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Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Boat Factory at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Boat Factory by Dan Gordon


2-26 AUGUST 2012 (NOT 14) AT 6.30PM - 1HR 20MINS


TEL: 0131 226 0000 / TICKETS £9-£13 (PREVIEWS 2+3 AUG £5)
A play about the life and times of the men at the famous Harland & Wollf Shipyard in Belfast
As sent to me and now endorsed by the Leithshipyards website
As someone who keenly preserves our shipbuilding heritage, I thought you might be interested in hearing about a play that we are bringing from Belfast to Hill Street Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August which celebrates the people, history and achievements of Belfast's Harland & Wolff shipyard - our tribute to a proud maritime heritage which I know is shared by Scotland. The play was written by Dan Gordon whose grandfather was a labourer who came from the shipyards on the Clyde to the shipyards of Belfast. Dan spent years researching the subject matter, talking to many shipyard workers and their families. He gathered material from interviews, anecdotal evidence, and historical research to recreate the background against which 1700 ships were built by Harland and Wolff Shipyards. He also drew extensively on his own close personal knowledge of the subject matter through his own family history. His father served his time as an apprentice Joiner in the Belfast Shipyard in the early 1950s, alongside his five brothers and the husbands of his two sisters, and worked on the last great liner they ever built - The Canberra. Set in 1947, the play follows the life of a young apprentice and is a poignant and humorous tale of friendship, pride, skill, nobility and, above all, heart.

As Dan says on writing the play: “I’ve lived in the shadow of those big yellow cranes all my life and I wanted to tell their story because they are so much a part of me and our collective heritage. Harland & Wolff built Titanic, the greatest ship in history, but there is a great deal more to the achievements of the thousands of Yardmen. They built over 1700 ships with pride and skill unmatched anywhere else in the world, and we need to celebrate that. Every house in the East had a poker for the fire or a fire screen made in the Shipyard – every house had someone or a relative who worked there – by the age of four, I’d seen 5 ships launched – all across the East we could hear the morning Siren when it was time to change shift. My Father’s tales of the men he worked with and the ships they built were legendary – from craftsmen to wee crafty men he knew and worked alongside them – their nicknames – their personalities – their disagreements and their triumphs – I want to tell their stories as he told them to me.”

Dan performs in the play with fellow actor Michael Condron. Together they chart the history of the men who worked in the yard, conjuring up a host of colourful characters from the glory days of the shipbuilding era when, at the height of production, nearly 35,000 men worked on the 300 acre site complete with power station, docks, machine shops, engine works and saw mills. The Boat Factory has steadily grown in stature from its humble beginnings in the Westbourne Community Presbyterian Church (the shipyard church in east Belfast), travelling right across Northern Ireland to the very heart of our community, playing in prisons, orange halls, parish halls, schools, and Belfast City Hall. It went on to play to packed houses in the Barnett Room of the Belfast Harbour Office during the 2011 Belfast Festival at Queen’s and it was the headline production in the opening of Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland’s newest visitor attraction.

We have been particulary delighted and moved by the response of former shipyard workers - these are just some of the many comments we have received:

"Saw `The Boat Factory` at Titanic Belfast last night. Just wonderful! Two men and a bit of scaffolding - had me completely entranced for two hours. What a fabulous bit of writing and performing. They made an inventory of the contents of a toolbox sound like a Shakespearean sonnet. I think you can take it that I really enjoyed it! Congratulations to Dan Gordon and Michael Condron"

“A skilfully crafted production, wholly befitting of the Belfast Men it celebrates. I marvelled, laughed out loud and cried sore - it quare took it out of me! The show left with me a new sense of pride about being born in Belfast and having grown up in the shadow of The Yard. Well done to all. Good on ye!”

“I was privileged to be at Westbourne Presbyterian to see the opening performance of The Boat Factory. It drew me in like a child listening to an incredible bed time story. Thank you Dan for opening up your heart and your talent to other people’s memories and for allowing me, for a brief moment in time, to work along side the east Belfast men and boys in the boat factory.”

“For an evening's entertainment "The Boat Factory" would be hard to beat. It was beautifully executed, fast, clever, funny and thought provoking- what more could you ask for? Brilliant!”

