The magic of the Firth of Forth
Beautiful summer weather, so time for a break away from some of the big and worrying issues of our shipping industry today. At the end of June, I managed to spend some time in Dalgety Bay, Fife, overlooking the Firth of Forth. We look across the Firth to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and to the famous historic port of Leith - greatly gentrified since my own deep sea days. A visit to Dalgety Bay is always a delight.
During the wonderful weather we experienced, it was a real pleasure to view the passing of many ships - some big, some small - some elegant, some not so elegant – indeed, some downright functional, but all fascinating. The burgeoning strength of the Forth Cruise business was quickly evidenced by a steady stream of cruise ships including Balmoral, Brilliance of the Seas, Zuiderdam, Aegean Odyssey, MSC Meraviglia and Royal Princess to name just a few. These cruise ships bring considerable benefits to the local and Scottish economies; for their passengers the Firth of Forth provides wonderful visual scenes, not least the impressive and majestic Forth Railway Bridge, the Forth Road Bridge and the stunning new Queensferry Crossing Bridge.
I readily admit, as I have said before, that today’s cruise vessels do not all visually appeal to me and, indeed, some resemble a block of flats cast adrift on the sea, but as the Balmoral headed for the open sea, she looked a real picture - a credit to her onboard teams and company.
To me, however, it is the small coasters, container ships, tankers and assorted commercial craft that appeal. They are the workhorses, the unsung heroes that quietly come and go, largely unnoticed, and unremarked upon, but vital to keeping this maritime nation of ours supplied in good times and bad.
I watch fascinated as the Gaschem tanker Gaschem Bremen swings to line up her approach to the Braefoot Marine Terminal and on several occasions, watch as large oil tankers berth carefully at Hound Point assisted by powerful and smart looking tugs. On this visit, I even managed to nip into Rosyth to view the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier Prince of Wales at her fitting out berth from a suitable vantage point. Across the Forth at Ocean Terminal, Leith, maintained in pristine condition, lies the former Royal Yacht Brittania, now one of Scotland’s busiest and most popular visitor attractions.
A few miles from Dalgety Bay is Kirkcaldy and it is uplifting to see that Kirkcaldy Harbour, which lay virtually unused for many years until direct grain shipments to Carrs mill (formerly Hutchison’s) resumed in 2011, is still shipping grain in by sea from UK, European and North American ports. This rebirth of the port owes much to an initiative by Forth Ports (owners of Kirkcaldy Harbour), Carrs and the Scottish Government. It highlights how such projects using marine highways (virtually maintenance free except in port approaches) can take many heavy freight movements off our already under pressure road systems.
To me, the Firth of Forth, with its wonderful and historic maritime heritage, acts as a magnet - so many ships in the past were built here and many of our great vessels ended their days here including the beautiful Mauretania II, broken up at Ward’s, Inverkeithing in 1965. The beauty, history and magic of this wonderful Firth of Forth never fails to impress and inspire.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR