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Steam Tugs For South Africa


Steam Tugs For South Africa

The story starts, and ends (so far) with Fergusons. Back in 1913 South African Railways & Harbours Administration took delivery of their first Clydebuilt tug the LUDWIG WEINER, a 160 foot long vessel of 656 grt. They must have been pretty pleased with her for they came back for more and in 1915 Ferguson's delivered to them the smaller 255 grt J.W. SAUER plus what appears to have been a near idential tug to the LUDWIG WEINER, the SIR DAVID HUNTER (In the database it gives the customer as the South African Government, but I presume this is a technicality, as the Railways and Harbours in South Africa were (and still are) owned by the government)

There followed a gap of ten years before the next steam tug, the T.S. MCEWAN. Her triple expansion engines were built by her builders, Bow McLachlan & Company Paisley. A picture of her shows her smoking like fury, and indeed, she became affectionately known as 'Smokey Sue'. By all accounts she was a pretty famous vessel in the areas she worked. She was 170 feet long with a gross tonnage of 792.

The TS MCEWAN of 1925 (Photo supplied by Paul Strathdee
Another decade goes by and then a flurry of orders were placed by the SARH with the famous Lobnitz shipyard in Renfrew, all near identical they were:

C.F. KAYSER (1936)
T.ERIKSEN (1936)
F SCHERMBRUCKER (1937) - Featured in today's Launched Today series

Lobnitz were not the only company to benefit from a slew of orders, with A&J Inglis further upriver at Pointhouse being awarded the contract for two further tugs the THEODOR WOKER in 1938 and T.H. WATERMEYER which left their yard in 1939. All of the tugs were approximately 155 feet long and of 600 to 620 grt

After the war it was five years before the Clyde was asked to build another tug, but in the meantime all of these hardy wee ships performed their arduous tasks in busy harbours. The post-war boom meant shipping exploded anew and new vessels were needed.

The F T BATES (Photo supplied by Tom Carreyette
To Ferguson Shipbuilders they went and two fine new tugs were produced in 1950 and 1951, the F.T. BATES and the A.M. CAMPBELL respectively.

Both identical at 787 grt and 175 feet 4 inches they were powered by triple expansion engines and could achieve 13 knots.

You would have thought these newbuilds were to replace some of the older ones, but not so, it would be some time yet until the first went to the scrappers!

The next new steam driven tug to be built on the Clyde for South Africa was the R.B. WATERSTON, but this time they went back to Renfrew. Not Lobnitz this time but Simons in 1954. Launched on the 21st August, she was 704 grt and 165 feet long.

The years were begining to tell on our first tugs of the nineteen tens. Of the first set of newbuilds the first was to outlast the rest, but not by very much. SIR DAVID HUNTER was sent to the breakers at Durban in 1959, with the J.W. SAUER going the year after and in 1962 the LUDWIG WEINER. They had performed their tasks and replacements came down to South Africa as they went. Yet again, the circle of history came round and Ferguson's scooped the lot.

The first of these last steam tug orders was the DANIE HUGO and the F.C. STURROCK. The DANIE HUGO was launched 15th October 1958 and completed early 1959. F.C. STURROCK followed being launched 25th March 1959 and delivered later that year. Both were 812 grt and 176 feet long.

The final steam tug for South Africa was the J.R. MORE, similar to her two previous sisters, and she made her debut in 1961.

The end came for T.S. MCEWAN in 1974, and she suffered the ignominy of having to wait her eventual fate for three years. Preservation attempts failed, and, for reasons I find inexplicable, despite the fact that "Greedy Sue" (another name she acquired!) was held in great affection, she was reduced to a hulk, towed out and scuttled of Robben Island, 9th June 1977.

Very sad.

The next year the end was up for Lobnitz-built C.F KAYSER, T. ERIKSEN and F. SCHERMBRUCKER, all of them scrapped, closely followed in 1981 by JOHN X MERRIMAN, and E.S. STEYTLER (ex THEODOR WOKER)

Of this era's group yet another steam tug had a very ignominious end. The OTTO SIELDE was sank as target practise by the South African Navy in March 1981.

Of course, the age of the tugs did not necessarily determine their fate - tugs are so ruggedly built they could almost last forever, but technology and times change. The steam engines consumed vast amounts of fuel and the days of steam as a viable means of propulsion, especially in small ships, was coming to an end, even for the last of them.

In 1983, 1984 and 1985 all the rest of them were scrapped, bringing to an end the colourful sight of dirty wee smoke stacks amongst the ships in Port Elizabeth, Durban, Cape Town and East London.

Did I say all were scrapped? Thankfully one was saved, and is pictured below.

Ferguson's last steam tug, not only for South Africa, but for the world, is preserved at the Natal Maritime Museum in Durban.

A happy end to the story of Steam Tugs for South Africa.

The J R MORE (Photo: Tom Carreyette)



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