The History of Leith

August 3, 2004

Mist on the Ocean

Regular contributor Captain W. L. Hume tells the story of the SAMUEL GREEN, built and completed as a mine sweeper/fishing trawler but never commissioned in the Royal navy, spent most of her working life as a luxury steam yacht, and retired as a floating restaurant in Leith Dock restaurant in Leith Docks.

Steam yacht OCEAN MIST on the Caledonian Canal

This narrative is an extract from a paper of maritime historical research compiled by Captain W. L. Hume, M.N.I., concerning the background of British Steam Trawlers circa 1890 until 1970, and deals with one particular vessel, having served as Chief Officer for some time on board this vessel, which was built during the period of the first world war as part of an Admiralty program to replace the large number of minesweeper losses, most of which had been commercial fishing trawlers at the out break of war in 1914, they were hurriedly requisitioned and converted to suit the Royal Navy requirements for the dangerous task of sweeping mines laid by the German Navy.

By 1916 it became obvious to the Admiralty that no additional commercial trawlers were being replacements for the vast number of mine sweeper losses became an urgent priority, therefore contracts were placed with many shipyards throughout the U.K. and ordered to be constructed as soon as practicable.

As far back as 1907 the Admiralty realised that fishing trawlers were ideally suited to be adapted as mine sweepers with minimal alteration being necessary, equally the fishing crew-members, well accustomed to handling similar type of gear became the obvious choice of operating personnel.

During the quiet period between 1907 and 1914 fifteen or so, commercial trawlers of varying sizes and age were purchased by the Royal Navy and adapted to become mine sweepers, after much trial and error a reasonable system was introduced and fishermen were encouraged to join the new Auxiliary Patrol Service – similar to the Territorial Army. When the war did start many of these fishermen immediately commenced mine-sweeping duties, often on the ships they had been fishing on shortly before. Prior to contracts being offered to the various shipyards three prototype vessels were chosen to serve as the standard designs for the Admiralty craft, and virtually set a pattern of British Steam Trawlers for several decades, these were the Aberdeen built ‘Strath’ class, based on the Hall Russell designed STRATHLOCHY, of some 202 tons; The ‘Castle’ class, based on the Smiths Dock, Middlesborough, designed RAGLAN CASTLE, 275 tons, and the largest class ‘Mersey’, based on the LORD MERSEY, 324 tons from Cochrane of Selby, each of these having recently been built for commercial use and were proven successful designs, costing about £21,000 to construct, and, if fortunate enough to survive the perils of war and weather were sold as surplus for about half that amount during the 1920’s.

During the 1914 – 1918 conflict there were well over five hundred of these vessels ordered from many British Shipyards, there is an interesting aspect regarding the names selected for such a large number of new ships to be commissioned into the Royal Navy, some very astute members in the Admiralty at that time came up with the bright idea to choose the names taken from the official crew roster of the 100 gun, ships of the line, H.M.S. Victory, and H.M.S. Royal Sovereign, at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, (none of these worthy Tar’s could ever have known THEIR names would be perpetuated in the annals of the records of Royal Naval History (apart from having played a part in the famous battle)). The only one of this group of Castle Class mine sweeping trawlers, and for that matter the only known steam driven trawler of this type, to have survived, at the time of writing, mid 2000, is the Samuel Green, serving as a floating restaurant moored in Leith Docks, opposite the old Customs House, at the old King’s Wark berth, a worthy companion to the Royal Yacht, Britannia, the outward appearance of the old Samuel Green, has changed very little, though minus the boiler, the original solid triple expansion steam engine remains in situ.

Thus Samuel Green was completed for the Admiralty, contract number 3791, on 30th April 1919, and as war was by that time over, the story of what became of this other lump of war surplus junk, is not particularly exciting though somewhat interesting, having been fitted out as a fishing trawler in anticipation of being taken up by commercial interests, then discarded and laid up pending hopeful disposal.

Ultimately sold in 1919 to an unexpected buyer in the name of Mr. K. E. Guinness, a member of the renowned Irish Brewery family, through a Ship Broker, Samuel Green was re-named OCEAN ROVER, which became a new toy for this owner, for the express purpose of converting it into a private steam yacht, he had all the fishing equipment removed – the large Steam Winch, Gallows, Deck rollers and so forth, then built up the bulwarks from the break of the fo’c’sle head all the way aft to the Galley/Engine Room casing, in order create suitable accommodation for the owner and his guests, the original Fish Hold and Ice Room were adapted to carry road racing cars – the owner at that time indulged in the early form of Rally Racing, it was considered much more practical to convey the racing cars from the U.K. to South of France or Italy by passenger ship than to drive all though Europe, strangely, whilst the OCEAN ROVER never sailed under the White Ensign of the Royal Navy, as a yacht all the owners up until 1939 were members of the Royal Yacht Squadron, which entitled them to fly the White Ensign, Honour there-by being restored.

Continuing the saga of Samuel Green, a change of ownership resulted in a change of name to ARIES, this being made by the Duke of Leeds of Hornby Castle, in 1924, at which time the vessel had a full Lloyds Classification; for the technically minded reader it was noted that a full Hull and Machinery Survey was carried out at Northam, in the Port of Southampton, where the classification of +100A1/LMC, (the highest obtainable) was issued, and so enjoyed until the yacht was sold to yet another member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Sir Harry K. Newton, Bt. during 1930, who in preference for a change of name reverted back to OCEAN ROVER.

