History of the boatyard at Ardentrive Bay, Isle of Kerrera – 17.6.21

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Over the next two weeks Oban Times reader Douglas Lindsay of Kilmore shares his work on researching the history of the boat yard at Ardentrive Bay, on the Island of Kerrera

This island boatyard, on the west side of Oban Bay, was started 134 years ago and has provided a service to many sailors over the years.

Although I was personally involved with it for 25 years, it is only recently, during lockdown, that I started researching its background and somewhat chequered history.

The yard was started by John Munro, a prominent Oban entrepreneur, who claimed to supply everything “from a trout fly to a steam yacht”. He bought his first feu from the Breadalbane estate (who owned Ardentrive Farm) in 1887 and built the storage shed, and pier, followed by a patent slip in 1894 and the purchase of more land in 1901.

Mount Pleasant, the house on the point near the yard, was built in 1886 by John Burrows who lived there but started the yard at Gallanach, down the Sound of Kerrera. Frank Cowper (author of Sailing Tours) came to Oban in 1894 or 1895 and he mentions a gridiron and patent slip in Ardentrive Bay.

An early client was C.C. Lynam who kept his yacht there from 1896 to 1904 and his cruises are detailed in The Log of the Blue Dragon. John Munro’s brother Neil was the manager of the yard at this time.

John Munro died in September 1915 and Neil only a few months later. In 1920 John Munro Ltd passed ownership of the yard to a new company, Munro’s Shipbuilding, Repairing & Engineering Co. Ltd. to separate the ship-building from the other businesses in Oban. John Munro Ltd. continued to supply the yard with most of the hardware and ironmongery for boatbuilding.

A 1925 pilot book gives the capacity of the slip as boats up to 140 feet length and 500 tons weight, which allowed the yard to slip large steam yachts together with many smaller yachts for winter maintenance. The Gallanach slip was listed with capacity of 130ft and 300tons but they had suffered a severe fire in 1921 which destroyed most of their buildings.

James Mumme was the manager from 1920 and he started a very ambitious expansion, building large motor yachts in addition to the busy maintenance work and many of the skilled workers needed moved to Oban from the Clyde shipyards.

A Scottish Shipbuilding website lists the boats built by Munro’s Shipbuilding, Repairing & Engineering Co. Ltd.

1923 Acushla, 36ft, 2 Brooke petrol engines

1923 Joan, 25ft, 1 Bergius petrol engine

1925 Amalfi, 90ft, 2 Gardner oil engines

1925 Dwyn Wen, 91ft, 2 Gardner oil engines

1926 Callandia, 60ft, 2 Gleniffer oil engines

1926 Herga, 100ft, 2 Gardner oil engines

1927 Waveney II, 90ft, 2 Gardner oil engines

In May 1925 Lynam mentioned going ashore ‘to look at the three fine motor ships being built’. During the summer of 1925 there were articles about each of these boats in the Motor Boat magazine with detailed plans and it is clear that the boats were being built to a high standard. They were launched on temporary slippery ways across the beach without their engines which were craned in at Oban. They were then moved back to Kerrera to be finished, which took about another month.

A great source of information about the building of Herga exists in the Derby records office. Herga was built for the Strutts of Kingairloch in Morven and their main home was near Derby. George Strutt had his yachts serviced at Kerrera ever since he bought Kingairloch in 1902 and he was also a shareholder in the company. Herga must have been built on a ‘cost plus’ basis as they kept copies of all the invoices relating to the build and these list the workers and the time spent each week and also every item of material used, down to the last sheet of sandpaper (1 penny each!). In early 1926 there were 30 to 40 men working on the yacht. The company was declared bankrupt in May 1926 which was hardly surprising as, judging by the Herga accounts, they only added 10 per cent to the wages bill which could not have covered the management, timekeepers, ferrymen and all the other expenses of running a workforce of 50 to 60 men.

The yard was sold to a new company Oban Slipway Co. Ltd, who finished Herga, but Waveney II had to be taken to the Clyde for completion, which would indicate that most of the workers had been paid off. This yacht was later called Tiger and came to a sad end in the West Indies in the late 1990s.

Lynam kept Blue Dragon III at Kerrera from 1922 until his last cruise in 1935 and has some sad comments on the later service at the yard. By the spring of 1934 it appears that standards were slipping with the quote: ‘Oh for the days of Neil Munro, when everything was in order on arrival at Ardentrive’. Blue Dragon was not ready with the cabin roof unpainted and leaking, and another yacht was launched without the bung in! Further comment was: ‘It is to be hoped that these strictures on the fitting out arrangements will induce the management at Ardentrive to put things on a more satisfactory footing for yacht owners’.

In 1937 the owner-ship of the yard changed yet again to the West Highland Slipway Co. Ltd. which existed until 1947.

More next week.