Auld Reekie – Puffer

The Puffer featured here in my books is the Auld Reekie, one of the last to be built for the Royal Navy in 1943. It was built by Isaac Pimblott at Northwich on the River Weaver in Cheshire.

When it was subsequently demobbed, it plied its civilian trade around the western seaboard of Scotland. Victuals Inshore Craft (V.I.C. No 27) was initially designed, fitted out and registered as a shore-to-ship water carrier. She originally worked out of Rosyth then later at Scapa Flow before moving to the west coast of Scotland. She was one of a number of different types of puffer that were engaged in cargo trade; their size and means of propulsion depended upon whether their main use was to be in canals, river estuaries, or the more exposed coastal sea routes.

The nickname Puffer came from the distinctive puff-puff sound that emanates from the funnel while the boiler is fired up and the vessel is under way. The later models had a condenser fitted which meant that the characteristic sound was somewhat muted. Whilst moving over the water, this modest craft presents a sprightly, cocky appearance with its high bow and a low stubby stern giving it the impression of valiantly battling its way across the surface.

In civilian life these little vessels were the mainstay of the west coast inshore trading companies and the pride and joy of their skippers. Constructed with a fairly shallow draught, they could get into most island harbours. Failing this or the existence of a harbour, they had the ability to steam close inshore on the tide, put out anchors and by virtue of their squat shape, settle down to sit on the sands between tides, allowing loading and unloading to be effected on to small lorries or vans from the beach. With the incoming tide, the little ship would rise, refloat, up anchor and set off for the next beach or port of call.

Auld Reekie is a true puffer, that is, a coal-fired, steam driven puffer, one of the last survivors of its class. Since its hey-day, more modern craft and other modes of propulsion and transport have left it behind. However in its current role as a pleasure craft, it has at least survived. During the Glasgow Garden Festival it had a brief moment of glory where it was a star attraction, masquerading as Para Handy’s boat, The Vital Spark.

Since it was built, The Auld Reekie has also been used in a number of television shows and films, either as the star or as an item of background interest. As I write it has been renamed ‘The Maggie’ and is being refurbished at Crinan. When she puts to sea again, she will once again act as a poignant reminder of a bygone way of life.

Johnny Jones

19 thoughts on “Auld Reekie – Puffer

    1. Hi Rachel and thank you for your comment. The Auld Reekie, as Scotland’s capital city is still sometimes affectionately called today, means ‘Old Smokey’ in the Scots dialect. If there is a smell of smoke around, we ask, ‘what’s that Reek’, meaning whats that smell? Can also be another word for ‘stink’ like a person’s clothes ‘reek’ of smoke.

      Liked by 3 people

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