Life at the end of the road

October 3, 2012

The ‘MV Hallaig’

Filed under: boats, daily doings, New hybrid ferry — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:07 pm

Well that’s another day crossed off the list


only 59 to go Sad smile It’s not been such a bad one, the afternoon being taken up by the most interesting bit, the electrical part.

I can’t remember what time that I finally turned into my ‘pit’ last night but it was late and I’d turned off the heating before I did, consequently when I awoke at the ridiculous time of 3:00am I was not warm Sad smile Trouble was that I was not cold enough to get out of bed and switch it back on, so I just tossed and turned for the next three hours alternating between sleeping on my back then front to heat up via the electric blanket Smile To be honest it probably wouldn’t have made any difference had I switched on the radiator as I often wake at this time then can’t sleep Sad smile

A fine sunrise greeted me once again, as did what appeared to be a ‘klondyker’, though after removing the sleep from my eyes and checking the


I realised it was in fact a 113m long monster trawler called Cornelis Vrolijk and the boat alongside it was the pilot cutter Collingwood. Still it didn’t stop me thinking about those ‘bonanza’ times for Ullapool and Shetland some twenty or so years ago. In those days dozens of these Eastern Bloc factory ships would appear to process herring and mackerel landed by local boats.


Here’s a typical ‘Klondyker’ anchored alongside another in Loch Broom


Alex Renton from a 1993 article catches the drift far better than I could so here’s an extract.

THE ‘baked beans’ are in. Thirty ships’ lifeboats, dirty orange capsules with Cyrillic stencilling along their sides, are clustered at a wharf below Lerwick’s bustling main street. It is a calm winter afternoon in Britain’s most northerly port and the Klondykers have come shopping.

The smell of Russian tobacco follows the crowd of men and women as they wander happily up from the dock. They are deckhands, fish processors and stevedores from the armada of East European factory ships at anchor off Lerwick. Many have been at sea for three months. The heavy leather boots, thin jeans and cheap leather jackets distinguish the Klondykers as they queue outside the Clydesdale Bank, waiting to change a few of their US dollars.

But down in Commercial Street the most popular activity is window-shopping at Televidradio of Shetland. J G Rae, the jewellers, is doing a decent trade in cheap earrings and gold crosses, but Klondykers earn only about pounds 80 a week including bonuses. So their money goes mainly on low-cost comforts – Valeri from Murmansk opens his carrier bag to reveal oranges, apples, a single can of Chieftain lager and an artist’s paintbrush.

Their spending power may be limited, but they are called Klondykers because this is a gold rush – more frantic this year than ever before. The treasure is the shoals of cheap mackerel and herring in the seas off Shetland. Eighty-eight vast factory ships are moored in the harbour. Aboard may be more than 10,000 people, doubling Lerwick’s population.

These ships once sailed to the South Atlantic and the Pacific to process the catches of the trawlers. But now the broken-down economies of Eastern Europe cannot finance such long expeditions. Ships from the vast fleets of the former Soviet Union can be hired by speculators for as little as pounds 400 a day, and sent to the closest fishing grounds, the North Sea.

They are here to buy pounds 10m worth of the Shetland catch. They clean it, tin or freeze it, and then ship it to Russia, Eastern Europe or Africa – anywhere that needs cheap protein and where hygiene regulations are laxer than the EC’s. In the 16th century, boats from Bremen, Lubeck and Hamburg crossed the North Sea to trade tobacco, spirits and clothing in Shetland. They took back cured fish. In the following centuries armadas of Dutch herring boats crowded the water off Lerwick.

Soviet trawlers first appeared here in the Fifties, but the factory ships moved in en masse in the mid-Eighties after the end of a ban on herring fishing, which restored stocks but killed the British market for the fish. Britain will take only 100,000 of the 350,000 tonnes of herring and mackerel the British fleet is allowed to catch this season. The rest goes abroad.

