Monday 11 September 2017 marked the start of a new season of meetings for the Gloucester Branch of the World Ship Society in a brand new venue: Community Space, Tesco Store, St Oswald Road, Gloucester GL1 2SG. All meetings will start at 1930 and attendees are requested to sign in at the Customer Services Desk. Everyone is welcome and the meeting programme is as follows:
Monday 12 February 2018
Monday 12 March 2018
The Severn Bore
Monday 9 April 2018
1960s Steam and Diesel
Monday 14 May 2018
AGM followed by Ken Guest’s Norwegian Odyssey
On Monday 11 September our 2017/ 2018 season began at the new venue of The Community Space, Tesco store, St Oswald’s Road, with a traditional WSS Powerpoint presentation of slides taken by Greenock born Captain Edwin Gregson (1929-1987), master of the MV Tropic, on a summer 1976 voyage from Falmouth to the American Gulf Ports of New Orleans, Port Arthur, Galveston and Houston and thence via a transit of the Panama Canal to Australia, New Zealand and back via the Caribbean.
The 6 660 GRT MV Tropic (pictured above) had been built at Burntisland, Scotland, in 1965 as the Nova Scotia for Liverpool based Furness Withy Ltd but was renamed at Falmouth – just before the voyage in the presentation. Retaining the IMO registration 6501305, MV Tropic stayed under charter to Shaw Savill and Albion until 1978 when she became the Booker Valiant. A move to Saudi ownership in 1980 saw the name change again to Arab Dabbor and then, from 1986 to scrapping in 1998, to Arab Hind.
Edwin Gregson had previously served on Furness Withy’s Vickers-Armstrong built refrigerator cargo ship Pacific Reliance and the liners Ocean Monarch and Queen of Bermuda. Ocean Monarch, like its chilled out fleetmate, was built on Tyneside in 1951 but sank after a fire thirty years later. Queen of Bermuda meanwhile was a Vickers-Armstrong product of 1933 and became one of the “Millionaires ships”, cruising to Bermuda from New York. However, her lavish wood panelled interior may have contributed – on safety grounds – to her retirement in 1966, by which time she had been reduced from three funnels to one.
The outward voyage of the MV Tropic, using long range radio navigation (LORAN), coincided with the opening of the Olympic Games in Toronto and landfall was first made in the grain exporting centre of New Orleans. Further stops were made at Port Arthur ( home of Janis Joplin) to load oil products and also at Houston, sailing past Galveston’s Point Bolivar lighthouse to Houston where the Port Authority celebrated the MV Tropic’s first visit with a commemorative plaque.
Meanwhile, between Sydney and Melbourne, the MV Tropic’s lifeboat helped in the search for the missing crew of the five metre yacht Tiger Shark III which had been reported capsized in the area trying to cross the Bass Straits to Tasmania. Sadly, two bodies were later washed ashore. Captain Gregson then set a course for Brisbane where he collected a cargo of combine harvesters and took them, via New Zealand and Jamaica, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The voyage ended at Bridgetown Barbados where Captain Gregson relinquished command, flew home and later became the Chairman of the Mid Essex branch of the World Ship Society.
Our very welcome guest on Monday 9 October 2017 was Deryck Pritchard, operational crew member and fundraiser for the Severn Area Rescue Association whose PowerPoint presentation included still and moving images of the boats, vehicles and equipment used to assist those in trouble on Great Britain’s longest river.
Formed in 1973, SARA has stations at Beachley, Sharpness, Tewkesbury and Wyre Forest, near Kidderminster and its volunteers are funded entirely by donations. SARA sub stations are also located at Newport, Gwent, and Gloucester and the Beachley station also covers the River Wye. Beachley, the original SARA station, located on the former Aust Ferry slipway, includes volunteer staff with mountain rescue skills – useful in the steep Wye Valley.
All main SARA stations have staff trained in swift water wading rescue techniques and each crew member brings a new set of skills to the operation, including medicine, marine engine repair and navigation. Among the various items of equipment used by SARA are inflatable mud sleds and mud lances – used to foam air or water under casualties being sucked into the many mudflats of the lower River Severn.
Current SARA boats can be either launched by trailer or crane and, like all SARA equipment, need to be thoroughly cleaned of salt water and mud before re use. Due to these hostile conditions, equipment needs to be regularly replaced with the distinctive white helmets and red lifejackets of each crew member alone costing £150 and £450 respectively. Most SARA boats are rigid inflatables (RIB) with either glass reinforced plastic or welded aluminium hulls although SARA 18 is made of solid polythene with air pockets – making it more durable as a flood rescue boat when working among urban street furniture. Also in the fleet is an ex Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue hovercraft, capable of 30 mph but prone to pitching and rolling in choppy water.
Boats can be towed on trailers to optimum launch positions by winch and snorkel fitted Land Rover and Ford Ranger 4x4s which are permitted to travel on roads with blue flashing lights and two tone sirens. Once in position, front tow hitches are used to push the boat trailers into the water, allowing the driver a better view of the operations. SARA 2, which took part in the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in 2012, is launched by a cradle trailer pushed by a New Holland tractor – galvanised against rust and snorkel fitted. The Delta 6.5X RIB DAVE MOORE has twin 90 bhp outboard motors with post immersion restart features and a self righting airbag. It also has towing bollards and a casualty stretcher. More information can be found at http://www.sara-rescue.org.uk/
On Monday 13 November Branch Secretary Alan Drewett delivered his Powerpoint presentation “Rail and Shipping Entwined which has now been written up as a an article
on this website.
