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Firth of Tay : Ferries    A Review by Gillon Ferguson
Early train ferries were operated between Tayport  and Broughty Ferry  from about 1850 to the collapse of the first Tay bridge in 1879  . A long standing passenger  and vehicle ferry operated from Dundee to Newport until the opening of the Tay road bridge in 1966.

In the 19th century excursions in the Tay were mainly given by paddle tugs  and occasionally by Newport ferries  There were also occasional visits by Forth excursion steamers.
Dedicated  excursion vessels first appeared in 1886 but ceased after 1931

Dundee-Newport Ferry

Scottish Central Rly/ Caledonian Rly /Dundee Harbour Trustees

The Dundee – Newport ferry is of great antiquity and steam vessels were used from 1825.  They were taken over by the Scottish Central (later Caledonian) Railway who in 1859 placed  in service the Fifeshire  which  set the pattern for all subsequent ferries  with an open foredeck and a saloon aft . A charge of 1d was made for use of the saloon though it should be said that right up to the end of the ferries this was only increased to 2d . A smaller ship the Forfarshire was obtained in 1861 presumably to act as relief vessel.  In 1873 the Dundee Harbour Trustees took over the ferry and shortly added the Dundee similar to Fifeshire but slightly larger and with successive vessels there was always a small increase in dimensions . After the opening of the second Tay rail bridge there was a drop in traffic, the Forfarshire being sold in1893 and  it was not until 1910 that a further ship the Newport was added by which time vehicular transport was on the increase 

After the first world war with the continuing increase in road traffic two further paddlers were  built  the William High/ Sir William High in 1924 and the BL Nairn in 1929  The Harbour Trustees showed considerable foresight in fitting these ships with compound diagonal disconnecting engines so that the paddle wheels could be operated independently, leading to a marked  improvement in manoeuvrability. At the same time the services was increased to half-hourly requiring two ships to  be on station at all times   In the meantime the Dundee had been been disposed of in 1917 and the veteran  Fifeshire  finally in 1929.  In the thirties after the demise of  the Tay excursion steamers the spare steamer Newport was used to a limited extent for cruising  but was retired in 1939  The last two Tay ferries the Abercraig (1939 ) and Scotscraig  (1951 ) were twin screw diesels but also had an innovative feature that of Voith - Schneider propellers which though highly successful elsewhere did seem to cause spare part and reliability  problems on the Tay with the result that after the withdrawal of Sir William High in 1951 the remaining  steam paddler  B L Nairn nominally  spare boat seemed in fact to take quite a substantial share in the crossings right  up to the opening of the Tay road bridge in 1966.

So long as the ferries lasted the duration of
 each crossing was dependent on the tide. At high water after reversing the ferry could make virtually a straight line for Newport in about ten minutes  but at low tide sandbanks had to be navigated and the journey could take twice as long  The course of the new road bridge lay across this route so for last  two years the sailings were tidal.

Fifeshire   (1859-1929)
built by R Napier & Sons at Glasgow - for a private consortium based at Perth - 124.4 x 30.1 feet

The first ship with a deck saloon
Sold to the Trustees of the Harbour of Dundee
She acted as  spare vessel form 1924

Forfarshire (1863-1893) 
built by Gourlay Bros at Dundee - for the Scottish Central Railway - 120.5 x 20.1 feet
Single diagonal engine 22 x 36 in   
This was a smaller ship and was sometimes chartered for upriver  excursions
Became part of the Caledonian Railway in 1865
Owned by the Trustees of the Harbour of Dundee from 1873 to 1893
Sold 1893 for service at Queensferry by JS Wilson and later D Wilson & Son

Reboilered 1904 receiving a very tall funnel She was disposed of in 1920

Dundee  (1875–1917) 
built by William Simons at  Renfrew - 149.3 x 27.1 ft
Compound diagonal engine 23 and 42 in x 42 in
Latterly capable of carrying ten cars with the expansion in road traffic
Sold 1920  to the Tay Steamboat Company for Tay excursion traffic  then in 1923 to the NBR/LNER for Queensferry service
Transferred on loan to Messrs Denny from 1934 as spare for Queensferry.  When not in use was laid up in Burntisland harbour .
Finally withdrawn
in 1949 on arrival of Mary Queen of Scots & scrapped 1952

Newport   (1910-1939)
built by Caledon SB&E at Dundee - 151.5 x 29.1 ft
2 x compound diagonal 18 and 34 in x 42 in engines
Spare vessel from 1929 and used for cruising from 1934-39

William High / Sir William High (1924-1951)
built by Caledon SB&E at  Dundee - 152 x 30.1 ft  
Compound diagonal Disconnecting engines. Spare vessel from 1939. Radar fitted 1949  
Last sailing August 1951. Sold 1952 to Nigeria 

B L Nairn  (1929-1966)
built by Caledon SB&E at Dundee - 162.2 x 31.1  ft  
2 x Compound diagonal 18 and 34 in x 42 in. Disconnecting engines.   Radar fitted 1948.  Lasted until the opening of the Tay road bridge
Scrapped at Blyth in 1967 

Motor vessels:

MV Abercraig (1939-1966)
MV Scotscraig  (1951-1966)


Steamers of the Tay   -            Ian Brodie        Stenlake  Publishing  2003
A History of the Tay Ferries
  - David Sinclair   David Bradley   1996
Personal recollections

Broughty –Tayport Ferry

Edinburgh, Perth & Dundee Railway Co. From 1866 North British Railway Co
After the opening of the Tay rail bridges the North British Railway had an obligation to maintain this crossing which was leased to David Wilson of Bo`ness

Express (1843-)
Built by Miller, Ravenhill & Co of Blackwall, London
153 ft : 269 GRT : Engine Oscillating
Later on Firth of Forth crossing (Granton - Burntisland)
Scrapped in 1878

Robert Napier (1850-1887)
Built by Robert Napier & Sons at Govan
137.4 ft : 216 GRT 
Double-ended with two rail tracks
Laid up after completion of the second Tay Bridge

Dolphin (1893-1920)
Built in 1885 by Blackwood & Gordon at Port Glasgow
89 ft :  85 GRT : Engine Grasshopper 33 x 48 in
This former workboat used for construction of the Forth Bridge was used on the crossing until permission for abandonment was given in 1920.

Source   Duckworth and Langmuir   Railway and Other Steamers

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