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 S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE - Yard No 516 - Ocean Salvage Tug - Safmarine - Built 1976

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S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE - Yard No 516 - Ocean Salvage Tug - Safmarine - Built 1976


 Ship No 516 


Owners    South African Marine Corporation Ltd (Safmarine)
Registered    Kingstown Keel Laid    17/04/1974
Type of Ship    Deep Sea Ocean Salvage Tug Launched    15/05/1975
      Handed Over    23/04/1976
Ship Details          
Length Overall    94.6 metres Launch Details    
Length B.P.    85 metres Weather    
Beam    15.2 metres Time to Water    
Depth Mld     8.6metres      
Draught    7.52 metres      
G.R.T.    2822      
CREW     42      
Engines   2 Mirrlees Blackstone 16 KVR Major four-stroke diesel engines driving a single CPP in a fixed Kort Nozzle, producing a total of 26,200 IHP/19,200 BHP 
Props    1      
Speed    20 + knots      
Other known names   2010 ICON    
Current Status    Broken up in 2010    
Content on S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE will be added as and when available. 



The Mighty Z-Tug S.A.Wolraad Woltemade


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. 

Now we get to the "Grandlady of all Ocean going SalvageTugs" the mighty S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE Ship No 516

Sure there are more powerful tugs around the World today but they don't look anything as good as the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE Z Tug which is one of my favourite ships out of all the ships that were built at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb in Scotland or Robb Caledon as it was then known.

She just looked the part, fine lines allied with a very powerful look she was a real Greyhound of the seas or depending on your opinion a powerful vulture waiting off the coast of South Africa scanning the world radio waves for that distress call to come in and then she would take of with all of her more than 26,000 ihp, racing through some of the worst seas imaginable to claim her very valuable prize.

She was ordered by the South African Marine Corporation Ltd or Safmarine for short.

To be built it was planned along with her sister ship at the same time SA WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE being built at Leith while her sister was built in Durban South Africa.

She was the most powerful ocean going tug in the World at the time. The ship was named after an 18th century South African hero while her near identical sister ship The John Ross (was named after a Scottish South African hero)    

They were ordered at a time when the Suez Canal was closed due to war in the Middle East and all the Worlds oil traffic was going the long way round the Cape of Good Hope, this mighty tug was also equipped to provide rescue and anti-pollution services.



The WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE and her sister the John Ross to-gether

(Photo credit unknown) 


The WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE was built and launched way ahead of her sister ship being built in South Africa and indeed there was talk at the time of men going over there from Leith to help them out with the build, this never materialised and after seeing some photographs of her sister ship being built at Durban was perhaps for the better as the conditions in the yard over there even made conditions in the Leith yard of Robb Caledon look pretty good which I hasten to add they were not good but for the time they were excepted as how a working shipyard was at the time a bit of a dangerous shit hole if truth be told, but that was offset by the immense pride felt by most in what they were creating, conditions I have to say were similar to most shipyards the World over. Which happy to say is now pretty much changed with most ships being built under cover of huge building sheds, unlike at Leith where all the ships were built in the open with the units that made up the ships being built under cover most of the time but the bow unit was usually built out in the open as they tended to be larger units which the overhead cranes cold not lift so outside in all weathers it was, this did not seem to be detrimental to the quality of the build which I would say was more to do with the skill of the experienced shipbuilders at the time, they could have built the ships anywhere.

But back to her build as said previous she was very impressive even on the blocks of the slipway with her keel being laid in April 1974 and as she grew ever larger her form took shape and she was completed at the bow with a magnificent bit of work that formed her huge bulbous bow.Her bulbous bow was first done as a mock-up in the Loft and then the Plater lifted a metal cage of the mock-up and along with some heating from the Blacksmiths they produced what I would call a real bulbous bow. I also had the job of templating her bow profile which ran from the keel to the start of her soft nose, quite a shape to bend a 6 inch solid round bar into but it was done and done very well.






