Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Ships & boats

  • Masters of the Italian Line by Ian Sebire

    A magazine advert for the new ship, dominated by her namesake's self-portrait in old age. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello

    As a child I was fascinated by ships and the sea, in truth of course I still am. Perhaps it is in the blood (Sebire may be of Norse origin, meaning ‘Sea Bright’), or the result of long summer holidays spent on Guernsey and Herm in the Channel Islands. Whatever the reason, passenger liners have always held a particular interest. If the mighty France/Norway remains my all-time favourite, the Italian Liners of the 1960’s, with their svelte profiles and often exotic names, collectively captivated me most.

    Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffaello were the most prominent of these vessels and amongst the most significant passenger ships (the twins were the fourth longest and largest post-war built liners, exceeding P&O’s Canberra) of their era. Perversely I was aware of the ships long before I knew about the artists for which they are named, yet prior to the advent of the internet there was little information about them, especially in English. Peter C. Kohler changed all that in the late 1990’s with his superb history of the Italian Line entitled ‘The Lido Fleet’; my threadbare copy bears witness to the numerous times I have read it, or ‘dipped in’ and inevitably it was a key reference source for me.

    Nevertheless, to my knowledge there has never been an English language book prior to ‘Masters of the Italian Line’ that focussed exclusively on these three magnificent vessels. My hope is that this book helps to fill that void.

     

     

    Early artist impression of the new ships with their projected vital statistics. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    Leonardo da Vinci remains, in my view, the most beautiful ship of all time; tangible evidence of the Italian genius for synthesising form and function. Unique, she also seems to have been a happy ship, imbued perhaps with the benevolent spirits of those seeking to avenge the loss of her predecessor, Andrea Doria. That she was unable to make the transition from ocean liner to cruise ship was particularly disappointing, her elegant silhouette would have graced the piers of every port she visited. Political sensibilities aside, making the switch would still have been difficult without reconfiguring the engine rooms and installing diesels to replace the thirsty turbines.  Of course the fire at La Spezia in July 1980 destroyed all those dreams.

    Inevitably Michelangelo will always be synonymous with her wave encounter on 12th April 1966. That single dreadful event overshadows a decade long career, during which the first of the ‘make work’ sister ships transported tens of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic and on languid pleasure cruises. She always took centre stage and inevitably her final departures from both New York and Genoa drew the largest audiences and media attention.

    Michelangelo reflected in the clear, still waters of Geirangerfjord in the course of her North Cape cruise. (Masters of the Italian Line, Amberley Publishing)

    In contrast Raffaello has always seemed more distant and enigmatic. Perhaps it’s an Englishman’s penchant for the underdog, or more rationally my preference for her modern, bright, European decor but Raffaello has always been my favourite of the two. Pathos pervades both the superliners’ careers but the manner of her demise, sunk as an innocent ‘civilian’ victim by the Iraqi Air Force, gives her story a particularly sad final twist.

    At times exhausting and frustrating, writing this book, including collating the information and photographs has nevertheless been a wonderfully rewarding experience. As a novice I am indebted to many people from several different countries who generously helped, those directly involved are included in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. There is however one person not mentioned who has been instrumental throughout. Thanks to a fortuitous delay in the departure of Fred Olsen’s ‘Black Watch’ several years ago, I met Nigel Lawrence, editor of Shipping Today and Yesterday magazine, at the end of Dover’s Prince of Wales pier. We got chatting and Nigel subsequently published my article about the Italian line in the magazine and has printed several of my ship biographies since, giving me the confidence to pursue this project and see it to fruition. I am really grateful.

    Ian Sebire's new book Masters of the Italian Line is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 by Malcolm Fife

    In the late 1960’s I was interested in aviation, and I purchased a camera to record my visits to airports and air shows. Not long after, I decided I did not wish to restrict myself to photographing a single subject, and I began to build up a collection of colour slides on shipping. Leith Docks, on the northern edge of Edinburgh, was just a 30 minute bus ride from where I lived, and I began to make frequent visits there. In those days security was almost non-existent, and one was free to walk almost anywhere. Health and safety regulations were not rigidly applied like today, and it was possible to stand close to cranes unloading cargoes from the holds of ships. There was, however, no way of knowing what ships were in the port in advance, and every visit would be one of hopeful expectation. Sometimes it would end in disappointment, with an absence of vessels, but generally there was almost something of interest to be seen.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Grain Warehouse Standing at the heart of Leith Docks is the large grain warehouse built in 1934 and extended in 1958. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    At the heart of the port of Leith was the large grain warehouse, constructed in 1934. Standing 150 feet tall, it dominated the skyline. There was often a continuous stream of trucks racing through the docks to collect their consignment of grain, which was loaded onto them by chutes. Large numbers of pigeons often flocked around the base of the warehouse to feed on any grain that may have been spilt. During the early twentieth century, imported grain was one of the main commodities handled by Leith Docks.

