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 HELEN - Yard No 535 - Passenger Vehicle Ferry - Wightlink - Built 1983

Leith Shipyards

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St HELEN - Yard No 535 - Passenger Vehicle Ferry - Wightlink - Built 1983


ST HELEN Ship No 535

 The Wightlink ferry underway ST HELEN Ship No 535


Owners    British Rail Sealink Ferries Ltd
Registered    London (Official No 705464) Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Ro-Ro passenger/Vehicle ferry  Launched    15/09/1983
     D.O.T Class IV Handed Over    Nov 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      
Draught    2.48 metres      
G.R.T.    2,983 tonnes      
DWT    540 tonnes      
Engines    3 Harland & Wolff/Man diesels type 6ASC 25/30 each producing 850 BHP @ 750RPM      
Props    3 Voith Schneider type 21G      
Speed    13.0 knots      
Other known names   2015-ANNA MUR    
Current Status   Now been transferred to the Italian Shipping Company Delcomar to work along side her sister ship in Sardinia    

Content on ST HELEN will be added as and when available. 



The launch of the ST HELEN Ship No 535

The final ship launched from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd

(The photograph was taken by a Shipwright at the yard Barry Booth and shown here by permission)


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.


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 finished and outfitted the Loft was busy running the lines for these two new ships.

This second of her class known as the "Saint Class" was about 900 tonnes heavier than her sister ship the ST CATHERINE launched earlier in the year and amid all the industrial unrest and job uncertainty for the shipbuilders of the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb her build went on and there was even the carrot of the possibility of further orders being won by the yard but the ferry ST HELEN had to be delivered in time as we were told that "Sealink" had already taken summer bookings for the ship for the following season in 1984.

Work was still going on with an experimental mini submarine being looked at and given a yard number of 533. Some of her lines having to be re-drawn in the Loft.

The Ferry was classed as a Ro-Ro Passenger Ferry (Double Ended with a "Skeg" fore and aft) 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 built to carry 142 cars or 24 commercial vehicles with a crew of 12 and/or 1,000 passengers they were ideal for the job of ferrying all the many millions of people carried in a working ships lifetime.

The industrial unrest was getting worse in the yard with moral amongst the men at a new low point but the ship was built and again she was a ship that just looked right although there was a small "hic-cup" as she was launched with the port after "poppets" giving way just before or as she was entering the water giving her a bit more of a list to port as she took to the water than would have been expected.

Being on this last launch from the Leith Shipyards we never gave it much thought as we just thought that ships rolled a wee bit as the went into the water.

It could have had much more serious consequences but all was fine when she was checked out in the dry dock.



Note-the list to port! (photograph taken by shipwright Barry Booth and shown here by permission)



Now there was only the out-fitting to be done while she was berthed alongside in the basin and for the "Black Squad" of shipbuilders this meant little or no work at all for them. The ST HELEN was completed and handed over in time at the end of November 1983

 The winter of 1983/84 was a bad time for shipbuilders in the British Isles and sure enough word came through around February of 1984 that the famous old yard of Henry Robb Shipbuilders and Engineers was to be one of the smaller shipyards to be sacrificed in the belief at the time that this would help keep the larger shipyards around the country going (All B.S. of course) as most of the other yards where also closed down over a short period of time.

Without going into all the acrimonious details of the closure this was a bad time for the whole area in general and if you have ever read any of Irving Welch's books about this time in and around Leith then you will have some idea of the legacy that it left.

Nothing ever stays the same and over time the whole area has been some what re-generated for better or worse but the harsh fact remained that with the closure of the shipyard this brought to an end to over 600 years of recorded shipbuilding history in Leith.

Not too many areas of any country could compare with this type of shipbuilding history.

The ST HELEN was along with her sister ship ST CATHERINE a very familiar sight in the busy Solent and she is still in service under the guise of a company responsible for the ferry service from the Isle of Wight to the U.K. Mainland called "Wightlink"

The St HELEN has had her usual share of ship problems with nothing really out of the ordinary for a ship of her age and constant working days.