Fitting out at the basin at Leith, with the fishery protection vessel Scotia at her bow and one of the later Hound Point terminal tugs at her stern.

(Photo reproduced here by kind permission of Alan)
© Mike Griffiths


Some of the figures for this ship were very impressive for her day such as her 210 tons bollard pull, with her single screw variable pitch propeller set inside a fixed kort nozzle geared to her two massive 16 cylinder Mirrlees engines geared to the one prop, she was capable of racing along in excess of 21 knots. And with her twin rudders fitted at the after side of her nozzle she had a turning circle at full speed of around two ships lengths, and she could also stop dead in the water in just over one and a half ships lengths (just under one minute) and she was just 5 metres short of 100 metres overall length. Her twin rudders aft of her Kort nozzle along with her powerful bow thrusters unit gave her a lot of manoeuvrability for a large ship.

She was so powerful that she could not do her bollard pull trails in Leith and she had to sail around the coast of Scotland to do her bollard pull on the River Clyde near Greenock another home of Scottish Shipbuilding excellence. (See you Jimmy) told you I would get you a mention.

The mighty S.A. WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE was launched into the waters of the Leith Dock Basin in May of 1975 and after her successful trials she was handed over to her proud owners at Safmarine in April 1976 with her call sign of "ZTUG" painted on her superstructure side she just looked right.


 Above in a photograph from 1976 sitting good in the water, and looking just as she was meant to, sleek and powerful.

(photo credit unknown)

And right she was as she took up her station on the coast of South Africa ever alert for one of the super tankers to find herself in trouble in this stormy part of the World. With a crew of around 42 she was capable of staying on station at sea for quite some time and she was well equipped for almost any type of emergency at sea she even had a four berth sick bay in case of emergency medical cases.

She was well equipped with fire fighting gear as well including 2 water cannons capable of firing out over 600 tons of water per hour.

With her separate winch house just aft of the Bridge to control her huge friction winches (She had two) with static loads of 320T and 180T respectively, with there spooling winches holding more than 2,000 metres of 70mm and 56mm Dia wire towing hawsers, this ship could tow anything afloat at the time and more.

Above shows just one of her engines being fitted into her hull in a photograph taken by one of the Mirrlees engineers at the time. 


There will be a lot more to go onto the website about the S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE so keep checking back and of course if you have a story about her then please contact the website and we shall add it here. 

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.



On her trials on the River Forth, to do her bollard pull tests she had to go over to the River Clyde at Greenock as there was nothing at Leith that would not have been pulled out of its foundations-She had a bollard pull of 210 tons.


 Above is a photograph of the Bridge of the S.A.WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE in this picture taken by Paul and reproduced here by permission.

The picture was taken when she was at Port Glasgow in April/May 1976 doing her bollard pull tests.




She is seen here at the Scott Lithgow repair quay at Port Glasgow (Photo by Paul)



I thought this would make an interesting comparison of the two fine ships as these two photographs were both taken when the Wolraad Woltemade built at Leith,and her sister ship the John Ross built in South Africa

first arrived at Cape Town to take up station there. Both photographs taken around the same area although around a year apart as the Wolraad Woltemade was launched before her sister ship.

I know which one I think looks better but leave the choice up to you, what do you think, and guess which one was scrapped!

The photograph above by D. Shackleton and sent in to the website by L. Pollard shows the Sister Ship the John Ross as she arrives at Cpae Town for the first time, a bit after her sister ship the Wolraad Woltemade which had of course been built at Leith, while the John Ross was built in South Africa.


This is a good photograph of the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE (As a Smit Ship) in heavy seas.

(photo credit unknown for now) 

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.


WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE at work towing a rig by herself. Her name had the S.A. dropped from it.

