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This website tells the story of the steam puffer VIC 27.  She has also been known as Auld Reekie, and for a while she starred as the Clyde Puffer Vital Spark in the BBC TV Para Handy series.

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VIC27 as Youth Training Vessel in 1970s

Auld Reekie, currently under restoration at Crinan Boatyard in Argyll, is one of only three surviving 66ft steam puffers in Britain.  She was launched in 1943 as VIC 27.  VICs (victualling inshore craft) were a World War II derivative of the iconic Clyde-built puffers which, for nearly a century, were the lifeblood of coastal communities up and down the west coast of Scotland.

Early engine design of coal-fired and steam-propelled vessels of this type made puffs of steam from the funnel giving puffers their name.  Author Neil Munro immortalised the Clyde puffers in his series of Para Handy stories which have often been transferred to television.

After the war, the VIC 27 became a youth training vessel – Auld Reekie – and it is by that name that our puffer is now known.

Auld Reekie also had a career as a TV star, under the pseudonym The Vital Spark, when it featured in the 1994 series of The Tales of Para Handy, featuring Gregor Fisher.

But after her TV appearance our puffer was left to languish in the Crinan basin.  Plans to have her restored and returned to the Clyde fell through – leaving her rusting away at Ardrishaig.  We now know that had she gone back out to sea, she may well have sunk, as she was very fragile beneath the waterline.  Fortunately, she fell under the care of Islay enthusiasts and Crinan Boatyard.

Clyde puffers – small general purpose cargo boats – were the ‘pack horses’ of the Hebrides and western seaboard from the 1880s to the 1960s.  Served only with very primitive roads, many rural communities depended on puffers for their coal, oil and general supplies.  If there was no pier or jetty, the shallow bottomed puffers would beach at high tide, allow the tide to go out, and unload heavy supplies like coal straight onto carts (and latterly tractors) driven onto the sand.

Puffers were so adaptable that, when World War 2 came, they were the obvious choice to serve and supply British warships anchored offshore.  Reliable, but with an unsophisticated design, they could be built quickly and cheaply.  Coal fired, they left precious diesel for the fighting ships.

Puffer docked at quay prior to loading or unloading

Puffer docked at quay prior to loading or unloading

The Ministry of War Transport (MOWT) was given the job of procuring puffers for the Navy – and named them VICs – Victualing Inshore Craft.  The first batch of 64 VICs, ordered in 1941, were identical to the immediate pre-war puffers Lascar and Anzac built by Scotts at Bowling for J&J Hay.

Crinan boatyard obtained copies of the original plans from the University of Glasgow for the Anzac and Lascar and discovered that the design of the VIC 27 is almost exactly the same.

Auld Reekie’s restoration is the subject of a BBC ALBA documentary series.

Latest news  – October 2016

This is the inlet from the river Weaver, in the tranquillity of peace time, to the basin by the Pimblott Shipyard, Northwich where Auld Reekie met her maker at birth. This has recently been confirmed by Ian Pimblott a descendant of the family who were the makers.

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Here are some pictures of the original propeller from VIC27 Auld Reekie with the sign which was kindly made for us by Forbes & Co. of Dundee and donated by Alf Beattie.

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August 2016

Some photos and news about the Open Day

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Stoking the boilers – the day begins with bacon rolls outside the Bunkhouse

Sam_3718Some Islay men examine the whisky. Bruichladdich Distillery’s Joanne keeps a watchful eye over them, ensuring the inspection doesn’t extend to tasting! ‪#‎thewhiskyinspectors‬ Huge thanks to Bruichladdich for all their support.
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WP_20160806_15_20_25_ProCalculating the number of lumps of coal (above), smiling faces after the auction (above right) and a chance to explore some of the boatyard’s equipment for young and less young alike.
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The Whisky Tasting

A varied selection of “chust sublime” whiskies from Bruichladdich was on offer [left]    Joanne presiding while Duncan offers an insight  [below left]    What a great way to make use of the hold of VIC27 as a venue for the tasting  [below]

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scammel dinnerCelebrating the end of the day – dinner for those who had helped to make the day such a success. 
bottlesWe would like to thank you for all your donations on a very successful day. However as you can see from the photograph there are still some Islay men standing so don’t stop now! Please telephone Crinan Boatyard 01546 830 232 or email john@crinanboatyard.co.uk

 

August 6th

To mark the completion of restoration work on the VIC27’s Engine Room, we are holding a fund raising Open Day at Crinan Boatyard on Saturday, 6 August from 12.00 noon (please note revised start time).

Entry fee £5.00, children free.

This is an opportunity for people interested in things maritime to look over the VIC27 and the rest of the boatyard, and enjoy a BBQ and music by The McAllister Brothers.

