Vessel broke the record of biggest in port

LONGSHIP? Not the Viking kind, but a 410ft visitor – the Admiral Atlantic - entering Yarmouth harbo

LONGSHIP? Not the Viking kind, but a 410ft visitor – the Admiral Atlantic - entering Yarmouth harbour in 1983.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

During the decades before the mid-1980s that this column, at under half its current length, was published six nights a week in our sister newspaper, the Eastern Evening News, a regular topic was the port of Great Yarmouth and its shipping.

T-I-M-B-E-R! The London steamer Pearlmoor, typical of the size of vessels delivering wood to Yarmout

T-I-M-B-E-R! The London steamer Pearlmoor, typical of the size of vessels delivering wood to Yarmouth, discharging her cargo at Southtown in 1909. Much of the timber is floating in the Yare. Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE - Credit: Archant

I drove along Riverside Road most days on my way home from Yarmouth to Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston and recorded shipping activity, notable arrivals and anything out of the ordinary. In autumn it was hard to see the wood for the trees, so to speak, because the Yare bustled with hundreds of herring drifters from Yarmouth and Scotland seeking the silver darlings in the long-gone autumn fishery.

Alas, those halcyon days are history. Harbour comings and goings are hum-drum and seem few nowadays. My interest was at its nadir. As for the Outer Harbour, it was inaccessible and secretive, commercial sensitivity thwarting the harmless interest of sightseeing port enthusiasts.

Then, earlier this month, the Mercury’s front page was occupied with the welcome news of the arrival here of the Glovis Splendor, the biggest vessel ever to sail into Yarmouth – admittedly, not into the river itself, for she was far too bulky and deep-draughted for that, but into the Outer Harbour, to the delight of its new owner, Peel Ports.

She discharged 3300 Hyundai cars bound for UK dealerships. Well done, Peel Ports, owner of the Outer Harbour. We must hope this marked the beginning of an upsurge in its cargo activities rather than the facility being a berthing place for offshore structures awaiting work.

RECORD HOLDER: The 425ft Wakasa Maru, with a port tug alongside her, in Yarmouth in 1920. She probab

RECORD HOLDER: The 425ft Wakasa Maru, with a port tug alongside her, in Yarmouth in 1920. She probably held the title of our longest visitor for six decades until 1980.Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE - Credit: Archant

Had I known of the Glovis Splendor’s arrival, I would have found a vantage point on Gorleston cliffs to take a peek through binoculars. Almost in the words of the old song, could this be the start of something big?

Ever sceptical, the questioning journalist in me being resurrected, I wondered if the “biggest” claims about her dimensions were justified or perhaps stemmed from the imagination of a publicist press officer...

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Unless some unrecorded remarkably big vessel – by Yare standards – once inched between our twin piers, manoeuvred round our tricky Brush Bend with the help of a tug or two and crawled up-river, repeating the procedure when she sailed out, without coming to the notice of those avid port enthusiasts, the Glovis Splendor is the rightful claimant to the honour.

There are various ways of measuring ships, most of them complicated and technical like dead-weight, displacement and gross and net tonnage, but to the layman, overall length seems the simplest and most evident. The Glovis Splendor measured 652ft in length and 114ft in breadth, and needed at least 30ft of water beneath her hull.

Although I am open to correction, I think the previous longest vessel ever seen here in Yarmouth was the Union Melbourne at 465ft. She came into port in 1980 and laid on Bollard Quay, but only because her planned visit to Lowestoft for repairs was thwarted when it was found that her 64ft breadth – especially her extended bridge “wings” - were too much for our Suffolk neighbour to accommodate.

For six decades, the length record had been held probably by the Wakasa Maru, a Japanese freighter, which called here during the 1920 autumn herring season to load a part-cargo of the fish to ferry to the Russian port of Vladivostock.

It took no fewer than three local tugs – the George Jewson, Yare and United Service – to tow the 425ft freighter. The late Clifford Temple, the photographer who recorded for posterity many aspects of Yarmouth and Norfolk, was on the quayside to record her presence.

There have been plenty of other ships here that we termed “big”, the limitations of our harbour imposing limits. Few measured more than 400ft.

Among them were the Admiral Nigeria and the Admiral Atlantic, both 410ft long and here in 1979 and 1983 respectively; the Alvorada (412ft), Tolmi (406ft) and Linhaven (just under, at 395ft), all Greek or Cypriot registered and loading cargoes for the Med-Africa Line at the GY Warehousing wharf on East Quay; and the Kirnwood (402ft).

The many in the 300-400ft range included the Duke of Yorkshire (361ft), one of the Norfolk Line roll-on/roll-off fleet which did not visit here regularly on an almost daily basis like the ferry company’s others but looked in only once during a trial voyage before heading up the East Coast to Middlesbrough to work on a trans-North Sea service with the Dutch port of Scheveningen.

The numerous others in the 300-400ft category included the Beatus and Russia’s Petr Anokhin, both 390ft; Thorland (385ft); Algol (364ft); Gulf King (360ft); Scandinavia (359ft); Puritan (356ft); Tollense (352ft); RoRo Anglia (345ft); and the Sealord Challenger and Sealord Contender (310ft).

The above is not intended to be an exhaustive register, of course: it is simply a list of large vessels noted by me and those dedicated port lovers who derive great pleasure from noting the comings and goings and the harbour activities.

In decades long past, it was not uncommon to espy a big freighter using Yarmouth harbour. Often they were importing timber from Scandinavia, discharging their cargoes on to Bollard Quay or in the shadow of the Haven Bridge at the Jewson yards, another activity sadly lost to Yarmouth a long time ago.

Some other “biggies” delivered empty barrels to be filled with herring during the autumn fishery, or exported fish-laden barrels to distant ports.

Alas, it is all too quiet nowadays and the fun must have long gone for them. Even Outer Harbour activities can produce little enthusiasm when they are largely out of sight and presumably commercially sensitive.

As long ago as 1995, when I was penning a Through the Porthole column in this newspaper on a similar theme, I wrote: “I doubt if we will ever see another 400ft-plus ship here, unless we have an outer harbour.”

Well, we now have that Outer Harbour, and a 400ft-plus vessel using it...21 years later.