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.
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.
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 – January 2022
Following the flotation test in Autumn 2019, it had been hoped that 2020 would see a formal launch and steam trial. Whilst 2020 and 2021 were frustrating years for most of us for a multitude of reasons, it was still possible to make progress on the restoration of VIC 27 and various aspects of the vessel have been improved.
The hold coaming is being renewed and to this end, we have taken the opportunity to repair deck structure without having to undertake major works on the gunwales around the hold area down both sides of the vessel. This is a big job which is now nearing completion (January 2022).
[Pictures will be added here soon]
Within the hold area on other vessels of this kind, there is a T section from the fore to the aft bulkhead which runs parallel to the deck and about 6 feet below it. This needs to be bolted to each frame. The T-bar for this is no longer available as a ready-made steel section, so Barnshaws in Glasgow cut an H-beam in half and then rolled it straight. It was galvanised and then transported to Crinan on one of M & K Macleod’s lorries. The next challenge was to cut the beam to length and slide it into the hold….
[More pictures will be added here soon]
Pictures showing the fire grate and templates and more pictures of the new wheelhouse have recently been added. Information has also been added about renovation work in the forepeak area: The Captain’s Cabin & Forepeak
Latest news – October 2019
The plating is now all complete and VIC 27 has been down the slip to the water for the first time since she arrived at the Crinan Boatyard some years ago.
The preliminary flotation test was successful – just 2 small weeps identified. VIC 27 is now back ashore and a formal launch and steam trial is being planned for the spring of 2020.
The hold has been freshly painted – here you can see the anchor chain locker on the forward bulkhead.
The new wheelhouse is now complete (see vic27.co.uk/new-wheelhouse/) for more photos and information.
There are more photos of recent developments on the VIC 27 Facebook page – www.facebook.com/VIC27puffer
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.
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.
Some photos and news about the Open Day
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!
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 )
Latest news – August 2015
New boiler arrives and is lowered into the Engine Room – more details on this page: The boiler