(Photo credit unknown)



Another photograph above of WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE at work this time towing SeaMac 1

(photo credit unknown)

To go along with the story from Stephen Carson who started out as 3rd Engineer on the Wolraad Woltemade then progressed to 2nd Engineer, as he says he and his family were on board after a Ship's BBQ and as it happened to be startled to wake up as the mighty ship was underway, she had been notified about a tanker that was in trouble and this is what the Wolraad Woltemade was built to do.

A little thing such as having extra crew or passengers onboard at the time of a distress call would only be a small inconvenience as there was a lot of money to be made from answering the call and of course the very real potential to avert a disaster of mighty proportions should one of these leviathans happen to come to grief or perhaps worse (environmentally at least) run aground.

This particular trip must have been a great adventure for the children involved with a fantastic story to tell once they got back to school, and can you imagine in today's politically correct world how the parents would explain their children's absence from school, (well honest mister it was a big ship came and took me away for 5 days)


The photograph above shows the classic tug WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE at rest taken around Dec 1980



The BBQ begins with some of the crew and family onboard the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE




Enjoying a beer or two on the mighty ship WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE now moved inside of the ship.


Stephen is the one with the shinny Dome!

 Bob, Gail, Jackie and Stephen seen here 1980




The kids obviously thought all this deep sea chasing around was a lot of fun.

 Danielle and Gails Kids seen here inside the Woltemade



Beware some children on the foc'sle of the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE (she had dropped the S.A. in front of her name by this time.

Danielle and Gails Kids see here in this photograph


Stephen Carson (with the shinny head) and Lecy shore side by the Starboard Bow of the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE

Some more photographs from Stephen as his family were onboard the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE as she went to the assistance of the tanker WORLD MANDATE.

The Tanker we were towing with my wife Jacqueline and daughter Danielle was called The World Mandate. Here is another picture of the family at sea as we towed the "World Mandate" in thick fog 



I have to agree with the words and sentiment of one of the WALRAAD WOLTEMADE's Captains when he says

For sure it will never happen again that a tug, paid for by the tax payers of RSA, will be able to be scrapped by a foreign owner, for a mere accounting expediency.

Regards = Capt Okke Grapow who also wrote a book about the two mighty South African supertugs.



Dedicated to all the brave men and women (and the children in this case) who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

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 #32 James M. Taylor Jr 2017-03-15 13:32
Hello There, Is it possible that anybody that used to be employed on the Tug Wolraad Woltemade remembers towage of a ro/ro ship to the France Rd. Dock in New Orleans via the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet? Would have been around 1977 or so Thks, JT
0 #31 Derks / Holland 2016-12-26 12:06
Just finished the story of the South Afrcan sea going tugs Wolraad Woltemade and the John Ross.
Excellent story.
Keep this site on my favorites.
0 #30 peter young 2016-10-30 12:23
If you look at the last picture before of the Wolraad while she was still whole, you will see that the call sign was "ZFFA" and not "ZTUG". WW and sister, JR were first registered in South Africa with ZTUG and ZTOW. Because of sancions during the apartheid era, they were re-registered with ZFFA and ZCLT call signs in Hamilton, Bermuda (according to my seaman's record book, that must have been before 1980.) In April 1982 the Falklands war broke out. To avoid being requisitioned by the British Navy for use in the war (Bermuda being a British colony)On 18 April 1982 I signed off the Wolraad Woltemade, ZFFA and then signed on again on the Wolraad Woltemade ZTUG.----- later the tugs were re-registered in Panama. This explaines the various colour changes of the Ships' funnels.
0 #29 Stephen Carson 2016-10-09 09:54
Hi Peter Youngyou,

