Follow forthyachts on Twitter


This article was originally published in RYA Scotland’s Clubsail ten years ago. Change has continued apace, calling for an update.

The West Coast

In the 1970’s work took me on ships in Glasgow docks to inspect their cargoes but British tonnage was declining and fewer ships were coming up the Clyde. In the early 1990’s my yacht master instructor commented on this dwindling source of tutors, "In my youth there were 2,000 a year going into the Merchant Navy as cadets. Last year there were 20."

By the 1980’s Glasgow’s Queen's dock had gone and the three basins of Princes dock were being filled in. The King George V dock had become disused(1). Shipbuilding was hanging on in Govan, Kvaerner taking over Govan shipbuilders in 1988. The Govan yard is now part of BAE Systems.

Down river, the container port at Greenock was expanding and a deepwater berth was built at Hunterston. Containerisation was taking over from general cargo ships. The American submarine depot ship and her charges left the Holy Loch but North Sea oil was booming and large numbers of containers of oil-well drilling equipment were arriving at Greenock.

The Clyde is no longer dredged for big ships up to Glasgow and the three huge port silos of Meadowside granary have been demolished, replaced by blocks of flats. In 1984 the Renfrew chain ferry ceased operation. Now almost traffic free, the Upper Clyde provides a way of seeing the second city of the Empire and some reminders of those days, the Finnieston crane, miles of quays, famous yards and the square rigger Glenlee. Less well known is the excellent collection of marine engines at the Glenlee, including several Kelvins once shipped all over the world from Glasgow and still manufactured at the Dobbies Loan factory in the early 1970s.

New marinas on the Clyde and the West Coast are testimony to the growth of leisure sailing and have helped reduce the economic decline of coastal villages. The expansion of keel boat sailing they have facilitated is greater than is immediately apparent. When the summer berth holders come out of the water for the winter the marinas provide safe storage afloat acceptable to insurers for boats that during the summer are kept on swinging moorings in the sea lochs. In part this has come about from house building round the Clyde sea lochs, their owners wanting boats and laying moorings off their property. Loch side roads are now peppered with “no overnight camping” signs as people defend their newly acquired patch, understandable when you see the litter left by some visitors.

With the growth in leisure boating, perhaps surprising is the contraction of Glasgow yacht chandlers, the end of Simpson Lawrence and the closure of Clyde Chandlers in Great Western Road. The new marinas have their own chandlers and more recently Internet trading has had an impact. The internet also affects fishing boat chandlers, important to leisure sailors for mooring components. The long term decline in wooden boat building has continued but Fifes of Fairlie keeps the tradition going. McGruers of Clinder now provides other yacht services.

The East Coast

On the East Coast, membership of the EEC brought more trade with Europe and Common Agricultural Policy crop subsidies led barley growing to expand rapidly. Exporting the grain mountain provided welcome new business. I was now inspecting ships in the north east ports prior to loading.

Prosperity from offshore oil has tended to mask the decline of inshore fishing. Oil rig support was a factor in establishing the Peterhead Bay marina, providing safe separation of leisure and commercial craft. On the Forth, the Hound Point oil terminal was built and later extended. Rig building and rig moves, with an array of tugs, were something new.

Engineering succession has continued with fabrication of wind and tidal power renewable energy generators. Wind generator manufacture is now the mainstay of the former rig fabrication yard at Arderseir. The planned wind farm in the outer Moray Firth will give yachtsmen crossing the firth a position fix and another closer inshore off the Aberdeenshire coast has planning permission.

Cruise ships now regularly anchor off the Hound Point terminal, passengers being ferried ashore at the Hawes pier to a fleet of waiting mini buses. Like Loch Striven, recession hit shipping fills the anchorages further down the river off Kirkcaldy, waiting for orders.

Besides increasing sea borne traffic, offshore oil has given yachtsmen encouragement to cross the North Sea. The North Sea Race, "The Banff to Stavanger", has provided race support and check in with one of the rigs. Since the boom of the early years of offshore oil we have seen retrenchment in the industry with job losses at Sullom Voe and elsewhere followed by renewed expansion with drilling and production to the west of Shetland.

On the Upper Forth the expansion of the Grangemouth refinery supplied by the Forties Field pipeline and its burgeoning satellite chemical industry has helped turn Grangemouth docks into the busiest port on the East Coast of Scotland. Container ships and timber imports add to the traffic. The Grangemouth approach channel is dredged daily but large vessels are constrained by their draft. The 1,150,000 tonnes a year of dredging spoil from the Grangemouth approach channel, formerly taken down river, is now dumped off Bo'ness. Mooring sinkers and ground chains once accessible for inspection at low water now require excavation with shuttering.

