The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1946 to 1984 St CATHERINE - Yard No 534 - Passenger Vehicle Ferry - Sealink - Built 1983

Leith Shipyards

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St CATHERINE - Yard No 534 - Passenger Vehicle Ferry - Sealink - Built 1983
 The Sealink Ferry ST CATHERINE Ship No 534
(Photo credit unknown for now)
Owners    British Rail Sealink Ferries
Registered    Southampton Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Ro-Ro Passenger Ferry Launched    30/03/1983
      Handed Over    June 1983
Ship Details          
Length Overall    77.0 metres Launch Details    
Length B.P.    75.0 metres Weather    
Beam    16.8 metres Time to Water    
Depth Mld     4.5 metres      
G.R.T.    2,036 tonnes      
DWT    540 tonnes      
Engines    3 x Man diesels      
Props    3      
Speed    13 knots      
Other known names   2010-GB CONTE    
Current Status   In service as a ferry in Sardinia    
Content on ST CATHERINE will be added as and when available. 
ST CATHERINE as a Sealink Ferry and in need of some paint.
(Photo credit unknown)
Ships History
Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, who would look to have that ship at sea, as long as possible to pay for her build costs and of course to make the company good profits.

To this end one company may have had no requirement for a particular ship after a time and would then sell her on just like any other disposable commodity.
Hence a ship may have had a few owners and would go through many changes and names during what was hoped for a long and successful working life.
ST CATHERINE tied up alongside just after her Launching in 1983 in this photograph by ex Henry Robb Shipwright Barry Booth and shown here with permission
At a strangely busy time for the Leith Shipyards of Robb Caledon (Henry Robb) an order had come in for the build of two large ferries for the then called British Rail Sealink Company which was another government controlled shipping line this time.
So while the Rig handling ships were being done the Loft was busy running the lines for these two new ships.
The first ship was given the yard number of 534 with the order for work on an experimental mini submarine being looked at and given a yard number of 533.
So although things were still pretty shaky in the shipyard regarding further ship orders being allocated to the yard by British Shipbuilders the short term order book looked good.
The Ferry was classed as a Ro-Ro Passenger Ferry (Double Ended) and was for use on the ferry route connecting the small Isle of Wight to the mainland south Coast of England, across one of the busiest ship routes in the world that of the "Solent" which leads vessels into the Port of Southampton and into Portsmouth along with other ports in this part of the South Coast of England.
The ships had a skeg at both Bow and Stern to alleviate the need to turn the ship around to continue on a journey.
This of course was nothing new for the shipyard as they had built one of the most famous of all double ended ferries (SOUTH STYNE) which is still around although not working as a ferry now in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia. 
The full size lines for the ships were run out in what remained of the old mould loft in Leith (the tenth scale loft having to move due to the condition of the old building) and in preparation for the new CAD system (again to little to late)
I did not know at the time that I would be doing the last ever full size lines to be done in Leith.
The build progressed against a backdrop of increasing industrial strife due to the new management trying to introduce some small changes (Too little to late) and the unions continuing to hold onto outdated modes of working practices, and in a worldwide context of fewer and fewer orders being placed for ships in British yards which could not compete by this time with the modern shipyards and working practises of yards in Japan and Germany. One attempt to try and close the gap was to send the Loftsmen at Leith down to the headquarters of British Shipbuilders to get trained up on the new computer system which was to eventually change the shape literally of shipbuilding and engineering design for ever, but again it turned out to be too little to late as once the lofting for the Ferries was completed there was no further orders in the pipeline so by default no future ships to be lofted on computer.
Despite all, the ferry ST CATHERINE launched into the waters of the Basin of Leith Docks, where she was to be fitted out.
Known as a Saint class ship they just looked right and she was to serve on the route from the Isle of Wight to the mainland for almost 30 years first with Sealink and then with Wightlink British Ferries and she along with her sister ship ST HELEN was a well know and much loved ship crossing the Solent in all weathers. They were at the time the largest ferries serving on this link between the Island (Famous for the Cowes yachting week, and of course the Supermarine Spifire) and the mainland. 
The double ended ferry ST CATHERINE at the dockside in the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb being fitted out in this photograph taken by ex Henry Robb Shipwright Barry Booth and re-produced here by permission. 

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.
She is seen here with a full cargo of vehicles and passengers in this somewhat grainy postcard from Sealink at the time.
Tales from the Ship
Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.
The following story is from someone who has worked on both of the SAINT CLASS Ships and she has also sent in many great photographs of both ships.
Anni Ruecroft has been a real friend of the website and provided many insights which would perhaps never be seen but now they will be seen on the website and on the Blog.
The following is as told by Anni (Senior Steward)
As a bit of background information, I have lived on the Isle of Wight all my life.

As a result I have grown up with the St Helen and St Catherine always being there.

