River Canal Rescue raises 110 year-old Sgùr Urain

Posted: 31st August 2017

A 110 year-old wooden screw lugger, believed to have been originally built for the Marquis of Bute in 1907 by John Adams & Son in Greenock, was successfully raised from the depths of Bray Marina in Berkshire by River Canal Rescue (RCR) engineers recently.

Sgùr Urain - named after the battle cry of the Clan MacRae and derived from Sgurr Fuahan, one of five mountains at the base of Loch Duich - has been in current owner Simon Jones’ family since the 60s when his father, visiting Scotland on holiday, found her laid-up on the beach and bought her off a local fisherman.

Designed to navigate the lochs of Scotland, Sgùr Urain only draws four feet and was originally powered by a petrol paraffin engine, using internal ballast to balance the lug sails she would have carried for steadying out in the open sea. Her hull is constructed of 36ft lengths of splined pitch-pine with a teak deck and teak housing. As with all wooden craft, Sgùr Urain requires continual work and renovation to ensure she remains in excellent condition.

In July Simon took her out of the water to replace a section of keel. Having been out of the water for a protracted period in hot weather, when re-floated there were, as expected, a number of leaks as the wooden planks took up water to seal the dried-out hull. Despite stabilisation by bilge pumps - and the staff at Bray Marina keeping a very close watch - a failure of the pumps overnight lead to her rapid sinking whilst at her mooring before the wooden hull had become water-tight.

Simon comments: “I was advised by a diver that air bags couldn’t be used to raise the craft as there was a very high risk the pressure would cause the hull to collapse due to her shape and weight and, while a barge crane was an option, it wasn’t available for at least a couple of weeks and came at very significant cost and risk of damage. I then came across River Canal Rescue and their engineers and support team were brilliant.”

RCR used a novel technique to raise Sgùr Urain within four hours – this involved making a plywood box to put over the front access hatch to create a vacuum, sealing the boat and then using high-pressure pumps to remove the water and refloat the vessel.

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, explains: “The key to a successful refloat is in the preparation and ensuring the vessel is sealed before attempting to pump out.  Our engineers also ‘first-aided’ the engine whilst on site to prevent corrosion and ensure that it would be functional in the future.”

Simon continues: “The speed at which RCR took control of the situation was unbelievable - the engineers were practical and reassuring, they weren’t fazed by anything, they explained everything and knew exactly what to do to rescue the boat and prevent further damage to the engine.

“When you see a boat of this age in such distress, your main concern is what damage might be caused during re-floating and it was extremely reassuring to have access to such skills and expertise and an enormous relief when she was back afloat with no damage from the process. I look forward to getting her cleaned out and back to how she was.”

Roma McGurk, Duty Manager at Bray Marina, echoes these sentiments: “Sgùr Urain has been moored with us since 2009; the boat is a crucial part of our heritage so it was important to raise it with as little damage as possible. RCR certainly delivered on this and while we hope our members won’t have to call on their services again, it’s good to know their engineers are on hand to help when needed.”

Stephanie concludes: “We’re so pleased we could be of assistance to Mr Jones, our approach to this refloat managed to save him a lot of distress and expenditure.”

To find out more about River Canal Rescue visit www.rivercanalrescue.co.uk or call 01785 785680.