December meeting took the now-traditional form of a raffle and buffet following the photographic print competition for The Les Tibbetts Memorial Shield. In 2017 this was won by Branch member Tony Beaman ( pictured left in the black jacket with Branch Chairman Ken Guest in the white pullover) with a dramatic picture of one of the Lake Geneva ferries. Thanks go to Branch Secretary Alan Drewett for organising the raffle, Chairman Ken Guest for organising the competition and to everyone who brought food and prizes.
The beauty of the shores of Lake Geneva and of the sites of many of the places near its banks has long been celebrated. However, it is only from the eastern end of the lake, between Vevey and Villeneuve, that the scenery assumes an Alpine character. On the south side the mountains of Savoy and Valais are for the most part rugged and sombre, while those of the northern shore fall in gentle vine-covered slopes, thickly set with villages and castles. In 1827, Lake Geneva was the site for the first measurement of the speed of sound in (fresh) water. French mathematician Jacques Charles François Sturm and Swiss Physicist Daniel Collodon used two moored boats, separated by a measured distance, as the transmit and receive platforms for the sounds of exploding gunpowder. The loud airborne sound coupled into the lake, establishing a loud underwater sound that could be measured at a distance. The flash of the exploding gunpowder provided the visual starting cue for the timepiece, and the underwater explosion sound striking a bell provided the finish cue. More recently, the late David Bowie moved to a chalet to the north of Lake Geneva in 1976, which inspired him to take up painting and informed the first stages of his Berlin Trilogy of LPs. Drummer and singer Phil Collins lives in a home overlooking the lake while rock band Queen owned and operated Mountain Recording Studios (which is still in use today) in Montreux and a statue of lead singer Freddie Mercury, who also owned a second home in Montreux, stands on the northern shore of the lake.
For our Monday 8 January meeting Branch member Hugh Conway-Jones screened a number of motion pictures on the theme of Gloucester Docks, ranging from a mute amateur-shot documentary on changing timber handling methods to parts of the 1986 TV mini series Return to Treasure Island starring Brian Blessed as Long John Silver and the tall ship KASKELOT renamed SARACEN. Footage from the 1980s also explored the lower reaches of the River Severn including the Bore, Purton Hulks and Sharpness Docks. A recurring theme however was the redevelopment of Gloucester Docks for tourism.
“Modern Timber Handling Methods” showed timber arriving from the Baltic at Sharpness before being discharged from ocean going ships on to the shore, railway wagons or lighters for the onward voyage along the canal to Gloucester Docks. The bundles of planks were lifted off the ships in chains and the lack of hard hats and high visibility clothing was very noticeable. At the Price Walker yard in Gloucester, planks were manually unloaded one at a time by men on piecework. Railway wagons loaded with timber were then seen being pushed along by wheeled diesel tugs but more mechanisation arrived in the form of derrick and mobile diesel cranes and diesel powered straddle carriers. These specialist vehicles required a new layout for the yard.
The opening sequence of Return to Treasure Island featured a number of Gloucester Dock buildings which have since been demolished, while documentaries from the 1980s featured salmon fishing with hand nets, the wrecked petrol barges Wastdale H and Arkendale H and an interview with Fred Rowbotham (1909-1999). Fred was for many years District Engineer for the Lower Severn District of the Severn River Authority where among other things he was responsible for land drainage, clearing the principal tributaries, and improvements to flood defences.
In this instance he was talking about Nodense, the Roman God of the River Severn and his manifestation in the power of the Severn Bore. At the M48 bridge, the River Severn has a 55′ tidal range, necessitating a sea lock at Sharpness to allow the import of grain and timber and the export of scrap metal. The traditional Severn sailing vessels, known as Trows, were also built with flat bottoms and an internal keel to cope with the shallow water available at low tide.
Later in the 1980s both Birmingham based Central News and Bristol’s HTV West recorded the decline of Gloucester as a working port and its rebirth as a tourism honeypot. While Priday Metford’s hi-tech flour mill remained in use for many years afterwards, much screen time was taken by the launch of the National Waterways Museum and the Robert Opie Museum of Packaging as well as the trip boat HEATHER SPRAY. A visit to Gloucester as a city on the A38 trunk road by historian Anthony Burton also revealed a 1972 plan by the British Waterways Board to fill in Gloucester Docks with the rubble of its demolished warehouses. Today however, a gentrified Gloucester Docks survives.
Hugh’s final film was of the former RFA FRESHSPRING at Newnham on the River Severn, including interviews with the late Oswald Burgess and WSS Gloucester Branch member John Hooper. The last water tank vessel built for the Royal Navy, powered by a 450 bhp triple expansion engine, has since been moved to Bideford for restoration. RFA Freshspring was launched by Lytham Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on 15 August 1946. After trials in February 1947, she sailed to her long term base in Malta. Initially coal fired she was converted to run on heavy fuel oil in 1956 whilst in Malta with three burners, one in each of the coal furnaces. She returned to the UK in 1967 to replace a sister ship, Freshpond, at Devonport. Prior to being put into reserve in 1976 at Gareloch, she also worked in and around the Clyde and Pembroke docks and she was surveyed and refitted at Ardrossan in 1969. She was offered for sale in 1977 and sold two years later to a private owner who towed her to Bristol, which is where she was last steamed. After problems in Bristol with thefts including much of the wheelhouse equipment, she was then moved to Newnham on Severn.