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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 RRS BRANSFIELD - Yard No 508 - Antarctic Survey Vessel - N.E.R.C. - Built 1970

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RRS BRANSFIELD - Yard No 508 - Antarctic Survey Vessel - N.E.R.C. - Built 1970



A special vessel.
Built as a merchant ship but with ice strengthened bows.


 BRANSFIELD smashes through the pack ice.


Owners    N.E.R.C.
Registered    Falkland Islands Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Antarctic Survey Ship Launched    04/09/1970
      Handed Over    31/12/1970
Ship Details          
Length Overall    99.2m Launch Details    
Length B.P.    90 m Weather    
Beam    18.3m Time to Water    
Depth Mld     9.5m      
Draught    6.7m      
G.R.T.    4816      
DWT    3440      

 Diesel-electric 5000 SHP

Props    1      
Speed    14 knots      
Other known names   1999 Igen Pearl    
Current Status   Broken up in Mumbia India 2000    
Content on the RSS BRANSFIELD will be added as and when available. 


The RRS BRANSFIELD leaving Maggies Ditch in Antarctica

(Photo courtesy of Graeme Hart)



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.

The ice breaker BRANSFIELD was ordered by the NERC to be built at the Leith Shipyards of Robb Caledon and she was designed by the same Naval Architechs who designed the previous SPEEDWAY Ship No 507. She was in fact an ice strenghtend ship and not a pure ice breaker.

She was in the fitting out basin at the yard being finished when I started there, this basin was always at the same depth of water with the dock gates at Leith being in use by this time and it also meant that ships could be launched at Leith without needing to wait on the tide. 

RRS Bransfield, 4816 grt (1577 tons net), was built at Leith, Scotland and launched on 4th September 1970. She is an ice strengthened cargo ship of Lloyds 100 A1 Ice Class 1 classification. Her length is 325 feet, beam 60 feet and draught 22 feet with a service speed of 13½ knots on two engines. She has a cargo capacity of 3450m3 with research laboratories and a conference and computer room. Her duties, following annual discharge of cargo at Halley, are to supply and transport cargo and personnel, insert coastal depots and support coastal survey and geological research parties principally in the region of the Antarctic Peninsula.

RRS Bransfield was BAS's main supply vessel for 29 years, from 1970/71 to 1998/99. She also had limited facilities for on-board research.

She was the second survey ship to be named after Edward Bransfield RN (1785-1852), who discovered the North West coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, roughly surveyed the South Shetland Islands, claiming King George Island and Clarence Island for Great Britain.

Edward Bransfield was the first man to chart part of the Antarctic mainland.

There was a fully equipped hospital bay on-board.

For much of her career her joint Masters were John Cole and Stewart Laurence. Bransfield represented NERC in the Review of the Fleet at Spithead in 1977, held to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee.




RRS BRANSFIELD is shown here in dry dock at Bethlehem Shipyard, Baltimore. During her Atlantic crossing from Southampton to North America in 1974, prior to heading south to Antarctica, hurricane force winds damaged her rudder post. She remained in dry dock for 3 weeks whilst repairs were undertaken.

This photograph shows the shape of her raked stem, shaped to aid getting through the ice.

(Photograph by Clive Sweetingham and shown here with his permission) 

The BRANSFIELD or Branny as the men and women who sailed on her used to call her was a special ship designed and built for special work in some of the toughest weather conditions in the World.

The ravages of the Southern Oceans could batter a less well equipped ship into an early visit to the breakers yard as had been see a few years earlier when two ex Robb ships working with the New Zealand Navy as weather/look out ships for aircraft going to Antarctica found out. After a few years in the conditions found down there the Loch Class ships had so much damage done to their hulls that they were removed from service.




BRANSFIELD arrives at Maggies Ditch in Antarctica

(Photo by Greame Hart and shown here with 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.



The BRANSFIELD of course was strengthened with an ice breaking bow which meant that apart from her normal frame spacing she had intermediate framing as well.

This coupled with the shape of her stem would allow the ship to ride up onto pack ice and use the forward movement and weight of the ship to break though the ice.

She was the only ship in the British Isles equipped to go to the frozen regions of the World, and now with the discovery of oil and of course the possibilities of ships going through the Artic Ocean to deliver cargo's then ice breakers will become more important in the future, but now the U.K. has to rely on a converted Norwegian ship to carry her interests in the region.



BRANSFIELD ties up at Maggies Ditch 1994-95

(Photo by Greame Hart) 





The above note was pinned on the notice board on BRANSFIELD to tell the crew that she had reached the furthest South that a ship at that time had achieved, it showns the Lat, and Long, she was at in the Weddell Sea. Yet another "first" achieved by a Leith built ship at Henry Robb.

Sent into the website by Ivan Stevenson and shown here with his permission.