The next change of owner occurred in 1934 when acquired by Sir Alfred L. Goodson of Brixham, Devon, although the yacht was based at Cowes, Isle of Wight, with continuation of the full Lloyds Classification.

The next full Hull and Machinery Survey was carried out at Bowling, on the Firth of Clyde, during 1938 when OCEAN ROVER was purchased by James Napier of Old Kilpatrick, after a relatively short period as a Clyde based yacht, due to the out break of War in September 1939, the OCEAN ROVER was laid-up in Bowling Harbour until requisitioned by the Admiralty during November 1939, along with practically the entire British Fishing Fleet, to undertake the duties of Mine Sweeping and Coastal Patrol, Paddle Steamers were second choice to trawlers. OCEAN ROVER having been duly called up, was, understandably, used as a Group Commander’s Head Quarters ship. Without conventional fishing equipment – trawl winch/gallows etc; it would not have been readily suitable without extensive conversion, to undertake practical mine sweeping duties, and was designated as a Torpedo recovery vessel based at Arrocher, Port Bannatyne, Ormidale – Loch Riddon, and Rothesay, prior to becoming an anti-mine calibrating vessel stationed at Rosyth, Granton and Leith, before taking up duties on the South Coast, Portsmouth based and working from the Solent out-station of Cowes on the Isle of Wight. War came and went, practically all surplus craft, especially older ships, of the 14/18 variety, were soon placed on the disposal list, most other vessels of her size – trawlers – were quickly sold out of Admiralty service very soon after the war was over in 1945, OCEAN ROVER remained laid-up at Portsmouth until 1949 when purchased by Mr. F. D. Fenston of London, who moved it over to Cowes to be cleaned up and re-furbished as a yacht, the crew were still accommodated in the original open plan cabin on the aft side of the Engine Room bulkhead. During the immediate post-war years materials for luxurious projects, such as yachting, were very strictly controlled by government edict, coal was even more strictly rationed, which resulted in the Ocean Rover being unused for quite some time, mostly laid-up in a mud berth at the yard of G. Marvin in Cowes, which incidentally had been designated as the head quarters base for the Free French Navy from the fall of France until the D-Day landings. By 1954 most of the war time restrictions had been lifted and a new owner in the person of F. G. (Tiny) Mitchell, a Peterborough muli-millionaire yachtsman – took over and set about a complete re-fit, at which time the boilers were altered from coal burning to being oil fired, apart from being more economical it avoided the filthy aspect of ‘coaling ship’, which necessitated in everyone leaving the ship apart from those involved in such duties, even after the last drop of coal was loaded the cleaning up ritual took just as long as the entire loading process. With yet another change of name to that of Ocean mist, new signal letters – GRFM – being issued at the same time, and changed the Home Port from Southampton to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. When the owner required the OCEAN MIST to be made ready for sea – usually a trip to Le Havre, Deauville or St Malo – the entire towns people of Cowes soon became aware, due to the thick, black, pungent smoke which belched from the funnel of the yacht, “ah the ‘Ocean List’ (local nick-name) must be sailing”; An on board observation from a previous member of the deck crew stated that “we wur mustered to be ready fur singlin-up (untie all moorings except one line forward and one line aft) at a given time, the Chief Engineer having indicated on the engine room telegraph to the bridge that the vessel was all ready to proceed to sea, ‘mine you she wur a reet good sea boat’, typical steam trawler style OCEAN MIST would go though any weather, although guests – if present – soon disappeared to the solace of their bunks, even some of the crew…………………………’appy memries.”

The crew at that time were drawn from Great Yarmouth and Cowes, the Captain being an ex Fishing Skipper from the East Coast Port. The owner, ‘Tiny’ Mitchell, a somewhat larger than life figure, who, being in excess of the average weight range, wished to have a large stable boat to accommodate his personal requirements, found this yacht to be very suitable, and decided to base his new venture on the River Medina in Cowes on the Isle of Wight; ‘Tiny’ also being a keen and successful racing yachtsman in the Solent area had OCEAN MIST fitted out as an accommodation ship, with only the occasional trip to Great Yarmouth or across the English Channel to Normandy or Brittany Ports.

With the passing of ‘Tiny’ Mitchell in 1957, Ocean Mist was used by his widow, Mrs ‘Blackie’ Mitchell for a few years although it never sailed, the Lloyd’s classification was withdrawn at the owner’s request in 1958. During 1960 the yacht was purchased by Mr. Hobbs of the Great Glen, Inverness, and could be seen at various locations along the Caledonian Canal for several years. After the owner died in 1965 it became the property of the Executors of the Hobbs estate, ultimately being bought for use as a floating restaurant and moored alongside the ‘Kings Wark’ quay in the Old Harbour at Leith Docks.

In spite of her 80 plus years of age, Ocean Mist has been relatively little used when compared to commercial fishing trawlers from the same vintage, most of those had been scrapped by 1960’s, it is hoped this sole survivor remains in being for a few more years to allow younger generations to see and appreciate a slice of historical yester-year, the author visited this vessel during the late nineteen nineties at which time it was operating as a floating restaurant, although it is understood to have ceased business in that capacity, totally locked into her floating mooring, any local up-to-date information concerning this old ship would be appreciated.

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