the history of the puffer.
VIC 72 - Vital Spark
'Vic 72' built in 1944 by Brown’s Shipyard in Hull for the Royal Navy to supply vitals. After she was decommissioned she was re registered the Eldesa and then again renamed the Eilean Eisdeal when she was bought by Chris Nicholson owner of Easdale Shipping Company in 1984. She was one of the last VIC class puffers built to have a loadline certificate to carry cargo. VIC stands for Victualing Inshore Craft (Victual meaning Supplies). The puffers were designed to negotiate the Crinan Canal and their max length could not exceed 67 ft
She was operated by Easdale Shipping Company and refitted with a Scania diesel engine, working out of Ayr harbour and Easdale harbour until her retirement.
The Eilean Eisdeal then had a major refit in preparation for her new life as the star attraction of the Inverary Maritime Museum. Russell Walsh, Ian Moodie and Mary MacNiven, the three partners in the museum, rescued the ailing puffer from almost certain ruin on the mud flats near Port Patrick, in Galloway. They ploughed all their time and energy - not to mention money - into the project to procure a puffer to join their existing vessel, the Arctic Penguin, on Loch Fyne. She was re-registered in 2006 as the Vital Spark after the stories written by the Inveraray writer Neil Munro who wrote about 'Para Handy', skipper of the puffer, the 'Vital Spark'. Inverary is the closest to a spiritual home any puffer captain could wish for. The birthplace of Neil Munro, author of the Para Handy tales detailing the picaresque adventures of the Vital Spark, Inverary is to puffers what Islay is to whisky.
Quotes from Rob Sharp former master of the Eilean Eisdeal
- "I was master on a wee Scottish coaster (puffer) called the Eilean Eisdeal she was all of 67 ft long and carried 132 tons of general cargo on her marks. Over the 5 yrs I was skipper on the "puffer", as she was affectionately called, we carried a variety of cargos including coal, fish food, hay, timber, lime, aggregate, sand, cheese, fish, malt, silica sand, kit homes, cars, tar, seaweed, telegraph poles, peat and hay. We were involved with salvage operations and helped test a very expensive winch for BP, and chugged about the West coast from Liverpool to Stornoway. By the time I joined the EE she had been refitted with a Scania Diesel DS11, which turned out to be a very reliable propulsion unit.”
- "Corpach at the Western End of Caledonian Canal was a great spot to load cargo as being in the basin it had no tidal influence and was always calm."
- "Loading coal in Corpach, involved listing the vessel to port and hoping like heck the 25 tons of coal when it came at a rush down a chute held up by the crane did not heal her so much to starboard that the crane slew could not handle trimming her. If she listed too much it was a case of all hands to the shovels.100 tons of coal filled the hold and trimmed the boat by the head so the forepeak had to be pumped dry or we steered like the proverbial dog peeing in the snow."
- "Alongside in Rhum, the bay had good shelter from every wind apart from Easterlies, but the blinkin midges are the worst anywhere and I'm including places like the Congo and Brazilian Rain forests too. I saw my engineer Colin clart his face with grease to try and stop them biting him as he shovelled the last of the coal trimmings so I could reach it with the grab. It did not work, they got caught in the grease and their wriggling drove him insane. "
- “First trip out from the yard we broke down East of Canna with what turned out to be part of a welding rod inside the fuel pump having knocked the timing out, how the rod got in there who knows but it meant having to be towed to Mallaig by a purser. After this initial drama the engine turned out to be really reliable and we actually were on the cover of Scania magazine one time due to the engines reliability."
- The Puffer had a flat bottom and was designed to beach and discharge cargo at low water with the use of a derrick, we improved on this method by installing an Atlas hydraulic crane with an extension that would reach the length of the hold and the highest wharfs around the isles, it did however take a while to perfect the crane extension and discharge throughout which we did a lot of shovelling. The flat bottom meant we could discharge in places other coasters couldn't reach, this sounds like a beer advert, anyway that was fine but the downside was the sea worthiness, sailing on the puffers was like sailing in a cross between a washing machine and a submarine, the wheelhouse window had been staved in by a wave, and we had a board covering the window, the owner never really gave me grief about not sailing due to the weather but after we had a rough night in the Irish sea with him aboard that was understandable, I think all ship owners should go through a really crap 24 hr storm to understand life afloat."
- "The entrance into Easdale was one of the trickiest I had to phone ahead to have all the small craft moved and there was always a big crowd of people came to watch us berth, the puffers had a single screw no bow thruster chain steering and no tugs although I did get the crew to push my bow with a 14 ft dingy we carried aboard , at times."