Kincardine power station ash slurry piped to Preston Island is still used for land reclamation and feeding grounds for overwintering wading birds are disappearing. Managed re-alignment, letting the sea have back reclaimed land, such as at Skinflats is helping address this.

At Rosyth, much reduced Royal Naval presence has been offset by the privatised dockyard and the Fast Ferry service to Zeebrugge. The size of the turning circle of this Ferry means utilising both sides of the shipping channel when entering or leaving the port. Building the Clackmannanshire Bridge and the new Forth road bridge under construction at South Queensferry has seen a big increase in river traffic, especially barges.

Longannet Power station is short of a big ship deep water berth so rail is the transport of choice for its coal supply. A few years back I was present on the occasion of the first hundred wagon coal train. The Stirling, Alloa, Kincardine line re-opened in 2008 facilitating trains direct from Hunterston reducing traffic on the Forth rail bridge.

Elsewhere former fishing harbours needing business have been turning to leisure boating, Anstruther and Troon being two examples. The Forth and Clyde canal was reopened in 2001 and it is hoped that the new cut and eastern sea lock currently under construction will lead to greater user numbers. The increase in approach soundings and overhead clearance will certainly help.

Increase in water sport participation

The number of dive shops in Scotland is an indication of the growth of the sport, much of which is from boats. Sea angling presents a similar picture of boat use, a mix of privately owned, club and hired. Sea kayaking and dinghy cruising have also expanded rapidly, specialist centres appearing. So called ‘extreme sports’, pushing the boundaries of conventional activities, means that you can meet a kayaker, surfer or kite surfer some distance out to sea.

Inshore fishing

Inshore fishing has seen both a decline and a switch from trawling for fish to langoustines (prawns). Prawn boats trawl at night when the animals leave their burrows and as they are found in deeper water the boats are found further out to sea. The decline of inshore fish stocks has also encouraged conversion to creeling for crab, lobster and prawns. It is not unusual to find a boat putting out a thousand pots. Fouling creel lines particularly when under way at night has become much more of a hazard.

Scottish aquaculture

One of the biggest changes in use of coastal waters has been the spectacular growth of the aquaculture industry, from almost nothing in the early 1970s. This been so rapid that Brian Lavery in his Maritime Scotland(2) doesn’t mention it. Knowledge of fish and shellfish farming is now useful for safe navigation of inshore waters. On the West Coast and the islands salmon and mussel farming remains the fastest growing industry. Factor in the long-term population decline in these areas and one begins to see how important this industry is, providing year round rather than seasonal employment and helping retain tourism and transport infrastructure.

Like cage fish farming, the drawback of shellfish farming to yachtsmen is the mussel rafts and buoyed long lines from which the dropper ropes the mussels grow on are suspended. This equipment tends to occupy sheltered anchorages the cruising man heads for and boats have to detour round it. One can’t sail over mussel long lines but they are worth getting used to, having little visual impact and constituting sustainable use of the locality that excludes other less desirable industry.

Fish feed, a pelletised ration, is often supplied to fish cages from moored barges by means of floating polythene pipes along which the pellets are blown by compressed air. One can’t sail over them. They are black and hard to see in low light.

Scottish salmon farming produces around 150,000tonnes of fish annually. This has been made possible by developments in well boat technology. Well boats go back to the days of wooden sailing ships when, in the absence of refrigeration, fish were transported live in flooded holds. The modern well boat has come a very long way since those days. It is a substantial ship, a multi functional piece of high technology steered by a joystick on the bridge. The Norwegians own much of the Scottish salmon farming industry and lead the world in well boat development.

Juvenile salmon, smolts, are transported in well boats from where they are pumped into sea cages for on-growing. The vessel harvests the fish by reversing the process, hovering up the fish for transport to a shore based processing facility. The fish in the holds can be monitored from the bridge by CCTV and the cargo water chilled. This can be exchanged or circulated as required. Conditions such as dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide concentration and temperature are logged by instrumentation. Oxygen generators aboard provide for aeration should dissolved oxygen levels fall. Fish can be taken aboard for treatment with veterinary medicines under more controlled conditions than in the pens.

A hydraulic crane on the well boat can be used to lay cage moorings and lift cage nets. The boats also handle transport tasks such as moving fish feed, cage components and towing cages. All the different tasks the wellboat does explain why it is now a familiar sight on the West Coast and among the islands.

Salmon farmers have to cope with animal health problems like the infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) outbreak of 1998 and other biological threats such as algal and jelly fish blooms. The invasive non-native leathery sea squirt Didemnum vexillum and the mussel Mytilus trossulus pose risks to fish and shellfish farming. Both can be spread by fouled boat hulls. Besides keeping the boat hull clean the leisure sailor can help biosecurity by not putting rubbish over the side, especially fresh fish waste, and not flushing marine toilets in the vicinity of farms.