Sealink, who owned them, became Wightlink in the 1990's privatisation and I joined Wightlink as a steward in 2001.

Infact, St Helen was actually the first ship I worked on.

I am still with Wightlink and a great many of us are very sad to see the Helen go.

Nobody really knows what is planned for the Helen but her retirement is not a surprise to those of us who work on her due to events which occurred back in July.

It did make the news but you might not have seen it.

Late one night in mid July we had just arrived at the island and were unloading our traffic when the most incredible CRASH I have ever heard shook the entire ship.

Her starboard fwd section of mezz deck, loaded with cars and passengers, collapsed and fell to the main deck writing off numerous cars and injuring (non life threatening) several people.

Thankfully the main deck beneath was clear but the decks back was broken and was cut up and scrapped several days later as it was a twisted mess.

Since then she has only been permitted to run flat loaded which restricts her from her intended 142 cars to just 64.

I remember standing aft on her main car deck that fateful night and as the police removed the final car I looked up at the good old St Helen - car deck swarming with police, paramedics, coastguard, MCA etc - and said to the ship "This is the beginning of the end".

As for causes it is still in the hands of the MAIB and probably will be for some time while the experts ponder everything.

As for the Catherine I can report happy news.

The St Catherine left us in 2010 and went into service with an Italian ferry company called Delcomar.

Thanks to social media such as Facebook I am in touch with some of her regular Italian passengers and have received many photos of her in her Italian livery.

It certainly looks as if they have spent a lot of money on her as she looks good as new.

Her name is no longer St Catherine but is now "GB Conte" and she runs from a place called La Madalena although I understand she does alter routes at various times of the year.

The above photograph shows a proud Anni in front of one of her favorite ships ST CATHERINE


The above four photographs are all copyright Anni Ruecroft and shown by kind permission with many more and some great tales still to be shown.
The following Video was compiled by Anni Ruecroft as the ST CATHERINE left the South Coast of England to work in the Med for Delcomar. 
As said previous she operated between the Isle of Wight for nearly 30 years before finally being sold to Delcomar, a ferry company based in Italy, in 2010. She was renamed as the GB Conte and began operating for Delcomar almost immediately and can now be seen plying her trade in what are normally warmer waters around the  Coast of Sardinia and who know's with proper maintenance she may well last for another 20 years.
G B Conte (ex-Wightlink ferry St Catherine) being prepared for service with Delcomar at Hythe
Photo: © Ian Boyle, 16th July 2010
(The above photograph was first shown on the website)
More on the ST CATHERINE as she was prepared by WighLink for transfer to Delcomar as the new ferry GB CONTE. All photographs have been supplied to the website by Anni Ruecroft (senior steward) who worked on the Saint Class ships for many years
The St Catherine is seen above while being prepared for hand over to continue working in the warmer waters of the Med.
Repainted in this photograph although you can still make out her original name of ST CATHERINE
The ex St Catherine leaving the Solent for Italy
ST CATHERINE now the GB Conte sails regular from Palau, on the North of the Island of Sardinia to the Island of Maddalena.
Isola Maddalena is accessible only by boat or ferry.
The closest airport is Olbia, Sardinia. ( Olbia is a 50 minute flight from Rome Fumicino Airport. )
From Olbia Airport, travel north on SS125 near Arzachena take a right on SP123 to Palau. This is about a one hour trip. In Palau take a ferry across to Isola Maddalena. The ferry ride for pedestrians is .50 - 1.20 Euro // for cars 3.50 - 6.00 Euro depending on the size of the car. Ferries run every 15 minutes. The ride is 15 - 20 minutes
ST CATHERINE as the GB CONTE seen here in a photograph from the Delcomar website
The old ferry looks as good as she did when first in service almost 30 years ago which is a further testament to the shipbuilders of Leith and her new owners Delcomar.
Her current port of registry is Cagliari, Italy and she is a huge improvement on the ships that were being used in the region. 
Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.
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0 #2 Juan Gutierrez 2017-08-14 18:24
Hi there. I've just seen the GB Conte in San Pietro Island (Sardinia) departing from Carloforte to Portovesme (a couple of friends of mine got aboard). I took some pics and upload them to WikimediaCommon s. Feel free to use them on your page:
Thanks for the page. I did enjoy reading the story of the ship. I hope Anni is happy to see she is doing well in sunny Sardinia.
+2 #1 Barry Booth 2012-08-14 17:01
Hi Loftsman, was just reading your piece on St Catherine and noticed it had hit a pier in Italy.I remember the last launch at Robbs, (St Helen) and as it was going down the port side (I think)aft poppets came out and she scraped across the gate entrance as she entered the water!! Another wee note St Catherine was the one and only ship I went down with when she was launched!
Keep up the good work

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