BRANSFIELD had a service life of around 29 years in the most punishing environment imaginable for the wear and tear on a ship and the fact that she lasted so long is a testament to her builders and to the crews who maintained her over her working career.





FBC on the sea ice with the BRANSFIELD in the distance Feb 1994


(photo by Greame Hart)




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.


Antarctic Survey Story


As told by Graeme Hart-British Antarctic Survey Team member.

As it turns out, my Uncle was a foreman in a yard in Southampton and used to
refit Bransfield years ago. When I told him I was sailing to Antarctica from
Grimsby he said "Not on the Bransfield I hope!” He was joking. It was a
fine ship, though nearing the end of her service and I think she needed a
bigger and bigger refit each year.

I distinctly remember sailing from Grimsby to Tyneside on the Branny for
its refit. I was being trained on the Meteorological equipment. When we
arrived she was put into dry dock and I was surprised to see that the red
paint ended at the water line.

Months later when we were sailing through the sea ice in the Weddell sea I
saw the red paint that they had replaced at Tyneside on all the sea ice in
our wake. I guess it was obvious when you think about it but it looked odd
to see the sea ice rubbing the paint off the ship. I had assumed that they
had ice proof paint, bearing in mind that she was an ice strengthened ship.




BRANSFIELD lowers Tula at Maggies Ditch 1994

(photo by Greame Hart) 

After off loading cargo at Signy in the South Orkneys the forward cargo hold
was quite empty. We put up a table tennis table and used to play ping pong
in there as the ice scraped the hull either side of us. It was quite eerie.

The ping pong didn't really last long as every time the ship rammed a sheet
of sea ice it all went wrong and we lost the ball under a crate. It was also
rather cold in there - the sea was below zero.

We got stuck in the Ice in November and were eventually freed by a Russian
ice breaker which was on hire to tourists. We helped them out by sending our
doctor over to help with a patient and they returned the favour by clearing
a path through the ice. This was in the Weddell sea which is where
Shackleton got trapped with the Endurance so many years before. Our ordeal
only lasted two days - it is hard to imagine what it was like for them.

One of the saddest things I've ever seen - the Bransfield disappearing into
the distance in February.

One of the happiest things I've ever seen - the Bransfield hoving to into view
in December.

In between those two - nine months of isolation at Halley.

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 #15 Kirsty Plummer 2017-07-02 12:32
My dad sailed on the bransfield in the 70s.his name was jim MARSHALL the best years o his life got photo's o people with barrels o beer having the time o there life lol .would be great to know if anyone remembers him
0 #14 Kirsty Plummer 2017-07-02 12:25
My dad told me many storys about the bransfield oh and the photos would be around the 70s JIM MARSHALL (james) would be goodto hear if anyone remembers my dad x
0 #13 Andrew Denley 2017-05-01 14:02
Tim, thanks for the info...STS Winston Churchill eh? I was a watch leader on that Schooner for a couple of cruises. Small world.
0 #12 Roy Felton 2017-05-01 10:27
I sailed on the Bransfield in 1977/78 /79 as Motorman and EDH great time and great ship mates many good memories
+2 #11 Tim Leggett 2015-06-29 16:56
Andrew, after Bransfield Kevin Vicars was a cook on John Biscoe. I later saw him as a relief cook on STS Sir Winston Churchill. I've not heard of him for sometime. I seem to remember that he had a flat in the Bournemouth area.
+1 #10 Andrew Denley 2015-06-29 09:01
I was working the radio at Rothera in summer 1980. We were wating for the Branny to arrive for the end of season relief when Hugh O'Gorman came on the radio "We may be delayed a bit, we seem to have run aground!" We all rushed up to Rothera Point to see the ship listing, very alarmingly to starboard. She had apparently traversed two rocky outcrops at 8 knots resulting in a huge underwater gash.
+1 #9 david crawford 2015-06-28 09:24
Ahh! memories ! She looked far better without the funnel extension which she got later . Happy days with spike.Jan, Larry and cliff, Stuart,nick at al and of course Stevie Vallance the doctor.
+4 #8 Andrew Denley 2014-03-31 14:56
I sailed south in the Branny - October 1979 and returned in her May 1981. I remember Tim Leggett, Captain Cole and Stewart Laurence -whatever happened to Kevin Vicars? Last time I saw her I was with the FCO in Montevideo and had he pleasure of going aboard to take the official Embassy papers. I was at Rothera base when she hit submerged rocks and then sailed north in her to Argentine Islands. Happy days!
+3 #7 Howard Stoneham 2013-10-25 05:14
I sailed on the maiden voyage of the Bransfield. She took me to Halley Bay where I served as a tractor / diesel mechanic for two years. I returned to Southampton in May 73. The most fun I have ever had.
+2 #6 Lauren Herschell 2013-04-10 12:36
My dad sailed on the Bransfield, it was before I was born in 1982- so it would be late 70's early 80's. His name is Paul Herschell. Be nice to know if anybody remembers him?

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