Before becoming Australia’s ( and now Ireland’s) favorite website design man I was Master on tugboats and small
cargo ships, the smallest and first one I was captain on was the Eilean Eisdeal
I was looking through a box of photos today, as you do. And came across a heap of
photos I took when I was master on a wee Scottish coaster (puffer) called the Eilean
Eisdeal she was all of 67 ft long and carried 132 tons of general cargo on her marks.
Over the 5 yrs I was skipper on the "puffer", as she was affectionately called, we
carried a variety of cargos including coal, fish food, hay, timber, lime, aggregate,
sand, cheese, fish, malt, silica sand, kit homes, cars, tar, seaweed, telegraph poles,
peat and hay. We were involved with salvage operations and helped test a very
expensive winch for BP, and chugged about the West coast from Liverpool to
By the time I joined the EE she had been re engined with a Scania Diesel DS11,
which turned out to be a very reliable propulsion unit. I see a fair number of photos online of the vessel but mine
have another dimension as they were taken when see was truly still working and each has a wee story. The
drawing opposite was done by a lady I towed through stretches of the Caledonian Canal from Inverness to Fort
William, she was from Sweden and was sailing single handed round the UK.
Corpach at the Western End of the Caledonian Canal was a great spot to load cargo as being in the basin it had
no tidal influence and was always calm. Moored behind us in this photo was the smallest tanker in Scotland, she
was a converted fishing boat used to transport fuel to the Glensanda mine. I loaded aggregate at Glensanda with a
conveyor belt they use to load 60,000 ton ships in 10 hours, which was actually a lot less stress than using the
ramp method in the photo below
Alongside in Rhum, the bay had good shelter from every wind apart from Easterlies, but the
blinkin midgies are the worst anywhere and I'm including places like the Congo and Brazilian Rain
forests too. I saw my engineer Colin clart his face with grease to try and stop them biting him as
he shoveled the last of the coal trimmings so I could reach it with the grab. It did not work, they got
caught in the grease and their wriggling drove him insane. Of the small isles Rhum was the least
sociable, Eigg, Muck and Canna have all been party venues
Scarnish Bay on Tiree could get really exposed in bad weather and had a nasty wee reef at the entrance.
Luckily the pub was also in the bay.
I wont give you a Puffer history lecture here as that is what Wikpedia is for, they have
information on the Puffers at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_puffer needless to say the
Eilean Eisdeal was built in 1944 by Brown’s Shipyard in Hull for the Royal Navy as the Vic 72 to
supply vitals. After she was decomissioned she was renamed the Eldesa and then again
renamed the Eilean Eisdeal when she was bought by Chris Nicholson in 1984. Chris had her
refitted on the Clyde at vast expense. First trip out from the yard we broke down East of Canna
with what turned out to be part of a welding rod inside the fuel pump having knocked the timing
out, how the rod got in there who knows but it meant having to be towed to Mallaig by a purser.
After this initial drama the engine turned out to be really reliable and we actually were on the
cover of Scania magazine one time due to the engines reliability.
The Puffer had a flat bottom and was designed to beach and discharge cargo at low water with
the use of a derick, we improved on this method by installing an Atlas hydraulic crane with an
extension that would reach the length of the hold and the highest wharfs around the isles, it did
however take a while to perfect the crane extension and discharge through out which we did a lot
of shovelling. The flat bottom meant we could discharge in places other coasters couldn't reach,
this sounds like a beer advert, anyway that was fine but the downside was the sea worthiness,
sailing on the puffers was like sailing in a cross between a washing machine and a submarine, the
wheelhouse window in the below photo had been staved in by a wave, and we had a board
covering the window, the owner never really gave me grief about not sailing due to the weather
but after we had a rough night in the Irish sea with him aboard that was understandable, I think all
ship owners should go through a really crap 24 hr storm to understand life afloat
We hunted high and low down the East coast for an anchor/ derick winch with not much
satisfaction but the anchoring system worked well, I hardly ever dragged anchor and remember a
one night when most of the vessels anchored in Tobermory bay, dragged theirs past us, how we
weren't fouled in the meley I'm not sure but it was one of those nights that if your anchor was
holding there was no way you wanted to up anchor and leave the bay. We got an invite to the
opening of the new Inverness Harbour and met the Queen and Prince Philip at one point.
Using the puffers fire mains to clean a Salmon net in Easdale harbour, sort of killing two birds with
one stone washing the net and testing the fire equipment. The entrance into Easdale was one of
the trickiest I had to phone ahead to have all the small craft moved and there was always a big
crowd of people came to watch us berth, the puffers had a single screw no bow thruster chain
steering and no tugs although I did get the crew to push my bow with a 14 ft dingy we carried
aboard at times.
The Eilean Eisdeal