Steam ship restoration project: volunteers needed

Steam ship restoration project: volunteers needed

An old steamship, SS Explorer, formerly a research vessel,  is currently being restored. A team of volunteers is helping, but they are to find more, especially anyone with engineering know-how and time to spare.

Here are a few facts about ‘Explorer’  – such as why she’s important, and what she needs:

  • ‘Explorer’ is a unique survivor – a celebration of shipbuilding, science, adventure and perseverance.
  • She’s the only Scottish steam trawler still intact, and still in Scotland.
  • Last triple-expansion steam trawler built in Scotland & possibly rest of world.
  • Last triple-expansion marine steam engine built in Aberdeen.
  • Last steamship registered to Leith.
  • One of the laststeam ships built by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen, if not the last.
  • Fisheries Research for whole career, operated by the Marine Laboratory in Torry.
  • Pioneered new fishing gear & methods, plus trawler construction materials & techniques.
  • First research ship to be fitted with on-board computer
  • Multiple important scientific discoveries – As former Chief Scientist aboard John Dunn has pointed out, if she had a ‘Blue Plaque’ on her for every one and each celebrated oceanographer that cut their teeth aboard, they’d go all the way around the superstructure.

From an Engineering standpoint, she has some interesting features:

Based on Artic class trawler lines , but designed as a research vessel from the word go!

  • Last traditionally built boat from Aberdeen (ie. Keel laid, frames erected then plated).
  • Riveted Steel hull to Lloyds ‘A1’ Ice Class.
  • Riveted & welded Aluminium wheelhouse.
  • Very heavy build to Admiralty spec in a lot of areas.
  • All auxiliaries electrically powered by 2x Ruston 6VPH mains & a Ruston 4VRH ‘harbour set’.
  • 1,000 ihp main engine by Alexander Hall, Aberdeen with one-off condenser.
  • Steam main trawl winch, secondary winch, and anchor winch by Charles D Holmes, Hull.
  • Triple-furnace, forced induction, oil-fired ‘Scotch’ boiler by Denny’s.
  • Oil-fired central heating on separate ‘Robin Hood’ boiler throughout ship.
  • Electric Telegraphs by Siemens – plus voice tubes.
  • Electric/Hydraulic steering gear.
  • Multiple hydrographic and oceanographic instruments & logging devices.
  • State of the art labs for research work.
  • Fully equipped workshop with 6’ Rollo Lathe, Pillar Drill, & grinding wheel.

At this stage, a return to steam is unlikely. It’s not something that would be well funded in any case, nor is there a market or infrastructure for steam pleasure cruises in the Firth of Forth/East Coast. Nothing is impossible, but the work needed to satisfy the various legislative, regulatory, and environmental concerns would need millions of pounds and many years.

The aim therefore is to restore ‘Explorer’ as a world class static exhibit with as much onboard machinery and items in working condition as possible. The goal is to operate her as a maritime, cultural & scientific heritage attraction in conjunction with the emerging Leith Museum, and other attractions such as the Scottish Museum on Chamber’s Street, Edinburgh.  One volunteer said “We want to educate and enthral people, plus provide a space for the community & arts to use. We also hope to work with the local college to offer multiple skills training opportunities for all ages and ability.”

Ultimately, they want the ship to have a job again. To earn her keep.

At present the ‘Explorer’ is in time-warp condition and basically sound. All work done on board is voluntary, and much has been achieved with very little money over the years. The main fundraising objectives we need to meet in the short to medium term are for Asbestos Removal and Drydocking – the latter of which would include full hull survey, repairs and painting as necessary. While the Asbestos onboard is surveyed and accounted for, we’d rather it was just gone. As for the dry-docking ‘Explorer’ was last in one around 1996, so it is long overdue. The target for both of these projects is above £250,000 based on a recent quote from Dales Marine in Leith.

Pics of the ship and ongoing work can be seen on Twitter (@SS_Explorer or #RestoreExplorer), and Facebook (search for ‘S.S.Explorer’).

You can contact the Preservation Society on their web site.



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