Bruichladdich Distillery have carried out a special cask bottling of Bruichladdich whisky which has been donated by one of the puffer’s benefactors to mark the occasion.  This is the VIC27: Auld Reekie Restoration Series Engine Room bottling.

There will be 2 Exclusive Bruichladdich range tastings which will include the special VIC27 ‘Engine Room’ bottling for 20 people only.  Entry by ticket only – £20 – participants by prior arrangement or in advance on the day if spaces are still available – please contact Crinan Boatyard via the contact form on this page or ring 01546 830232.

The first tasting will be at  2 p.m. and the second at 4 p.m.  (this tasting will take place on the puffer itself so access is limited to the able bodied only, although every assistance will be given).

There will be a raffle for one of these  ‘chust sublime’ bottles worth over £200.00 and others are also available!

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Also available during the day will be a donation dram & gin & tonic bar.

Entertainment for all the family during the Open Day will include –

  • tours of the VIC27
  • BBQ & live music
  • lemon bobbing in bucket of water
  • guess how many bits of coal in the wheelbarrow
  • bottle stall
  • auction of signed ‘Engine Room’ bottle number one @ 3pm and more signed bottles will be available
  • raffle for items such as a bottle of whisky or botanist or meal voucher for example.

The restoration of the puffer is an on-going labour of love, and we greatly appreciate all the support given to us so far. In order to commemorate the first Crinan Boatyard VIC27 Open Day, those who make a donation of over £200 will receive a bottle of the Bruichladdich VIC27: Auld Reekie Restoration Series Engine Room bottling.

All proceeds of the day will go towards the on-going restoration of the VIC27.

Keep an eye on this web page  for further information about the Open Day.


Latest news – December 2015

VIC27 will be on TV

In “Air an Smuid”, a team of puffer enthusiasts battle to save VIC 27 – a 66 year old vessel – from the scrap heap. On her rusty, leaky bow she bears the name Vital Spark – a throwback to her glory days as star of the BBC’s 1994 series of “The Tales of Para Handy”. The restoration so far has been followed throughout by Caledonia TV for BBC ALBA and the three part series will be broadcast on 29, 30 and 31 of December 2015 at 8.30 pm.  (The 3 programmes will be available via BBC iPlayer for about 4 weeks after the date of broadcast – www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06tkxys/air-an-smuidsteaming-episode-1 )

See the Auld Reekie Facebook page for more details – www.facebook.com/VIC27puffer/


 

Latest news – August 2015

New boiler arrives and is lowered into the Engine Room – more details on this page:   The boiler

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Facebook Posts

A photograph which was kindly sent to us by Ian Pimblott of Thomas Pimblott and his wife Jessie taken mid 1950's. Thomas and his brother John were the senior partners in the shipyard when VIC27 was built and launched. They are the sons of Isaac. Another son and partner, William, died in 1919 ... See MoreSee Less

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Stalwart Calum in amongst the engine painting the generator bed. Pressure test for fitness to work! Another night in the bunkhouse! ... See MoreSee Less

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This inlet to the river Weaver, in the tranquility of peace time The Weaver Shipyard, Northwich where Auld Reekie met her maker at birth! This has recently been confirmed by Ian Pimblott a descendant of the family who were the makers! ... See MoreSee Less

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A photograph of Auld Reekie on the Caledonian Canal between Banavie and Corpach sent to us by Bill Tudhope showing her after her refit by James Miller in circa1969 on her maiden voyage to the West Coast ... See MoreSee Less

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Original Propellar from Auld Reekie with the plaque which was kindly made for us by Forbes & Co. of Dundee and donated by Alf Beattie ... See MoreSee Less

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The missing link between boiler and funnel being fabricated by Lyall and Peter. It will then be blasted and painted at Skipness Engineering, because the engine room is not wide enough the parts will be assembled in situ and welded together on top of the boiler. The damper flap and lever are to control air flow to the fire and ultimately the boiler temperature. ... See MoreSee Less

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Hi I have a keen interest in puffers, I have been watching Vic 27 for a few years now I have driven up from south Devon twice to see how the project was going I have not had the chance this year though but seeing her in the latest photo she is looking great keep up the good work chaps. I know where there is a puffer in Worcetershire its on the river seven it's the Vic 99 but not many people know that.
steve Jenkinson
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Hugh and Campbell dedicated puffer students whom we are very grateful for their Summers work and who were a pleasure to work with ... See MoreSee Less

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Some Islay men examine the whisky. Bruichladdich Distillery's Joanne keeps a watchful eye over them, ensuring the inspection doesn't extend to tasting! #thewhiskyinspectors Huge thanks to Bruichladdich and Joanne for all their support. ... See MoreSee Less

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We would like to thank you for all your donations on a very successful day. However as you can see from the photograph there are still some Islay men standing so don't stop now! Please telephone Crinan Boatyard 01546 830 232 or email john@crinanboatyard.co.uk ... See MoreSee Less

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