Not that any business was being done last week. ‘No fish, no money, no girls, nothing to do, nowhere to go’ said Nikolay Goncharov tragically. His ship, the Stralsund from Tallinn in Estonia, has lain inactive at anchor for the past two weeks. The fish have disappeared into the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

The 70 crew members are relaxing – asleep, watching videos, playing backgammon, or, in Captain Goncharov’s case, listening to Tom Jones. In the canteen below, noodle soup, meatballs and rice are served for lunch. The crew watches the black-and-white television as they eat – it’s tuned to Pebble Mill and an interview with Gordon Brown.

The Stralsund was built in East Germany for the Soviet state fleet five years ago, and is now – like many of its sister ships – owned by a private company in St Petersburg. The crew members, mainly Estonians, work for a basic wage with bonuses dependent on the amount of fish they process. The ship operates through a Shetland agent who will arrange the supply of freshly caught fish. The Stralsund processes the catch for the agent, and keeps a proportion of it in payment.

But since it arrived in Shetland at the beginning of this month, the ship has processed only 302 tonnes – four days’ work. ‘This is just damage for my company,’ said Captain Goncharov, shaking his head as he pours glasses of Peter the Great vodka.

I was myself in Shetland a few years earlier when they were in and he catches the atmosphere wonderfully, though he fails to mention all the bottles of vodka hanging on ropes from the portholes. These would be lowered by the crews to be swapped for old pairs of jeans and other such western items. He also neglects to me mention how they cleaned out the charity shops as soon as they got ashore in those ‘baked bean’ tins Smile

Inevitably they were in far worse condition than this one Smile

Returning back to ‘the village’ for lunch, Cornelis Vrolijk  was still in the same place


only this time she (or is it he) was much higher out of the water so she must have discharged her catch in just a few hours and was now heading back out to the fishing grounds. Nope, I’ve just checked the AIS, she’s in Ijmuiden in Holland !!!!

but that’ll be like ‘a walk in the park’ to these boys Smile

After an afternoon of electrickary I endeavoured to keep up my fitness regime by going for a walk, a kind of wander down the river towards the sea.



The ever busy pilot cutter Collingwood heading out, probably to meet the bulk cargo ship Alexandra.


The passenger ferry ‘Pride of the Tyne’ returning from North Shields


and the ‘Princess Seaways’ heading back to Holland, same place as Cornelis Vrolijk  if I recall  Smile


I followed the cycle path right along the rivers edge as far as the where we’ll be doing some of our training. Along the way passing some strange craft in what is left of the old dry docks that were a feature of this shore.


I’m guessing that there were once warehouses and the like here but they’re long gone and have been replaced by tasteful housing with fine views of the river and its shipping.


I stopped and sat for a while on a bench, on what I think is called ‘the Lawe’ to watch three tugs take position to escort the bulk carrier Alexandra into port.



A fishing boat, the Golden something getting in just ahead of them.



A two or so mile wander behind me I arrived back at ‘The Village’ just as Feederlink’s Cimbria was arriving at the harbour entrance.




MV or HV Smile

News today came through via the ‘Raasay grapevine’ that ‘yard number 725’ had at last got a name, and the rest of the hybrid fleet a class.

Named after local poet Sorley Maclean’s Gaelic poem about a ‘cleared’ village on Raasay we will be graced with the MV (motor vessel) or perhaps HV (hybrid vessel) Hallaig.

Time, the deer, is in Hallaig Wood

There’s a board nailed across the window
I looked through to see the west
And my love is a birch forever
By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst

Between Inver and Milk Hollow,
somewhere around Baile-chuirn,
A flickering birch, a hazel,
A trim, straight sapling rowan.

In Screapadal, where my people
Hail from, the seed and breed
Of Hector Mor and Norman
By the banks of the stream are a wood.

To-night the pine-cocks crowing
On Cnoc an Ra, there above,
And the trees standing tall in moonlight –
They are not the wood I love.

I will wait for the birches to move,
The wood to come up past the cairn
Until it has veiled the mountain
Down from Beinn na Lice in shade.

If it doesn’t, I’ll go to Hallaig,
To the sabbath of the dead,
Down to where each departed
Generation has gathered.

Hallaig is where they survive,
All the MacLeans and MacLeads
Who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim:
The dead have been seen alive,

The men at their length on the grass
At the gable of every house,
The girls a wood of birch trees
Standing tall, with their heads bowed.