    Standing to the east of the grain warehouse on the northern edge of the Edinburgh Dock was the Scottish Agricultural Industries fertiliser plant. It was a major employer in the area, with a workforce numbering over 300. The building itself was a long featureless concrete structure, with a tall chimney at one end, which spewed out white smoke. The plant imported most of its raw materials, which included sulphur from France and the Netherlands, and potash from Germany and Spain. They were unloaded at the bulk handling quay at Imperial Dock. It was one of the busiest parts of the harbour, with the cranes often continuously at work. Coal for power stations was also discharged there. In the late 1970s some of it came from as far away as China, which was particularly unusual for that time, when little trade was conducted with that country. Coal was also exported from Leith Docks, but the amount had declined considerably from previous decades, as many mines had, by this time, closed in the Lothians.  Another bulk item that was imported in considerable quantity was that of timber. For many centuries, southern Scotland had been short of wood for the construction of buildings, and this was a long established trade. Leith had been the main port for Edinburgh since the twelfth century.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Merchant Ship Greek flagged Lendoudis Evangelos at the Riverside Quay. It was operated by Evaland Shipping of Piraeus. Built in 1961, this was a typical design for a merchant ship of that era with the superstructure in the centre of the ship. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the Middle Ages, ships tied up alongside wooden wharfs on the banks of the Water of Leith. There was a broad expanse of sand, which lay between the harbour and the sea. Merchant ships had to negotiate a narrow channel, carved out by the River running into the Firth of Forth. Despite this natural handicap, Leith in time became one of Scotland’s major ports. Due to its strategic importance, it was also frequently fought over, and the town was burnt on a number of occasions. One of the first improvements to the harbour was a wooden pier extending out to sea, which was later replaced by a stone example in the eighteenth century. As trade expanded and hostilities declined, numerous other improvements were undertaken.

    The first docks were constructed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Over the next hundred years they were followed by larger examples, which were situated further out to sea. The final and largest one was Imperial Dock, built between 1897 and 1904. Around thirty years later, in an effort to encourage further growth, a large expanse of sea was enclosed by the building of the West Breakwater. This was followed by the construction of a lock gate at the entrance to the docks in the late 1960s, which made the whole complex no longer dependent on the tides. Large passenger ships could now dock at Leith instead of having to anchor in the Firth of Forth. At that time the cruise industry was in its infancy, and only a handful of vessels called at the height of summer. Around the same time, a container crane was erected at Leith. It was hoped that this may be the first of many, with the large expanse of water now enclosed by the West Breakwater being developed to handle the newly introduced containers.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Oil Tanker Although Leith saw frequent movements by oil tankers in the 1970s, most sailed past the port and docked at Grangemouth, where there was a large oil refinery. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 1970s a number of feeder services operated from Leith Docks, but it was Grangemouth that was destined to become the main container port on the east coast of Scotland. A totally unexpected stimulus to the fortunes of Leith Docks came with the discovery of North Sea Oil at the end of the 1960s. A motley collection of ships assembled here to exploit this resource. Many initially came from the Gulf of Mexico where there was a long established offshore industry. Throughout the 1970s they were gradually replaced by vessels built to withstand the more extreme conditions of the North Sea. They could often be found in the Albert and Edinburgh Docks, which often included several diving support ships.

    In time, every piece of available land on the edge of the quays was occupied by pipes, destined for the seabed. Leith was the hub for the construction of the network of undersea pipelines. Pipes were delivered here on board large cargo ships, to be treated with special protective coating. Once this was completed, they were loaded on to offshore support vessels, to be taken out to sea to their final destination. In contrast to the brightly painted ships that served the offshore energy fields were the N.A.T.O. warships that frequently visited Leith Docks in the 1970s. They were often open to the public at weekends as a goodwill gesture.

    I still visit Leith Docks occasionally, but it has undergone great changes over the last forty years. Cargo ships are now few and far between, with coal no longer being imported, as the power stations that were fuelled by this mineral have closed. The offshore oil industry is now in its twilight years, although vessels associated with it still operate from Leith Docks. The former Henry Robb shipbuilding yard has long since disappeared, replaced by the Ocean terminal shopping centre. On a more positive note, Leith has become a major destination for cruise ships, which bring thousands of tourists to visit Edinburgh each year.

    9781445662565

    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 is available for purchase now.

2 Item(s)