“A very moving and fitting tribute to all who have worked or been associated with H & W shipyard. We need to preserve this rich heritage and folk memory and I feel that last night's performance will go a long way to achieving that aim.”

“I don’t normally write appreciation letters when I attend a play I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed it. It was very moving and a fitting tribute to all who have worked or been associated with H & W shipyard. My grandfather was a labourer and my father an Electric Welder until he became a foreman. My grandmother scraped the money together to pay for his apprenticeship. Last night's play has given me some insight into the sacrifice he made for me.”

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

SS EXPLORER-Restoration Project


The SS EXPLORER is one of the last examples of a bygone era in shipbuilding and she is now berthed at Leith Docks, registered at Leith but built in Aberdeen this huge restoration project is all about giving back to the people of Leith in the hope that some of the old now, almost lost skills of shipbuilding can be passed on by willing volunteers.
Ship Construction Ship Construction
Ship Construction, Seventh Edition, offers guidance for ship design and shipbuilding from start to finish. It provides an overview of current shipyard techniques, safety in shipyard practice, materials and strengths, welding and cutting, and ship structure, along with computer-aided design and manufacture, international regulations for ship types, new materials, and fabrication technologies. Comprised of seven sections divided into 32 chapters, the book introduces the reader to shipbuilding, including the basic design of a ship, ship dimensions and category, and development of ship types. It then turns to a discussion of rules and regulations governing ship strength and structural integrity, testing of materials used in ship construction, and welding practices and weld testing. Developments in the layout of a shipyard are also considered, along with development of the initial structural and arrangement design into information usable by production; the processes involved in the preparation and machining of a plate or section; and how a ship structure is assembled. A number of websites containing further information, drawings, and photographs, as well as regulations that apply to ships and their construction, are listed at the end of most chapters. This text is an invaluable resource for students of marine sciences and technology, practicing marine engineers and naval architects, and professionals from other disciplines ranging from law to insurance, accounting, and logistics. Covers the complete ship construction process including the development of ship types, materials and strengths, welding and cutting and ship structure, with numerous clear line diagrams included for ease of understanding Includes the latest developments in technology and shipyard methods, including a new chapter on computer-aided design and manufacture Essential for students and professionals, particularly those working in shipyards, supervising ship construction, conversion and maintenance

A fine project that deserves all the support they can get, you can find out lots more by visiting the ship restoration pages on the Leith Shipyards website or at SS EXPLORER Preservation Society

Chipping and Painting her hull at the Edinburgh Dock, Leith

(Photographs are courtesy of the SS EXPLORER Preservation Society)


Pleased to be able to show some new photographs of the unfortunate Ro-Ro Vessel HERO Ship No 511 built at the Leith Shipyards of Robb Caledon (Henry Robb)

The photographs are shown by permission of Rudi van der Sluis

Who runs an excellent website about the great shipyards of Amsterdam and can be found at

A very interesting site for any one with an interest in shipbuilding and the people who built the ships in Amsterdam, shipyards with a great history and unfortunately they also found the yards in the same position as the great shipyards of the British Isles.

The MV HERO just prior to her "Jumbosizing" in 1976 at the Amsterdam DryDock Company
(Photograph is shown here by permission)


Two ships built at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb for one of the famous shipping companies of New Zealand

The coasters PURIRI II (Ship No 363) and MAMAKU (Ship No 389) were built for the Anchor Steamship Company, of New Zealand.

PURIRI II was a replacement vessel for the original PURIRI also built at the Leith Shipyards but sunk during World War II

PURIRI II with her old wooden Bridge House
(Photo is copyright of Barry Noel and shown here by permission)

The Twin Screw M.V. MAMAKU was very similar to other coasters built for New Zealand waters, real work horses and nothing too fancy about them, based on a design first conceived during the war. With the old classic look of wooden bridge structure.

M.V.MAMAKU with her wood Bridge Structure shown in port in New Zealand.
(Photograph is copyright by Barry Noel and shown here by permission)

Lots more new and exclusive photographs can be seen on the ships pages at Leithshipyards website.

(Thanks to Barry Noel photography)