Photo of the month: December 2018

Aigburth on the Pointhouse slipway in the spring of 1962. She was the last ship to be built by A. & J. Inglis, which had been founded in 1846 and established its yard beside the River Kelvin in 1861. Photo from the Paul Strathdee Collection

The last ship to be launched from the Clyde shipyard of A. & J. Inglis, builder of Waverley and many other steamers, was a hopper barge, Aigburth, which entered the water on 17 May 1962. More than half a century later, she is apparently still in service on the other side of the world — in much altered condition, with a new name and under Indonesian ownership. Designed for service on the Mersey, she had moulded dimensions of 190 feet length, 39 feet breadth and 14.6 feet depth, with a load draught of 12 feet six inches. Ian Ramsay, who was general manager of the Pointhouse yard at the time of her launch, says Aigburth was memorable in more ways than one.

When I recently came across the above photograph of the motor hopper barge Aigburth, it brought back memories. Her name is engraved on my heart, not because she was the last ship built by Inglis, but because she was a design challenge from start to finish.

She was designed to suit the location of the Port of Garston, which is upstream from the uppermost Mersey Docks & Harbour Board’s dock. Her loaded speed had to be such that she could leave Garston loaded when there was sufficient rising tide to float her; make her passage down the Mersey against a flood tide to the dumping ground beyond the Mersey Bar in Liverpool Bay; dump her dredging spoil; make her return passage up the Mersey, latterly against the ebb tide; and lock back into the Garston dock system while there was still enough water in the river to float her.

To meet this requirement, Aigburth had to have a loaded trial speed of 12 knots, which on a block coefficient of 0.794 was asking a lot. It resulted in the vessel having a Crossley single diesel ‘V’ engine developing 2400 BHP. To make matters worse, the Garston port engineer demanded that the propeller revolutions had to be the same as the steam hopper barge that Aigburth was replacing, namely 165 rpm. As the engine revolutions were 590 rpm, this resulted in a reduction ratio between engine and propeller of 3.575:1, whereas a reduction ratio 2:1 or 2.5:1 would have resulted in a more appropriate, smaller diameter propeller. This, in turn, would have resulted in a finer and more efficient under water hull shape at the stern. 

The vessel performed well in all respects but one: when at full power, you had to be careful not to stop the propeller suddenly, without going into astern mode, as the vessel was likely to take a violent sheer, especially if in relatively shallow water.

Aigburth was ordered by the British Transport Commission, Liverpool, for service on the River Mersey. Photo from the Paul Strathdee Collection

This we proved on trials, loaded with a cargo of stinking dredging spoil from a Clyde Navigation Trust bucket dredger in Glasgow. Having just passed John Brown’s shipyard on our way down river, the pilot, Alvin MacLean, blew the whistle to alert a Clyde Navigation Trust hopper that he wished to pass, and promptly put the handles down to full ahead. Only then did he realise that there wasn’t enough room. He stopped the propeller suddenly — and the vessel took a violent sheer to starboard, running her bow up the cobbled slope at the mouth of the Duntocher Burn. Here she came to a violent and abrupt stop, so that much of the contents of the hopper was thrown over the bridge front. What a smelly mess!

After we had backed off and anchored temporarily to sound the fore peak for water ingress, the management had a heated debate as to whether we should continue to the dumping ground at the mouth of Loch Long or return to Glasgow for dry-docking.

Insurance and reporting worries carried the day for return, and I think we tied up at Yorkhill Quay. As a partly loaded Aigburth was too heavy for placing on Inglis’ patent slipway carriage, our managing director arranged with Harland & Wolff to place her in Govan Dry Dock for examination.

I was duly sent over to Govan to arrange the docking with H&W’s formidable Charlie Simpson, and got off to a bad start when I said I thought we should first go down river to dump the spoil. When, after shouting at me for 10 minutes, he paused for breath, I said that if we were to dock with that load, even with bilge blocks under each bottom door, the vessel would leak the spoil into the dry dock before it was dry enough to get access to put the final packers and wedges between the bilge blocks and the underside of the hopper doors.

I was then asked rhetorically if I thought H&W had never docked a ship. Under my breath I said ‘no, not a hopper barge with a load of spoil in it.’

Aigburth as Inai Kesuma at the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, where she was employed from 2007 until 2016. Photo from the Paul Strathdee Collection

Even before Aigburth had settled on the blocks she was liberally discharging a wet slurry, and by the time the dock bottom was accessed, the dock master was ‘doing his nut’, because he was continually having to reverse the flow of the dock emptying pumps to try to stop any blockage and damage to them.

Just to explain: you can locate bilge blocks in the dock bottom below the doors, but they must have an initial slight clearance between the two surfaces in case of any discontinuity in the vessel’s bottom structure.

The reason for this is that, if the ship sat on one of these blocks before she sat on the keel blocks, considerable structural damage would be done.

Eventually a state of equilibrium was reached. The doors were tight shut — and the dock bottom was covered with about 12 inches of mud.  What next, apart from being accused by Charlie Simpson that it was all my fault? The dock master insisted that H&W put a small bulldozer into the dock to scrape up the mud and put it back into the hopper by crane. This was done over several days, and in the meantime we (Inglis) endeavoured to tighten the door operating gear to ensure there was no slack in it due to stretching of the lifting chains caused by the first load of spoil.

So ended the first chapter — and you have probably guessed what happened next, when we flooded the dock and brought the ship out for her resumed trials. Yes, there was a repeat discharge of slurry, although we did hear that, when they emptied the dock after our departure, it was not as bad as the first time.

It was then back to the dredger for a top-up load, followed by a successful sea trial on the Skelmorlie Mile on 26 October 1962 — and finally handover. Henry Abram, the ship delivery contractors, took Aigburth to Garston where I believe she did all that was required of her.

Thereafter it was closure of the Inglis yard and, for me, the start of a new career with Yarrow & Company.

A couple of years later, at the Clyde Shipbuilders Association Annual Dinner, Charlie Simpson, who was then retired due to the closure of the Govan Yard, came over to me. After asking about my present employment, he said “Son, you were quite right about docking that fully loaded hopper barge” — and stomped off to engage one of his contemporaries in verbal combat.

Not quite, but almost a typical day in a Clyde shipyard.

Ian Ramsay oversaw Aigburth’s launch in 1962

Ian Ramsay served an apprenticeship with A. & J. Inglis in the late 1940s and, after National Service and employment as a surveyor with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, returned to Inglis as general manager until the yard closed in 1963. He then worked for Yarrow & Co as hull estimator, shipyard manager and subsequently shipbuilding director for Yarrow Shipbuilders and British Shipbuilders. From 1982 until his retirement in 1997 he was a marine consultant. A CRSC member for many years, Ian is a former safety director of Waverley Excursions Ltd and latterly a director of Waverley Steam Navigation.

Aigburth was renamed Inai Kesuma when she was sold to the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu in 2007. She is now registered in Jakarta, following her sale to Indonesian owners in 2016. Her latest position and other details, including an up-to-date colour photo, can be found here on the Marine Traffic website.

Thanks to Paul Strathdee for allowing us to publish photographs from his collection.

Published on 2 December 2018