Light houses

The impact of technology has facilitated the automation of lighthouses(3) and advances in communications have set a continuing trend in reduction of HM Coastguard manning, CG station numbers and coast radio stations. Forth Radio has closed and few can have foreseen that the MRSC Fifeness and Clyde Station would also close. It means fewer observers watching our coasts, while bridge building and causeway construction continues to make West Coast ferrymen redundant. Four new causeways 1983-2001and the Scalpay bridge have transformed the Western Isles. The Skye Bridge has had a similar impact on the economy of the island. Navigational Aids reviews have progressively cut back and the Forth is no longer buoyed up to Alloa.

KGV Dock Glasgow early 1970s

Kelvin engine

Kelvin engine plate

Line of new Forth crossing viwed from the south

Caisson work in progress

Wellboat main deck

Sampling salmon

Cages with pipeline feeding

Salmon feed pellets for delivery to Shetland farms

Loch Roag mussel long lines

Skye bridge Kyle of Lochalsh


The RNLI and communications

New technology is also shaping the RNLI. Incident data held on geographical information systems is optimising utilisation of their resources. Sadly Maritime Rescue International Ltd. a charity providing training and rescue services based at Stonehaven is closing, not recovering from the December 2012 storm which damaged its boats. The RNLI is considering stationing a lifeboat there to fill the gap left in rescue coverage.

Mobile phone use afloat led to the demise of link calls and has limited the use of hand held VHF sets. The combination of mobile phone and fixed VHF ownership has slowed upgrading to digital selective calling and GMDSS. However Government has helped by removing the £22 a year charge for a ship radio licence. Whilst mobile phones are no substitute for a marine band VHF set they are extremely useful in sea lochs with no Coast Guard VHF coverage.

Wildlife tourism and environmental protection

Running boats for watching whales, seals, dolphins and birdlife has become a significant sector of the Scottish maritime economy and is expanding. Trip boats now include large RIBs with rows of seats.

Increasing concern for the environment and action to protect it has been a trend for many years. Inshore fishing has declined but all the herons we see up the Forth at Grangemouth are feeding on something. There are many indications of water quality improvement driven by the necessity to comply with the EU Water Framework Directive. Waste water treatment has much improved and TBT antifoulings which impacted on crustacean and molluscan shellfish have been withdrawn. However much remains to be done to curtail iron rich water pouring from old coal mine workings and coastal litter.

Increasing biological hazards

Growth in watersports and the multiplying rat population have increased the numbers of people exposed to the risk of Weil's disease (leptospirosis). River and canal banks are rat thoroughfares. The infection is generally acquired through broken skin. On the Upper Forth giant hogweed has been spreading so care is necessary when landing on overgrown banks. The sap of this plant sensitises the skin to sun light.

Deep sea fishing and transport

On-going restriction of total allowable catches and days at sea spell continuing change for fishing, just as welded steel has replaced the larch planks I used to watch going on oak frames at Nobles yard in Fraserburgh and on the shore at Arbroath.

Sea movements are increasing in scale. The Forth has recently seen huge steel caissons for the new road bridge, massive production modules for the Grangemouth refinery and sections of the aircraft carrier being built at Rosyth arrive on barges. Giant semisubmersible barges and crane barges are pushing the frontiers in Scottish waters.

Intensification of use of Scottish coastal waters and the Coastal Forum

For the leisure sailor increasingly busy traffic means attention to the rule of the road is vital. With the departure of reservists from Rosyth the triangle of three black balls of a vessel minesweeping is not often seen on the Forth but there is greater variety of day mark. Jack up rigs display the vertical three black balls of vessel aground. The towing diamond, anchor ball, cylinder of a vessel constrained by her draft and marks of vessels fishing are all commonly seen. At night the lights of fishing vessels with gear out, tugs pushing, towing and towing alongside and dredgers add complexity to recognition. A blaze of background lighting clutter from shore side development increases the difficulty.

The use of Scottish coastal waters is undergoing rapid change and growing numbers are using the resource for work and play. More intensive use means reconciling the varied interests and competing demands of a multitude of users. Planning issues in particular are increasingly generating work for the Scottish Government’s Coastal Forum and the RYA. For all users the Forum is a helpful information resource helping manage sustainable use of our coastal waters.



1. Half of Glasgow's Gone, Michael Dick, Brown, Son & Fergusson, 1986.

2. Maritime Scotland, Brian Lavery, Historic Scotland, 2001, ISBN 0713485205.

3. The Lighthouse Stevensons, Bella Bathhurst, Harper Collins 1999.



Paul Shave
yacht Blue Spindrift
3 April 2013