Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Loch Fyne (March 1976)

Another high profile job for the company was the shifting of the new gas production platform T.P.1 built for the Frigg gas field in the North Sea from Ardyne Point, just north of Rothesthay, on the Isle of Bute to Loch Fyne, of kipper fame. Loch Fyne has some of the deepest water on Scotland’s west coast and was an excellent location to finish the work of this production platform.

The Victoria, also based at Swansea, with Capt. Glyn Fethney and crew aboard accompanied us on this job, along with the Alfred and Crosby, based at Liverpool. Two new buildings belonging to United Towing, the Guardsman and Winchman, were the main towage units on this job.

After 48 hrs we finally finished berthing the TP1 platform at her anchorage in Loch Fyne. The greatest difficulty experienced in this operation was positioning the rig at her anchorage. It proved far more difficult than anyone had anticipated, to stop the rig turning. The four Alexandra tugs tied up on a small jetty in East Loch Tarbert, an idyllic little fishing village on the Argyllshire coast.

Crosby, Alfred, Victoria and Margam at East Loch Tarbert / East Loch Tarbert with Loch Fyne in background

While awaiting orders we availed ourselves of the local hospitality. Myself and another crewmember went ashore mid evening, much later than the rest of our crew and some of the Victoria’s crew. We decided that the back part of one pub, with an entrance in a small side street, would be our best bet for a quiet drink, before joining the fray. No sooner had we sat down with our pints, then the rest of the gang came in, slightly the worse for wear. A quick attempt at a song was soon extinguished by a rather severe looking landlord, who was in the company of some equally severe customers, and that was just the women’s skittles team. One of the early starters from Swansea, who for the reasons of decency, shall remain anonymous, was prone to the odd damp fart, when inebriated, and this was brought to the attention of the landlord’s very large Alsatian dog, who insisted on discovering the source of this strange smell. The third time that the dog was pushed aside and told to go forth and multiply was the spur that the landlord needed to ask us all to leave.

The following morning a request to our Swansea office for some money to be wired up to a local post office was agreed and with funds running low, a tarpaulin muster was organised for those wishing to go ashore. The night was spent in a hotel bar near the jetty where we were moored, where we were duly offered afters if we entertained the locals with a bit of Welsh singing .We were only to happy to help foster international relations, but Captain Heslop wasn’t to happy to be awoken with the gift of a can of ale on our return, although he did put on a brave face for the photograph.

The following morning we suddenly received orders to sail, still unaware of our destination. A case of ‘if they’re spending money, they must be enjoying themselves, Get em out’. This resulted in the Margam and Victoria sailing from East Loch Tarbert and because of adverse weather forecasts, arriving in Campeltown a few hours later. We spent one night in Campbeltown and , after pressure from our Swansea office, sailed the following morning with severe weather forecasts still in operation. Both tugs experienced horrible conditions in the North Channel and sought shelter in Belfast Lough for a couple of days before proceeding on passage to Swansea.

Loch Kishorn and the Ninian Central Platform (July 1976)

After the success of the T.P.1 job from Ardyne Point to Loch Fyne, the A.T.C.L were in the forefront of prestige towage operations in the U.K. oil industry.

Loch Kishorn is situated on the west coast of Scotland, east of the Isle of Skye. This was one of the most exciting construction operations ever undertaken in the U.K. and involved building a dock in the side of a mountain, building two giant caissons, then pumping out the water and starting on one of the biggest structures ever built for transportation at sea.

The Margam underway in Loch Kishorn / Kishorn dock

The four Alex tugs involved in the removal of the caissons were the Alfred and Crosby, both based at Liverpool, and the Margam and Victoria from Swansea. When Margam (Capt. Frank Heslop) & Victoria sailed from Swansea, looking at their most pristine, the sailing instructions were to rendezvous with the Liverpool tugs off the Calf of Man and proceed in convoy to Kishorn but not to arrive before mid-morning on Sunday July 18th.

After a most comfortable passage north, we found ourselves with about 18 hours to spare and after some discussion with all the Masters involved, it was decided to anchor off Ornsay Island, just east of Skye, until the Sunday morning when the four tugs would proceed through the Kyle Rhea into the Kyle of Lochalsh and thence on to Kishorn.

The Kyle Rhea is a very narrow passage at the northern end of the Sound of Sleet that gives access to the Kyle of Lochalsh and it can only be accessed by vessels of a similar draught to our tugs (11/13 ft) at one and a half hours before high water It was like steaming through a boiling kettle and was one of the strangest feelings I ever experienced in my time at sea.

After our much-trumpeted arrival in convoy on the Sunday morning it was explained that there would be a rota system in operation, which involved each tug having a night alongside at Lochalsh after our Marine Supt. and his deputy had been dispatched to their hotel not far from the Railway Pier.

The four tugs were involved in the first stage of the operation which entailed the removal of the caissons after the dock had been flooded. No one actually knew if the platform would float at all until the dock was flooded and it was great testament to everyone involved when all went according to plan.

Wednesday, July 21st was the day earmarked for the removal of the caissons and it was indeed a very high-profile day, with H.R.H. The Prince of Wales performing the official launching ceremony and it was with a great sense of pride that all Welshmen involved, including the Chief Site Engineer, saw the Welsh Dragon flying proudly from one of the masts ashore.

The photos show Crosby and Alfred in forefront with Victoria and Margam just starting to move the first caisson, and Margam (sporting the Red Dragon) towing 1st caisson with Victoria at the other end.

Each caisson gate was 84 metres wide and weighed 11, 000 tonnes empty and 30,000 tonnes when flooded. All four tugs returned to their home ports after launching the caissons, with the platform launch scheduled for September of the same year.

September 1976

The Margam (Capt. Frank Heslop) sailed from Swansea bound for Loch Kishorn where she would be joined by the Albert, Alfred and Crosby from Liverpool for the launching of the platform base.

Margam moving into position.

In September 1977 we sailed from Swansea in the tug Mumbles (Capt. Willy Tamlin) bound for Barrow in Furness to tow one of two barges to Loch Kishorn. These barges had been specially built to position the decking section on the platform.

The platform deck being lowered into position

On May 4th 1978, the Ninian Central platform, now weighing over 600,000 tonnes (The largest object ever moved at sea) left Loch Kishorn for the Ninian Oil field, east of Shetland, a voyage that took eight tugs eleven and a half days.

Other Tug related pages:

Alexandra Tugs

Swansea’s First Tractor Tugs

The Enugu Palm

Tug Mumbles last Voyage

HMS Warrior

Indefatigable and the BOS 400

Ron Tovey Index Page