Between The Leac and Fearns
The road is plush with moss
And the girls in a noiseless procession
Going to Clachan as always

And coming boack from Clachan
And Suisnish, their land of the living,
Still lightsome and unheartbroken,
Their stories only beginning.

From Fearns Burn to the raised beach
Showing clear in the shrouded hills
There are only girls congregating,
Endlessly walking along

Back through the gloaming to Hallaig
Through the vivid speechless air,
Pouring down the steep slopes,
Their laughter misting my ear

And their beauty a glaze on my heart.
Then as the kyles go dim
And the sun sets behind Dun Cana
Love’s loaded gun will take aim.

It will bring down the lightheaded deer
As he sniffs the grass round the wallsteads
And his eye will freeze: while I live,
His blood won’t be traced in the woods.

The new class of ship will be called ‘The Scottish literary class’, just so long as we don’t get an MV Harry Potter or HiV Trainspotting Smile

Looking for more information on our rapidly evolving ship I came across some recently uploaded videos on YouTube by the company responsible for designing ‘E-Propulsion’ and ensuring that the whole hybrid system works.


Well presented, if not a little light on technical info it gives you an idea of what the system is all about,




and here is an interesting history of Imtech and it’s satellite companies.



Also recently added, or at least found was some info from another company involved in the project.

Switchboard Factory Tests

Another milestone was achieved with the successful Factory Acceptance Test of the Main and Emergency Switchboards  for the first ship. The FAT took place at Imtech Marine & Offshore’s facility in Rotterdam. The FAT was witnessed by Lloyd’s, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, Ferguson Shipbuilders, Tec-source EECS as well as the ships operator Calmac Ferry’s.

As well as demonstrating that the Switchboard control systems complied with rule requirements it was a good opportunity for both the Client and Operator to see how easily the switchboard could be operated and the simplicity of control from an operational view point.

The port and starboard main switchboards will control the three 330kWe main generators through its Integrated Control and Machinery Alarm System (ICMAS).

The test was the first in a series to be held at Imtech in Rotterdam in the coming months. The next major milestone  being the integrated system test where the switchboards, drives cabinets, propulsion motors and batteries will be connected together for the first time and the full functionality of the system will be checked before the equipment is installed in the ship.

Anyway, that’s it from me, it’s after 22:00 and I need my bed, it’s the ‘Hairy Bikers’ tomorrow and they are very demanding Smile


  1. Well, that’s my shirt in the washing machine to remove the red wine that came down my nose when I read this:

    “just so long as we don’t get an MV Harry Potter or HiV Trainspotting “

    Comment by Nick Bennett — October 3, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

    • Sorry about the shirt Nick 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 4, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  2. glad you got to see the pride of the tyne. you’ll have to go up river and see the bridges and quayside at the weekend. you do have a nack with your photos of capturing the beauty in your surroundings.

    Comment by mike — October 3, 2012 @ 11:57 pm

    • Yes Mike, me thinks a trip on the ‘Pride of the Tyne’ and a wander round the priory are in order.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 4, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

  3. Poor Nick! I learnt awhile back never to be drinking anything when reading Paul’s blog, his humour can at times induce horrific results if one is caught unaware!

    Excellent news on the naming of Hallaig, a very apt name and one that I am sure will be approved by many on Raasey.

    Had another day of converting reel to reel sound tapes to MP3 format for my old man, just as well I don’t charge by the hour or PC space, so far the first 10 tapes have taken up over 15gb of space and along with scanning in the boxes, inserts and bits of notes dad has stuffed in them it has taken me some 120hrs and I still have to edit them from raw files to MP3 and add labels etc to the tracks. I just know that once I have done the 100 or so tapes he will then have me working on the tape cassettes. Still it is a joy to hear sounds from our family’s musical endeavours in the 60’s in particular my mothers fantastic Cornet playing!

    Well its 1.07am so better get to bed before the mrs. comes through and tells me off! (again!!!)

