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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 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)



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)


Dedicated to all the brave men and women 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 #16 AdieB 2014-09-14 06:41
@ Tim Coetzee. Do you recall if the German Tug was the Zwarte Zee as she was based in and around Durban in the late 70's and early 80's.
0 #15 tim coertrze 2014-09-13 17:10
I was 3rd mate on the WW in 1984.
Chris Liggett was one of the Radio Officers
We anchored off Mossel Bay,waiting for a vessel with "plumbing problems" coming from Durban.
Our Pommy captain (cannot remember his name) took the inflatable ashore together with 4 or 5 officers to check out the competition - a substantial German tug ( but nowhere close to the magnificence of the Wolraad).
We had a good drink in one of the pubs with the Germans, but no mayday came through.
Salvage is a lot about waiting.
0 #14 Magne Hungnes 2014-09-03 12:34
Anyone of you got a Picture of the vessel ww Towed the TARKWA in to Cape Town in 1993 From St Helena?
0 #13 Bill Jones 2014-04-20 08:55
Quoting Alastair Pettie:
For those people interested, Captain Okkie Grapow - the man who was the driving force behind getting the WW & JR built and then went on to run Saftug, pentow & Smit for many, many years has writtedn a book about the tugs.
The book is called "A Tug at my Heart", ISN 978-0-9921931-0-2

I find any photos that scan in good enough, I'll send them through to the website.

Alastair pettie

I have tried everywhere to obtain a copy of the book but unable to do so. Anybody know where I can get a copy?

Bill Jones
0 #12 Bill Jones 2014-04-20 08:50
It was wonderful coming across this website but so sad at the end seeing the final demise of such a fantastic ship. I spent many weekends on the Wolraad and her sister ship the John Ross when she was docked in Cape Town. My father being Captain Robin Jones who served as Captain with Jack Golden, Steve Matthews and Danny Betts. I can only say that I am happy that my father did not witness the end of such a fine ship as the Wolraad Woltemade
0 #11 Hilton T Jones 2014-04-06 13:29
I spent my last 10 years at sea onboard the WW and JR as RO.
Alastrair Pettie, Peter Bennie, Steve Smith, Mike Muller and myself used to rotate between the two tugs. My last trip on the WW was when the old radio equipment was stripped out of her and the GMDSS equipment was fitted. This spelt the end of the "sparkies" and of my seagoing career. Really great memories.
-1 #10 Barry Orchin 2014-02-20 22:19
My father Fredrick Orchin travelled from belfast N.Ireland to assist in the building of the John Ross in Durban, we all went with and ended up staying for 12 years :-)
I have many pictures of him on board during its sea trials.
+2 #9 Alastair Pettie 2014-01-31 17:46
For those people interested, Captain Okkie Grapow - the man who was the driving force behind getting the WW & JR built and then went on to run Saftug, pentow & Smit for many, many years has writtedn a book about the tugs.
The book is called "A Tug at my Heart", ISN 978-0-9921931-0-2

I find any photos that scan in good enough, I'll send them through to the website.

Alastair pettie
+1 #8 Alastair Pettie 2014-01-31 17:35
I was on the WW & JR for 19 yrs and went to the Farewell Function in Cape Town. The boys gave her a good send off (Piss Up) I believe she was scrapped as one of the engines oversped and the engineer on duty (contract guy)couldn't stop it in time and it cracked the bed plate. It was not economical to re-engine her.
The WW was way more powerful than the Switzer tug in that photo. The aft mast was taken off because the derrick could not be used at sea. They then fitted a cherry picker crane. It ruined her look when they took it off.
I took part in the salvage of a fully laden 435,000t dwt tanker with her. Smit bought the company after a joint tow where we were hit by a super typhoon north of Japan - the Smit tug was all over the place and snapped her tow wire - the WW just kept on going! There has, and never will be, a better deep sea tug than the WW or JR. Danny Betts was retired after 33 years as Master.
End of an ERA
Neil,I sailed with Frank. Bob, get in touch.
0 #7 Keith Carlisle 2013-12-06 20:18
Hi I joined Safmarine in about 79/80 and worked on this tug as electrician.I remember Bob Terry who has left a comment above and Captain Danny Betts from Hull.I remember joining and asked if I could go ashore and get some work boots .When I got back the tug had been called out on a rescue so the company put me up in the seamans mission in Capetown then I was flown to Durban to rejoin.I remember we were stationed in Capetown harbour and the Captain at the time to keep up morale decided to get us out of harbour and we anchored up in sight of Robin Island quite poignant to me now with the recent death of Nelson Mandella.I remember going out in a dinghy with a member of the officer crew and he diving down to get some krayfish ,highly illegal,at that time and the cook prepared them as part of our evening meal.I remember also prior to me joining the tug towed a ship backwards to cadiz in spain which was entered into guiness book of records.I was involved in two tows .Good times.

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