Many readers will recall the Antarctic research vessel, RRS John Biscoe which voyaged to the Antarctic every year from 1956 until she was retired from service in 1991.
I had the good fortune to sail as Second Mate in this redoubtable vessel. During each voyage south, the vessel engaged in the relief and resupply of the various scientific research bases operated by the British Antarctic Survey. It was hard work, but very interesting and rewarding. A lot of work was conducted using the various workboats carried. Three Gemini inflatables with 40hp outboards were used for beach landings with scientist field parties. For heavier cargo transfer at the various bases, a 30ft wooden scow was loaded with up to eight tons. This was towed by a 24ft diesel-powered wooden launch. The launch was stowed inside the scow on the port side of the for’d well deck. In addition to towing the scow, the launch was extensively used as a general workboat.
John Biscoe was retired from service in 1991, and was sold for further service in the Mediterranean, as Fayza Express. But what happened to the launch? I knew that she had been installed in the new ship, the James Clark Ross, but was soon replaced with a new boat. I left BAS in 1975, and had no further association with the ships. So I was amazed to notice in the TV coverage of the Jubilee river pageant, on the Thames in 2012, a very familiar-looking red boat! And yes, I was right! It was our old launch, still going strong. I discovered that she was owned by the harbour authority at Eyemouth.
The Harbourmaster had entered the boat in the Pageant as one of the “workboat” representatives. I gather it was a considerable achievement to get her ready and taken to London for the event. In the summer of 2015, I had to travel to Rosyth to join a cruise ship as guest lecturer. I decided it would be a good opportunity to stop at Eyemouth and visit an old friend! But contacting the Harbourmaster elicited the information that the boat had been sold to the Friars Goose boatyard at Gateshead, for use as their yard workboat.
Accordingly, a few phone calls were made, and in August 2015 I found myself on board the venerable old craft, afloat on the Tyne. However, the story has an uncertain ending. The boatyard wishes to dispose of the launch, as she is not substantial enough for their duties as yard launch. It would be very sad if this venerable survivor just sinks into oblivion. Those responsible for her at the yard are keen to see her going to “a good home”. I feel that she deserves a place, either in a museum or in active use. I wonder if Sea Breezes readers can provide a solution.
CAPTAIN DAVID BRAY, FNI
4 Church Rise
Oulton Broad, NR32 3JP
E-Mail: davidjames.bray@ btinternet.com