In 1876, James Gardner commissioned a small vessel to transport quarried stone from Ballachulish to Glasgow. He also opened an office in Renfield Street, Glasgow as a shipping agent.
In 1879, the Company J & A Gardner was formed by his sons, John and Alexander, and from then on progressed as ship owners by transporting quarry products from the quarries of Ardchatten, Bonawe and Craigpoint by the shores of Loch Etive.
From 1892 and into the early 1900s, the fleet increased as demand grew for the products in an ever-developing Glasgow. The Company decided to use ships named after Irish and Scottish Celtic saints. These saints reflected religious connections between Ireland and Scotland during the early days of Christianity in the British Isles.
The name Saint Brandan was first used in 1924, the name being derived from the different spellings of Saint Brendan - a 5th century Irish Saint - who was best known as the “Navigator” due to his many voyages. He eventually became the patron saint of seafarers and travellers.
After the end of the WWI, Gardner’s decided on a building programme using the shipyard of Scott’s, founded at Greenock in 1711. They also had a small yard based at Bowling. Scott’s built over 1,250 ships in their time. In 1967, they merged with Lithgows and became Scott-Lithgow and continued until 1993 when the company became defunct. In November 1924, Scott’s of Bowling completed the construction of the first of the Saint Brandan vessels.
This ship was the last of the type with a raised threequarter deck. Her engine was a steam compound engine and of single shaft and screw. Her dimensions were 44m length and 7.3 m width, tonnage 386 Grt. Sadly, she did not have a long career, and in 1928, set sail on a voyage from Wisbech to Glasgow via Skye with 200 tons of barley. After she had sailed from Skye on 19th October, she ran into a severe westerly gale near to the Cairns of Coll. She eventually grounded north of Rubha Mor peninsula.
Captain MacDonald and nine crew abandoned the vessel using the ship’s lifeboats and spent some three hours trying to reach the nearest shore. They were eventually picked up a passing Fleetwood trawler, the City of York. The Saint Brandan stranded with her mid-ship section on the rocks, her hull being hammered constantly in the ensuing storm until, eventually, she was reported to have overturned and sunk in approximately ten fathoms. A few days later, another of the Company’s vessels Bonawe was in the area, but sighted no trace of the wreck. It was reported in the Times in column, ships wrecked off the Scottish coast on 22nd October 1928.
Saint Brandan (II)
In 1929, Gardner’s decided to build another Saint Brandan; this vessel was launched on 8th June 1930 and completed by Scott & Sons the following month. Her dimensions were 199ft x 32.1ft x 12ft and 917 Grt. Her engine was made by Aitchison Blair Ltd of Greenock, being a T3 cylinder of 134nhp.
On 21st June of 1935, just five years after her entry into service, the Saint Brandan was on a voyage from Port Talbot with a cargo of coal destined for Rouen, when she grounded in thick fog south east of Cape Barfleur. She was refloated the following day, but sank while under tow some five miles from Cherbourg. All eleven crew were rescued. Her place in Gardner’s fleet was taken by a vessel named Princetown (renamed Saint Conan).
During the post-war period whilst it was a positive time for shipowners, due to family uncertainties, Gardner’s refrained from commissioning any newbuilds. During the 1950s, ships were being built with diesel engines and so the demise of the steamship had begun.
Saint Brandan (III)
In 1960, Gardner’s continued to increase their fleet and placed two orders for motorships to be built at Dutch shipyards. One of these was to be third vessel carrying the name of Saint Brandan. On the 25th May 1960, she was launched from the shipyard of Gideon in Groningen. The intention was that she would operate around the Baltic and North European areas. She was completed in July 1960. Her dimensions were 196’5” x 29’11” x 12’9”, and having a tonnage of 699 Grt and 339 Nrt. Her engine was a 65 bhp 4SA 8-Cyl oil engine with single-reduction gearing made by English Electric of Newtonle- Willows. She also had two holds and two 3-ton derricks.
During 1968 the ownership of Saint Brandan was transferred to Cottesbrooke Shipping Co. Ltd controlled by Charles Connell & Sons Ltd due to the advantages to be gained from subsidies and tax incentives. In 1969, the registered ownership of Saint Brandan was returned to J & A Gardner’s. In September 1970, having spent some time undergoing repairs at Bowling on the Lower Clyde, the Saint Brandan sailed for Liverpool to load machinery destined for Antwerp. During the night of the 8th September, in a heavy storm approximately forty-five miles from Trevose Head in the Bristol Channel, fire broke out on board the vessel.
