puffers & vics




The history of the puffer - page 2


Three basic designs of puffer started to develop. The first of these evolved directly from the canal lighters and became known as "Inside Boats". These vessels were restricted to the Forth and Clyde and Monklands canals, and the Glasgow Docks on the upper Clyde. Typically, they had no superstructure to speak of, often no masts and little or nothing in the way of bulwarks. A good illustration is Carron's "No 12 ".  Because they expected not to meet anything greater that a gentle ripple on the water they could be loaded to the point where their cargo hatches were only inches above the waterline and this with often no hatch covers fitted. Although the "Arab" was not a typical inside boat as just described, the photograph on her data page gives a good example of just low in the water these vessels could be loaded.

These "inside boats" were extensively used by many companies, including the likes of Salvesen and the Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packets Co to tranship cargoes between their deep-sea vessels in the Forth ports of Leith and Grangemouth, and the inland canal docks at Port Dundas on the Monklands Canal in the heart of Glasgow. The Carron Company of Falkirk also employed their own fleet, primarily carrying iron ore and coal for their furnaces from their own mines adjacent to the canal, and taking finished product to Glasgow, and to deep sea ships in the Cyde and Forth ports.


The photograph below is from the Dan McDonald collection courtesy of the Ballast Trust and is reproduced under a Creative Commons license 

The second category were the "Shorehead" boats. Developed from their "inside" predecessors, they were somewhat more seaworthy craft with raised bulwarks and increased freeboard, designed to ply the potentially rougher waters of the Clyde Estuary, out to the limit of a line drawn from Skipness on the Kintyre Peninsula, through Garroch Head on the Isle of Bute, to the mainland at Hunterston. With bulwarks and a generally higher freeboard they were typified by Hay's Turk of 1929.

"Turk" is seen opposite with her fleet mate "Slav", built in 1932. It is possible that at the time of this undated photograph both were on contract to coal the Clyde Port Authority's dredgers and hoppers.  Could that be Steel and Bennie's 1930 Scotts of Bowling built "Chieftan" in the background? Hard to make out.

Note the completely exposed helm positions, with raised duck boards extending the full beam of the vessels behind the boiler room casing and allowing the helmsman a view forward over it. By the time the second world war started, the helm positon had typically been raised to on top of the casing and the tiller replaced by a wheel operating the rudder via a chain linkeage, although the helmsman was still exposed to the elements. It wasn't until after the war that enclosed wheelhouses started to be provided..

The third type were the "outside" boats. Generally larger, up to 88 feet and 80 or 90 tons, these complied with government seaworthiness regulations including load-line limits, to allow them to operate in the coastal waters of the Eastern Atlantic around the Islands of the Hebrides. The third "Moonlight" was typical of the later, post-war, boats of this type.  Whilst too big for the Forth and Cyde Canal, provided that they didn't exceed 88 feet long and 20 ft beam they were able to transverse the 9 mile long Crinan Canal, and thus save some 150 miles off of the route round the Mull of Kintyre.  Even although these boats were designed for these waters, most of their skippers would prefer to avoid the often stormy seas round the Mull, a sentiment put into song by engineer Dan MacPhail of the "Vital Spark" :


The Crinan Canal for me
I don't like the wild raging sea
Them big foamin' breakers
Wad gie ye the shakers
The Crinan Canal for me.


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