The Scottish Maritime Museum currently has collections located at two sites in the West of Scotland, both with strong maritime connections. The museums, located in Irvine and Dumbarton, each portray different areas of Scotland’s maritime heritage. The Irvine museum is located at Irvine Harbour, situated within the category A listed former Engine Shop of Alexander Stephen and Sons, which was salvaged and relocated from their derelict Linthouse shipyard in Glasgow during 1991. The Linthouse engineering shop is now home to many industrial exhibits, including a model boat pond and the boatshop on the quayside, which contains an exhibition of ship models and children’s activities. Visitors can step into the past by touring the Shipyard Workers' Tenement Flat where they can see a typical 'room and kitchen' worker's tenement flat, restored to its 1920s appearance.
The museum vessels are moored in Irvine Harbour and include : Bass Conqueror. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 5 1952, Kenneth Kerr's disappearance remains to this day something of a mystery. Kerr twice tried to cross the Atlantic from West to East in "Bass Conqueror", a 13 foot glass-fibre Orkney Spinner dinghy. His first attempt ended in failure in 1979, when he had to be plucked from his small vessel on June 26, when he was 58 days out of Newfoundland. His barnacle covered vessel was found on the Irish coast five months later. Following repair and refitting at the Orkney Co. Boat Yard at Arundel in Sussex, the Bass Conqueror was ready for Kerr's second attempt at achieving the record for the smallest boat to be rowed across the Atlantic single handed. The record at that time was held by a 2Oft boat. Kenneth, who was an expert in communications and electronic warfare, had been, until he resigned from the navy, an attack teacher at the Royal Navy Submarine School, Gosport, Hampshire, Kenneth left his home in Port Seton, East Lothian in May 1980 and flew to Canada. On August 13th the cargo ship "Dorsetshire" spotted him at Lat. 53.15.N. Long 26.34.W., 550 miles from the Irish coast. The captain gave him fresh food and water and Kenneth rowed away to face a force 10 gale. His last words to the captain of the Dorsetshire were "Thank you for your concern, captain, and also for your food and water, but like yourself, I must be on my way now". He was never again reported to be seen either dead or alive. He survived the gale and on August 29th, a radio ham picked up contact. Bass Conqueror was now 300 miles off Ireland. September 2nd, The Royal Corps of Signals picked up a message. He is now 200 miles from Ireland. October 5th. Further message picked up. "My water is low". October 25th. Expedition ship "Eye of the Wind" picks up a barely audible message, "Bearing 123 degrees". This was the last message received, 156 days after setting out. It will be noticed that there are 17 notches on the strengthening board on the floor of the boat. Kenneth always notched up every week he completed (the 8 notches from his first attempt in the same boat can still be seen). Seventeen weeks gives 119 days, but there is evidence that he was still alive after 156 days so why are there no further notches? October 25th was just over 10 weeks from his last sighting by the Dorsetshire 550 miles from Ireland. What happened to him? Was he drastically swept off course? Did he actually land on an uninhabited island off the Scottish or Irish coast? He certainly had plenty of time to cover the remaining distance even at a low estimate of 25 miles per day (he was averaging 30 up to this point). Perhaps we shall never know.
Scotland has for many centuries been a seafaring nation whose role and influence on the world's oceans has been out of all proportion to its size and population. This heritage is reflected in the exhibitions and collections of the Scottish Maritime Museum. The Museum operates from two sites on the Clyde and its estuary. The Denny Ship Model Experimental Tank at Dumbarton brings to life the world of the Victorian ship designer. Scattered along the south shore of the River Irvine are the various parts of the museum. It is based in the vast brick-built steel-framed Linthouse Engine Shop, Scotland's 'Cathedral of Engineering'. This houses the museum reception and shop, together with a range of indoor exhibits: plus large numbers of the engines from which it gets its name. It comes as a shock when you read the literature and realise that this building has only stood here since 1991: having previously been dismantled and moved from the Linthouse Shipyard in Govan. An especially poignant resident of the Engine Shop is the Watson Class lifeboat T.G.B. She was serving as the Longhope Lifeboat on 17 March 1969 when she was capsized by a huge wave, with the loss of all eight crew.
Outside the Engine Shop is the striking yellow and red ASR-10, a WWII lifesaving barge. These barges were moored in the North Sea and English Channel to assist the crews of aircraft that had to ditch in the sea. Nearby is a recreation of a shipyard worker's tenement flat, a chance to see a "room and kitchen" tenement typical of those used by shipyard workers and thier families on the Clyde. It has been restored to its appearance before 1920. Most of the Museum's floating vessels are moored at pontoons alongside Irvine Harbour. The cast list can vary from time to time, but usually includes the puffer MV Spartan, built in 1942 and typical of the puffers that kept the economy of much of Western Scotland alive until the 1960s. Back along the harbourside towards the Engine Shop you come across the Museum Wharf. This is home to Puffer's Coffee Shop, which serves light meals, snacks and drinks throughout the year.
The Museum Wharf is also home to most of the Scottish Maritime Museum's restoration projects. When we visited these included the final stages of work on a beautiful yacht: and the very much less advanced work on a wooden RAF motor launch. For many years the museum's wharf was also home to the hull of the world's oldest surviving clipper ship. The 176 foot long City of Adelaide was built in 1864 for the route from the UK to Adelaide in South Australia, and made 22 round trips carrying up to 270 passengers before being sold as a cargo vessel. After a spell serving as an isolation hospital she was brought by the Royal Navy in 1921 for use as a training ship based on the Clyde, and renamed HMS Carrick. From 1947 she was moored on the Clyde and used as a clubhouse for the Royal Naval Reserve, until sinking at her moorings in 1991. After rescue by the Scottish Maritime Museum the City of Adelaide was brought to Irvine in 1992.
The main areas of the Museum are on the flat and are fully wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome. A wheelchair is available, please pre-book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Accessible toilets are available, along with a disabled toilet and baby changing facility. Tables and chairs in the café are free standing. Tour times to the MV Kyles and their 1920’s Flat are daily at 11.00, 12.30 and 14.00
Location : Scottish Maritime Museum, The Linthouse Building, Harbour Road, Irvine, North Ayrshire, KA12 8QE
Transport: Irvine (ScotRail) then 5 minutes. Bus Routes : 21 stops near by.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £7.50; Concessions £5.50; Children Free
Tel. : 01294 278283