MV Kyles

MV Kyles is the oldest Clydebuilt vessel still afloat in the UK. She has more than two dozen owners and retained her original name throughout the whole of her working life. Launched in 1872 by John Fullerton and Co. of Paisley, she was built for Glasgow owners at the Merksworth yard and was destined for the coasting trade.

Kyles was a basic steam-engined cargo coaster, typical of those built by the smaller yards of the Clyde. She has an iron and steel hull, much of which is in original condition, and a steel deck. Most of the upper works date from major restorations in 1945 and 1998.

Coastal traders provided an essential service before land transport became dominant and there was no standard design of cargo coaster, with ships often being modified to suit a specific role. Kyles is an excellent example of this despite having no spectacular history, the changes she has undergone as her many owners have adapted her to the changing demands of the casting trade make her a fascinating vessel.

The original owner of Kyles was Stuart Manford of Glasgow, and she was originally used as a tender for the fishing fleet, collecting the catch from the Clyde fishing boats and transporting the fish to railheads on the coast. A succession of owners followed, the Kyles carrying heavy and general cargoes on short coastal voyages in Scotland, Newcastle upon Tyne and the South Wales area. Her port of registry remained Glasgow until 1900 when she was registered at Hull, and the first major changes in her structure came in 1921 when she was converted to work as a sand dredger in the Bristol Channel.

A familiar sight to many in this area, a letter from a Mr L G Gardiner in Ships Monthly magazine recounted his fond memories of watching Kyles as a child in the 1920s as she pumped her sand cargo in the channel. He recalled that this was before her bow and stern were built up, adding that “When she was pumping she was low in the water and looked more like a submarine. In fact she became a bit of a joke with the sailors on the other dredgers because they said as long as you could see steam rising from the sand pump engine or an odd beer bottle thrown over the side, the little Kyles was still afloat”.

By the start of WWII, Kyles was out of service and de-registered. She was surveyed in 1942 while laid up on the Glamorganshire canal and found to be in a poor condition, and in 1944 she was sold on by a salvage contractor to Ivor P Langford, a ship owner and repairer based near Gloucester, who had her repaired and removed her dredging equipment in order to return her to a cargo role. She was re-registered at Gloucester and worked in the Bristol Channel for a number of years before being converted from steam to a diesel engine in 1953. In 1960 she was structurally altered again, this time to enable her to function as a sludge tanker for dumping industrial waste in the Bristol Channel. She was later downgraded to a storage hulk for waste and continued in this role until 1974.

Despite the owner’s tradition of naming his boats after female members of the family the name Kyles was kept out of respect for her long and varied history  and as the vessel was a favourite of Mr Langford his family was keen to see her preserved once her working days were over. An offer was accepted from Captain Peter M Herbert of Bude, who had himself a long career in the coasting trade, and Kyles became a much loved vessel in the Bude area.

When the West of Scotland Boast Museum Association – precursor to the Scottish Maritime Museum - was formed in the early 1980s, Mr Herbert offered to sell Kyles to the group, and in 1984 the Scottish Maritime Museum became her 24th registered owner. Kyles was re-registered in Glasgow, 112 years after he name first appeared in the records.

Funding for a full restoration of the vessel became available in 1996, and it was decided that the most suitable appearance to restore her to was to take her back to the 1953 refit when she was changed from steam to diesel power. Work began in 1997 to strip out the sludge tanks, reinstate the original hatch and hatch cover, and replicate the mast and derrick. Her wheel house had been removed in the 1970s and this was replicated with help from old photographs of the vessel.

Recognised as one of Britain’s most important historic vessels, Kyles in included in the Designated vessels list of the National Historic Ships Committee.