Photo of the month: November 2017

‘We sailed almost as far as the Dorus Mor’: VIC32 in July 2017

VIC32 is one of the sole surviving west coast puffers. Ken Mills took a trip on her.

Puffers have always fascinated me. The interest probably goes back to my schooldays, when I would watch them unload at the dockside in Clyde Street and then, while on holiday in Arran, see them beached on the shore at many of the island locations. They would deliver coal, building materials and sometimes prefabricated Dorran houses, of which a lot were assembled in Arran in the immediate post war years.

Although not a true Clyde puffer, VIC32 was one of a number of similar vessels commissioned by the Admiralty to victual HM ships on active service during the last war. Her design along with others was based on the traditional Clyde puffer. Earlier this year I had occasion to look up her website and found her itinerary. I discovered that there were three consecutive days in July when free one-hour cruises were offered to the public from Crinan Pier. I had to participate.

VIC32 at Crinan Pier

I was due to be in Arran in early July and decided to travel there via Claonaig and take a sail on VIC32 en route. Six sailings each day were offered 10am-noon and 2-4pm. I arrived in time for the 2pm sailing. The day was fine and there was much interest from the general public.

We left on time and as we passed Crinan Boatyard, there was VIC27 (alias “Auld Reekie”) up on the slipway undergoing extensive rebuilding and renovation. We sailed almost as far as the Dorus Mor before returning.

Passengers were given the full run of VIC32, including a visit to the engine room, the accommodation and the wheelhouse. Crew comprised Nick Walker the Skipper, a deckhand and the engineer. Entry to the accommodation, which was formed out of the cargo hold, is from the front of the vessel, down a short stairway into the main saloon in which there are comfortable chairs, a large dining table, a good supply of reading books and even a piano! To the rear of the saloon is the open galley. A stairway from the saloon takes one down to the several cabins, each of which is named, with accommodation for 12 passengers.

Apparently these one-hour sails are part of the arrangement whereby VIC32 enjoys charitable status. There was an opportunity on the return to make a donation towards the running costs of the day, and that was well supported.

VIC32 carries out an extensive range off summer cruises lasting between four and six days, mainly based on the west coast with an occasional visit to the Clyde. I saw her tied up at Millport Old Pier earlier this year on her return from a trip to Glasgow. Coal seems to come from an opencast mine in South Ayrshire, and availability doesn’t seem to be a problem.

I would recommend this trip to any member interested in puffers — but if you go, don’t wear your Sunday best as the soot particles are abundant! A very full history of the vessel is given on the VIC32 website. Interestingly from my point of view, she was at one point in the ownership of Keith Schellenberg, former landlord of Eigg, before being acquired by Nick Walker and his wife.

For the VIC32 website, click here.

‘Passengers were given the full run of the ship’: VIC32 heads for the Dorus Mor

Nick Walker, VIC32’s skipper

Old-fashioned funnel and brass whistle

Builder’s plate

Spic and span: the kitchen

Shop/dining table

Two-berth cabin

Scene at Crinan boatyard in July 2017, with VIC27 (alias Auld Reekie) in the midst of a restoration project

A life at sea: deck scene on VIC32 in July 2017

All photographs on this page are copyright Ken Mills. For information on CRSC’s copyright policy, click here.