A major incident occurred July 2014 and made the local news, as she arrived at her berth on the Isle of Wight, her Starboard Mezzinene deck collapsed a few feet from its lower position, wrecking some cars and injured a few people although non of them life threatening. It should be added that the Mezzinine Deck was an outside supplied item and not an original part built by the yard.

The incident is still being investigated. - result of the enquiry has determined that the company were at fault and the lack of maintenance of the main wires that controlled the movable deck was to blame for the deck collapse.

Although her long term future remains in some doubt with the obvious option for her to continue working being perhaps with another ferry company just as her sister ship now working in the Mediterranean.  

 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.



ST HELEN arrives at Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight April 2010 swinging round to reverse into her berth.

(Photograph by Tim Webb and shown on shipsnostalgia website first)


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.

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.

The following information and many great photographs have been sent into the website by Anni Ruecroft (Senior Steward) who has worked on both of the Saint Class ships built at the Leith Shipyard of Henry Robb for work on the Solent first with Sealink ferries and then with WightLink Ferries, the following is as told by Anni.

 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 will be sad to see the Helen go.





The above photograph was taken at Portsmouth by Anni Ruecroft around 5 in the morning last week Jan 2015


 we have many more photographs to go onto the website all sent in by the very proud Anni who has worked on the St Class ships for the bestpart of 25 years, the retirement of the SAINT HELEN will be missed by all who worked on her be it during her build or during her 30 odd years of service across one of the busiest waterways in the World, the Solent crossing.


This is a link to the news report the night St Helen's mezz deck collapsed.


The best thing of all about the Saint class is the fact that they never, ever stop in bad weather.
It can be blowing a major storm and despite the fact that the super modern St Clare has to be withdrawn in high winds, the good old Saint class will keep on running without fail


The ferry ST HELEN is now retired from her work in U.K. waters

The following is a further report from Anni and the Wightlink shipping Company

St Helen retired after the 11:30 sailing from Fishbourne on Thursday March 26th after performing a final unscheduled round trip for invited guests, ex-staff and enthusiasts.
Amongst our guests were children from St Helen's primary school who were invited because her first passengers in 1983 were children of that very same school.

Her final traffic was led onboard by a 1983 Rover SD1 police car with it's blue lights flashing.

A buffet and cake was enjoyed onboard and she was given a salute of numerous blasts by St Clare as she left Fishbourne.

As St Helen neared Portsmouth one of her first captains, Cpt Brian Bowers, gave a speech ending with a poignant "St Helen is a proud ship, St Helen we salute you".

And a salute there was as St Helen's successor Wight Light was waiting for her in surprise just off Southsea.

As St Helen neared, both ferries faced each other nose to nose as if St Helen were ceremonially handing over her role.
Wight Light then activated her fire hoses in salute - just as tugs do when they welcome a new cruise ship.

Finally St Cecilia passed by outbound from Portsmouth to many blasts of farewell to her older sister.

After discharging her final passengers St Helen pulled away empty from the berth in Portsmouth with a farewell blast and, as one final bye bye, she pulled into the harbour and span fully around in a circle, as if doing a donut, before tying up.


Retirement cake to mark 32 years and countless numbers of passengers and vehicles safely delivered to there destinations by the final Leith built Ship ST HELEN


Led by an escort 1981 Police Rover car the final passengers and vehicles arrive for ST HELENS last Wightlink voyage March 26th 2015

(The above photograph is shown by courtesy of Ben Rue)

 Anni (Senior Steward) and Ben Rue (Wightlink) give a final wave as she leaves the quayside

(credit for photograph as yet unknown)

During this special trip we played this video (link below) in tribute to St Helen.

 I have to say that the tribute video is well worth a look and it helps to show the pride held by all who had anything to do with this fine ship and lets not forget her sister the ST CATHERINE as well.



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0 #2 joe 2017-05-31 06:59
i was a painter on this ship when i worked for henry robb in 1983 ....robbs built great ships in my time at the leith yard ...the dock is now a shoping mall called ocean eat memorys.
+1 #1 AJ 2014-07-19 23:17
I have many photos of good ol' St Helen and Catherine.

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