Ardrossan Waterfront - 1947

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Location: Australia Formerly Ardrossan

Ardrossan Waterfront - 1947

Post by Hughie » Sat Oct 17, 2020 3:43 am


Berthed, almost unnoticed in a corner of the basin this week was a small insignificant looking craft of the trawler type. Barely decipherable on her bows was the name "Recruit" but, as I was soon to learn she was no "rooky" so far as her job was concerned. My interest was aroused by some 40 or 50 metal barrels on deck and casuai enquiry elicited the information that they were containers for shark's oil.

Shark's oil? Yes, that's what I wondered too! Little did i know that daily, within the confines of the Firth of Clyde, adventures that would make any boy's eyes pop out, were going on. Shark hunting-harpooning---being towed along in a 30 foot boat by a 30 foot monster -such were the tales I listened to as I chatted with member's of the "Recruit's" crew.

Based at Carradale on the Kintyre coast, the job of the "Recruit" is to catch basking sharks and from them extract oil. There are two 30 foot boats fitted with harpoon guns, the "Perseverance" and the "Paragon" and it is their function to do the actual catching of the sharks. They cruise around till the quarry is spotted then sail alongside. The harpoon is shot at point blank range into the shark's back behind the fin. Then the fun starts.

For half-an-hour — maybe longer--the shark tows the boat around, and losing blood all the time, it eventually weakens sufficiently to be brought alongside. The danger now is from the lashing tail which is the most powerful part of the fish. Once the tail is lassooed, however, the shark is helpless and it is then transferred to "Recruit" which has meantime been following at a discreet distance. There sharp knives get to work, the liver is removed and put into a boiler where the oil is extracted and eventually drained off into special storage tanks for'ard. From the liver of one shark an average of 100 gallons of oil is obtained while a large specimen may yield up to 160 gallons.

The final use to which the oil is put appears to be a hush hush affair. When the "Recruit" arrived at Ardrossan this week she had both her storage tanks full to capacity. some 2,000 gallons. This would be pumped into barrels and conveyed by rail to Coast Lines' berth at Glasgow docks; from there on it is a case of destination unknown. The "Recruit's crew, six in number, are from the Banffshire coast and they had some interesting side-lights to tell on basking sharks. The skipper tells me they caught seven last week and ten the week before. Among them was a full-grown male the first to be caught in the Clyde-which was nearly 30 feet long and when lying on its side was about 6 feet from the deck.

They are the cleanest fish in the sea-they are not man. eaters, nor are they even fish. eaters their food consists solely of "plankton," that reddish substance on which herring feed and the skipper knows, he has cut up and opened the stomach of many a one. One thing appealed to my fancy or should I say my hunger. A steak from the tail is practically indistinguishable from a beef-steak and makes a fine meal-so, if basic rations are getting you down, why not go and catch yourself a basking shark?- but should you go in a small boat, here's a warning. If the shark happens to be jumping, keep clear! It won't ea: you—but you'd have to be a heck of a good swimmer!

Discharging scrap from Belfast the "Saint Oran" looked what she is just an ordinary dirty little coaster, but it's not so long ago since she was one of the best equipped ships in the port. Fitted with the latest in patent winches and other gear, she was engaged during the war cable laying as part of the Clyde's anti submarine measures. At that time she came under the Admiralty though her crew were of the merchant navy. A number of local men served on her-Pat Tracy, Johnnie McGoogan and others; some who afterwards gave their lives-McCubbin, and Dodds, etc.

Her skipper Captain McLeod, held the rank of lieutenant commander. Chief engineer John Stewart, of Belfast, was and still is elsewhere."a very capable man." "He kept the finest engine-room that came into the dock" said my informant," and look at the terrible comparison now-a derelict!" However, derelict or no, she is doing good work yet and you can't keep your hands clean if your doing dirty work!

Announcements in the daily press this week that the Arctic supply vessel "Nascopie" was aground off Baffin Island recall to mind that this ship used to sail! on her Arctic trips from Ardrossan with her crew comprised, for the most part, of local men. At that time the Hudson Bay Company, who own her, had a depot in Ardrossan and in the recent Centenary Exhibition they had a model of her on display. Of the Ardrossan men who sailed on her many are still going about. I was in conversation with one of them, Sandy Morrison, the other night.

Sandy's sailing days are over only just-but his connection with shipping remains as he is at present night watchman on the Belfast steamer "Laird's Isle." Like many of his kind, Sandy could fill a book, never mind a column, with his experiences, but he's not one that talks much and many thrilling episodes are perforce locked and no doubt cherished in his memory. One thing I know is that Sandy played his part in the Merchant Navy throughout the war. He was on board the Ardrossan built "Dorset Coast" when she was bombed and sunk in Alglers Harbour, being the last man to leave the doomed vessel. However, I'd better leave Sandy alone now or I'll be getting my head knocked off next time I meet him-and, unless he has changed a lot from his younger days, Sandy is just the boy who could do it!

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