    All the best Paul

    Comment by Thomson Caravans — October 4, 2012 @ 12:08 am

  4. Well well well, you are on a steep learning curve old lad. I wish you well. By the way have they got you pencilled in for a trip too
    Rotterdam? Not my favourite place, spent two years there about 25 years ago working for a German subcontracting firm building a New Esso refinery. Lived in a small fishing village well too the south the 30 mile commute was well worth the trouble. If they send you there there are a few interesting thing to see, this would certain be of interest if you have got a little time off but be careful. If they do send you there let me know and I will give you a few tips



    Comment by Yorkshire Miner — October 4, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    • Yes Dave, one week in Rotterdam in December, well if my passport arrives in time 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 4, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

      • Thought so, this is so new, they don’t know if it is going to work. Well to be more precise they know it works in theory, but how does it work in practise, and that is a different ball game. I suspect that they are now building a complete mock up of the whole system if they have not done that already complete with generators batteries switch gears the lot in some hall in Holland. Then testing the hell out of it to see that it works as it should. I also suspect that the whole crew will be brought over and you will be running simulations for the whole week. When all the boxes are ticked it will be dismantled and shipped off too Ferguson’s to be installed in the ship. Hopefully you will get a day off love to see you in Amsterdam and take you round the wonderful maritime museum, its nice to have a guide who speaks woganese

        Deep Regards


        Comment by Yorkshire Miner — October 4, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  5. What a super read today: shipping photos great. What are the ruins guarding the harbour entrance called ?

    Comment by SOTW — October 4, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    • Hi She, that’ll be the old Benedictine priory and castle

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 4, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

      • I am stunned. I checked the link and discovered a bit of my ancestry there. My gt. gt. (and many etcs) grandfathers name has cropped up so it is reasonable to assume he spent time at Tynemouth in 1066 before the battle at Stamford Bridge. Thanks for that, it adds another earlier layer to the family tree; confusion tho – We thought he had married one of Haralds daughters, but this suggests he married Harald IIIs widow… Thanks again.

        Comment by SOTW — October 4, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

      • Didn’t realize you were so well connected She 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 6, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

  6. If the ruins were closed, wouldn’t that ruin the ruins?

    Comment by drgeo — October 4, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

    • ….and if the ruined ruins were closed….?

      Comment by SOTW — October 4, 2012 @ 10:50 pm

    • If the ruins were closed, wouldn’t that ruin the ruins?

      Certainly ruined it for me DrG 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 6, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  7. Hi Paul, it’s been a wee while since I was in your blog – been on my boat. A lot is happening in preparation for a new ferry I guess. Sailed up passed the Tyne earlier in the summer (if you could call it that away from the North West) I was stuck in Hartlepool waiting for the weather to clear. Arrival from Lowestoft across the busy entrance to Hartlepool in a gathering storm with poor visibility and the previous watch letting the boat get too close to a lee shore meant I had to wake up quickly and take a sharp turn to straboard to get the right side of a Cardinal buoy. The engine was playing up a bit (my fault for being lazy with the fuel filters) so it got busy calling the locks at Hatlepool to make sure they were open as I said I might be sailing in. Crossed two shipping lanes and a new wind farm site (guess). The tide was dropping too.
    All part of the fun. If you ever get out of ‘the Toon’ there is a lovely wee bar in the stern of an old wooden Pilot Vessel at Blyth Marina. The bar maid is lovely and so is their Sunday Roast.
    All the best, Robin (Heiskir)

    Comment by Heiskir — October 5, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    • Cheers Robin, an excellent read and pictures.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — October 6, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

  8. Altho i havent posted for ages, i still follow your blog, and read with interest about MV Hallaig. ive just watched a short video of its launch, as i foundout its a very special moment both for the yard involved, and for marine technology.Im curious to know what sort of lifespan the batteries will have? and most importantly, with the unit cost of leccy always on the up, shouldnt they have fitted wind turbines on deck LOL.

    Comment by Gordon — December 17, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

    • Hi Gordon, 4000 cycles or between 10 and 11 years seems to be the lifespan of a LiFePo battery but that can only improve. Wind or tidal turbines would certainly make a great deal of sense here, but that just depends on the ‘NIMBY’s’ 🙂 The hassle we had to get a harbour for fear of interrupting the view from Raasay House would seem to rule out the sensible option of a wind turbine on the pier.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — December 17, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

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