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Firth of Tay
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 1858  by R Napier & Sons at Glasgow - 134x39 feet
The first ship with a deck saloon .  She acted as  spare vessel form 1924

Forfarshire (1863-1893) 
built by Gourlay Bros at Dundee - 120x20 feet
This was a smaller ship and was sometimes chartered for upriver  excursions
Sold 1893 for service at Queensferry
   Reboilered 1904 receiving a very tall funnel She was disposed of in 1920

Dundee  (1875–1917) 
built by William Simons at  Renfrew - 149x27 feet
Latterly capable of carrying ten cars with the revival in road traffic
Sold 1917 for Tay excursion traffic  then to 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 DEPV Mary Queen of Scots & scrapped 1952

Newport   (1910-1939)
built by Caledon SB&E at Dundee - 151x29 feet
Spare vessel from 1929 and used for cruising from 1934-39

William High / Sir William High (1924-1951)
built by Caledon SB&Eat  Dundee - 152x30 feet  
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 - 162x31 feet  
Disconnecting engines.   Radar fitted 1948.  Lasted till opening of Tay road bridge 

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

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

Dolphin (1893-1920)

built at Port Glasgow in 1885 - 88 x 17 ft
This former workboat was used on the crossing until permission for abandonment was given in 1920.
After this the ferry was continued by the MV Abertay

Source   Duckworth and Langmuir   Railway and Other Steamers

Shipping Histories Limited Glasgow 1948

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