November 2015 meeting – The Coast Boats to Stornoway and Beyond

The focus of CRSC activity is so weighted towards the CalMac fleet and its antecedents that it can be refreshing occasionally to glimpse a different brand of west coast shipping. So it proved on 11 November 2015 when the Club welcomed back Colin Tucker from Stornoway, speaking about the ships of Coast Lines that visited the Lewis port over roughly a half-century, starting with the company’s formation in 1913. As the author of two books about Stornoway’s maritime history, including a newly published survey of Langlands ships*, Colin was well equipped to tell us about the coasters and cruise boats that ventured north from Aberdeen, Belfast and Liverpool, most of them masking a colourful range of cargoes beneath the uniform black funnel with white chevron.

Colin began his talk with a remarkable statistic: in the 38 years between 1925 and 1963, no fewer than 107 ships owned or managed by Coast Lines visited Stornoway. The company’s business origins could be traced back to 1830, and by 1930 it comprised 20 different companies, including Burns Laird and the City of Cork Steam Packet Company. Its fleet reached a maximum of 110 vessels in 1955, after which it went into rapid decline, and in 1971 it was taken over by P & O.

 Langlands’ Princess Victoria1920s Guide to Stornoway Coast Lines advertisement  The beautiful Killarney

Colin’s range of illustrations quickly dispelled the notion that all coastal cargo ships looked the same. Some had cranes, others had derricks, some had superstructure midships, some at the stern — while Adriatic Coast of 1949 could be distinguished by her well-deck. The most kenspeckle were the cruise ships — starting with Langlands’ Princess Victoria and Princess Maud before the First World War and continuing from 1928 with Killarney, a twin-funnelledbeauty built in 1893 as Magic for the Liverpool-Belfast run. Coast Lines’ attractive posters advertised her tours as “yachting cruises to the Scottish fjords”. Sold after the war to the Mediterranean, she was succeeded from 1947 to 1956 by the single-funnelled Lady Killarney, a much renamed and restyled ship built in 1906 and bombed in 1940 — so much so that she was declared a total loss, before Coast Lines converted her to a cattle carrier and then a cruise ship. She became such a feature of the Hebridean scene in her last years that a cricket match was organised, pitting her crew and passengers against the best of the Highlands and Islands.

 

. Durham Coast  Stornoway Harbour in 1938Atlantic Coast 
 Ahern Trader ex Scottish Coas
t aground at Newfoundland

 

But the majority of vessels covered in Colin’s talk were hardworking cargo ships — steamers with long lums such as Durham Coast (built as New Abbotshall in 1912, bought in 1925), early diesel coasters such as Atlantic Coast (1935), vessels telling idiosyncratic tales such as Scottish Coast (ex Lurcher of 1922), which joined the fleet in 1925 and began a new career in 1954 in Newfoundland, where she foundered in 1960, her unusual crosstrees still intact. Many other ships that paid their way to Stornoway ended up in foreign waters. The wartime exploits of the Norwegian-built Selvik ex Hiram II (1920) took her, at a steady eight-and-a-half knots, beyond the Hebrides to Dunkirk, Gibraltar, Iceland and Nova Scotia.Swedish-built Magne (1912), an early 1940s trader to Lewis, was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat near Berwick two months before VE Day. After the war Dorset Coast (1937) sailed to the Mediterranean and South China Seas, where she was still going strong in the 1970s.

Selvik Lady Killarney Pacific Coast  After his talk Colin Tucker was congratulated by John Whittle 

And what did these coasters carry across the Minch? Their cargoes included groceries from Leith, sawdust from Aberdeen, second-hand furniture from Dundee, timber and potatoes from Belfast — and thousands of bags of cement. Outward-bound cargoes would be tweeds and wool waste, collected on the islands by tinkers and sent to Yorkshire mills for the rag trade.

 

Little notice was given of the end of the Coast Lines service in November 1963. The announcement simply stated that, despite trade with Stornoway being on the increase, it was the drop in traffic between mainland ports that had sounded the death knell for the service, it being “not worth Coast Lines’ while sending a ship all the way round the Pentland Firth just for the Stornoway trade”. Pacific Coast was the last to call.

 

*Coast Lines Key Ancestors: M Langlands & Sons
by Nick Robins and Colin Tucker
published by Bernard McColl www.coastalshipping.co.uk
124 pages £16