Stephen Carson here. You remember me as Allan MacLeod 3/E and 2/E when I re-leaved 2/E'Growler"
I reverted back to my birthright name Stephen Carson in 1994.Busy here in Sth Korea as part of Project team building drill ships after coming ashore in 2005. So what path has life led you down.My email address .
+1 #28 Peter Youngyou 2016-10-08 20:53
I sailed on the WW and John Ross as electrician between 1979 and 1983. I am the bloke with dark hair and beard in the BBQ (Braai) picture with Alan (Bluie) Mc Cloud, Bob Herring, And the girls. I see Frank Maunder, Chief Engineer is also in a picture.
Some of the crew I remember well are :- Richard Armstrong (4th to chief engineer), Eddie Freestone CE, Eugene Hermanus (3rd Eng) Walter Du Preez, (4th -3rd Eng), Nic Carrington(CE), Jimmy Hey (2nd-CE) Adrian Bonello (2nd Eng), Peter Stow (mate) Simon Atherstone-Reno lds (2nd Mate), Dave Stirling,(3rd Mate), Terry Purden(Mate), Steve Mathews, Robin Jones, Danny Betts, Jack Golden, And even Frank (chicken coop) Colbard, the 5 Captains.I sailed with all of them, and I have far more happy memories than otherwise. There must be many more, but I, like the Tugs, am getting old.

Wolraad Woltemade, and John Ross,
I salute you and all who sailed in you!
+1 #27 Dave Moir 2016-09-28 22:34
Great article. I had the honour of being towed by the John Ross on the oil rig the Chris Chenery from UK North Sea to dry dock in Rotterdam. Tow went so well, very professionally done, John Ross Skipper was towmaster. We were overloaded on the rig at start of tow due to fog preventing helicopters so some of the rig crew sailed on the John Ross. I sailed on the rig, did customs forms for the bargemaster & watched the tug as she towed us effortessly to R'dam. When she cast off she blew her horn which blasted right round the whole of the Europoort!
+1 #26 Mark De Simone 2016-03-07 13:06
I had the great fortune to know both the Wolraad Woltemade and the John Ross. First encountering the WW in HKUD during 1984 or 85 while my own vessel SEDCO 600 was stacked, I had the great honor of being a guest aboard the WW meeting Captain Jack and his amazing crew. Then later in Houston during 1985, I met up with the John Ross, and then in 1986, in Singapore on a stopover, while the WW was towing the Zane Barnes from Nagoya to the Gulf of Mexico. The images of these amazing vessels remains with me today, and as I learned on the WW in HKUD, while on board one cannot use the "PIG", refer to the vessel as a "Boat" or proceed in conversation more than 5 minutes with mentioning women ... it was a great experience and I am proud to have know these vessels and it personnel. It was a bit of a shock to see the WW split in half at the end of the article, but I suppose after nearly 40 years service, it is to be expected ... and life goes on. May it rest in peace.
+1 #25 Tim Callais 2016-02-18 21:19
The photo of WW towing that yellow hulled rig was taken around March or April of 1993. The rig was the Transocean Richardson. I was on the rig at the time the picture was taken. We were in route to the US Gulf of Mexico from Scotland. She was a beautiful tug and made for an excellent journey in her wheel wash.
+3 #24 stephen ward 2015-06-25 05:35
I remember reading in the Guinness book of records how the WOLRAAD WOLTEMADE was the worlds most powerful tug of her day.She was indeed very special.
0 #23 Ken hunter 2015-02-17 17:53
Well well Bernard, fancy hearing from you after all these years. How you keeping? I'd love to receive any photos. Im at .I've just read the book Kind regards Ken

Quoting Bernard McGroarty:
Quoting Ken hunter:
Having being the senior service engineer for MIrlees Blackstone, I was the engineer responsible for installations of WW and JR's engine/propulsion systems and carried out both ships start ups at builders, both basin trials, sea trials/bollard pull trials (WW) and maiden trips of both. Have fabulous memories of these amazing ladies and love reading about them and revisiting my halcyon days. Would also love to get a copy of the book so any ideas appreciated.

Ken- Have sent you details on the book by separate email

Hi Ken, I'm one of the gang that worked with you in Capetown from Mirrlees. have a couple of photographs of all of us, if you want me to pass them on via email?

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