work for Campbeltown Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

Alfie, Ian, ?,?, Billy McLean, at the shipyard in Buckie. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

Copious. BF 237. Buckie Shipyard. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

Campbeltown-built Polonia as the Kemara PD 180 at the shipyard in Buckie. 1996. Photo courtesy of Billy McLean. 

We also found ourselves further afield as far as Lerwick, the Malakoff shipyard . Myself, big Willie – my partner in crime, Willie Paterson, James Williamson and Andy Sloss were sent up to convert a purser called the Antares back to her original spec. as she was being sold to Iceland. The pictures show the ship in dry dock, the boys in various poses – one of me caught working lol – and one of the Legend that was Angus McDonald. Angus and I were put together to make and fit a new outrigger for the gantry. He was a Barra man who was brought up in Northumbria and had settled in Lerwick. He was an absolute gentleman and was not mean when pouring the malt. Before we left he bought each of us a keyring to remind us of our adventure and I still have mine; every time I look at it I always think fondly of Angus. There are two pictures of myself and Andrew Colville (Buzz); they were taken out on Loch Fyne onboard the Cruive 2 which was a revolutionary design of floating fish farm. The yard built two of their huge platforms and I was always surprised the idea never generated more orders for the yard.

Antares, Malakoff, Shetland. Photos courtesy of Billy McLean.

Campbeltown Shipyard worker, Willie Sloss with welder, Angus McDonald from Barra via Northumberland. Malakoff Yard, Shetland. Photos courtesy of Billy McLean.

The final set of pictures are taken in Holland and although nothing to do with the Campbeltown yard it was for some of us the next step in our shipbuilding career. Some of the Campbeltown boys found themselves overseas in Friesian Shipyard in Holland building huge container ships for the Spliethoff shipping company. Such was the high standard of our work and the skills we had learned at Campbeltown we were held in great regard by the Dutch because we could do any job required of us. The pictures show some familiar faces and some of the local boys. They show inside the yard and in one picture Duncan McGougan is standing alongside a newly launched ship to give an idea of the size of these monsters. This one was called the Ankergracht. Gracht means canal in Dutch and each ship was named after a particular canal. We were there for about three years in all .

Ankergracht – Friesian Shipyard, Holland, Campbeltown Shipyard worker Duncan McGougan. Photos courtesy of Billy McLean.

Ankergracht – Friesian Shipyard, Holland, Campbeltown Shipyard workers Billy McLean, Jim Williamson, Colin Menzies, Jan Sangers and Yokam? Photos courtesy of Billy McLean.

I hope this story is of interest to whoever reads it, and if anyone in the pictures sees this then I wish them all the best wishes in the world for the memories. Ex-workers from Campbeltown Shipyard found themselves traveling all over the world on ships in the oil industry and had all sorts of adventures and it’s all thanks to the knowledge and skills they acquired in Campbeltown Shipyard. 

I worked in many yards and in fabrication welding since the yard, and the skills I took from the yard have been invaluable to me all my working life. Happy days!

Billy McLean.

To view Billy’s full photo collection click here.

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