The Captain, fearing that the vessel was about to sink, abandoned the vessel along with the crew and were rescued by a French trawler in the vicinity. The vessel did not sink, but drifted towards the Welsh coast where naval HMS Cavalier managed to secure a towline. She was then slowly towed into Milford Haven. After assessing the fire damage to the vessel it was deemed a total loss. Arrangements were made to tow the vessel to Holland where the vessel had been bought by Dutch owners.
In 1973, the Saint Brandan was converted into an inland waterways sand carrier and was re-named Beteigeuze. During the 1970s, shipping trades and vessel types were developing with the advent of modern roll-on roll-off vessels. Containerisation was also on the go and this trade expanded rapidly on many coastal and European trade routes. Many structural and building projects were happening around the UK and, with this in mind, Gardner’s saw the need to construct small ro-ro vessels that could access many shallow water ports, particularly in the Scottish Islands. The yard of James W Cook & Co (Wivenhoe) Ltd on the River Colne was chosen to build a number of these vessels for the company.
Saint Brandan (IV)
In 1976, construction of the fourth Saint Brandan was commenced to be ready for delivery at the end of the year. Her dimensions were 63.80 x 10.73 x 4.07 mtrs, Grt 931.40 tonnes, and Nrt 500.97 tonnes. Her Dwt tonnage was 1,300 tonnes. She had one continuous hold capable of being fitted with portable wooden bulkheads making it suitable for the carriage of grain, stone and other bulk cargoes. She did not have a raised forecastle deck but, instead, the hatch covers were flush with the foredeck allowing a continuous “roadway” for the on loading of ro-ro and heavy lift vehicles.
Her hold capacity for grain was 1,842 cu m and for bale cargoes was 1,770 cu m. The flush foredeck was strengthened to take vehicle traffic with maximum axle loading of 30 tonnes and wheel loading of 7.5 tonnes; the maximum deck load being 360 tonnes. Instead of a normal ship’s conventional bow, she had a ramp so that vehicles could be driven onboard, its height being controlled by careful ballasting operations.
Instead of a normal windlass she had low-set capstans at each side of the foredeck, of which the upper drum was for the use of wires to open and close the hatch covers, while the lower half incorporated the anchor chain. This configuration meant that wide loads could pass over easily. The side bulwarks at the bow ramp were designed to be opened out while the goalpost masts could be dismantled entirely to allow wide loads to pass through. At her launch she did not have a deck crane, but the company intended to fit this at a future date.
Her engine was a Ruston 6RK3CM with average consumption of 3 tonnes per day with a mean speed of 10 kts. Over the years the Cook’s yard had built many types and sizes of vessels, but the Saint Brandan was the largest vessel built and launched so far. On the 7th September 1976, after the traditional bottle of champagne had been broken over her bow by Lavinia Mary, Duchess of Norfolk, the ship moved down the slipway.
Unfortunately, she came stuck part way down. The next day the vessel was seen to have toppled off the slipway. It was felt by the management that the vessel was too heavy for the slipway, so a heavy lift crane was called in to re-establish the vessel’s position. On the 12th September, the RB Telford heavy lift crane barge arrived from Southampton and manoeuvres were commenced to re-position the vessel. Finally, on the 26th September, the Saint Brandan was launched successfully into the river. The sea trials were held off Brightlingsea at the mouth of the River Colne, during which time she achieved a speed of 11.5 knots.
On the 8th December, the vessel was handed over to J & A Gardner Company at Greenhithe in Kent. The ship commenced her maiden voyage under the command of Captain John Hume and, in the years, completed many coastal journeys carrying a diverse range of cargoes including grain, animal feeds, aggregates and fertilizers. The heavy lift and ro-ro facility was used on many occasions transporting generators and transformers for power stations, and large boilers for gasworks. Sometimes the complete low loader was carried on board to its destination to avoid the complicated journey by road.
Towards the 1980s, the shipping industry in general was affected by poor freight rates and some companies were forced to re-think their shipping commitments. After the Falklands War, a niche market opened up due to military commitments on the islands. There arose a need for the re-supply and enhancement of Falkland bases, so Gardner’s placed a bid to secure the MOD contract for this work. The ship was selected by the MOD because of her ability to navigate narrow creeks and inlets, particularly because of her shallow draft of 3m.