The Puffer, VIC 32 was built in 1943 and is will be 80 years old next year. We last celebrated her 70th birthday in Inverness on September 14th and 15th 2013 at Muirtown Canal Basin. We also had our 2 open days of the year when members of the public can come aboard and visit the wheelhouse, engine room and ship’s hold. We also had the Inverness launch of our new Cookbook.
Nick and Rachel bought the Puffer in 1975, restored her hull by double plating on the tidal Thames and converted the ship’s hold to accommodation for 12 passengers. They then took her back to Scotland and operated her as a passenger-carrying vessel under the auspices of ‘Highland Steamboat Holidays’. This was a very successful but shoestring company and when in 1998 they could see the writing on the wall for the continued success of the project, becoming a Scottish Charity became the obvious way forward.
This was initialized in 2000 and we actually became ‘The Puffer Preservation Trust, Co. Ltd’ in 2002. It has been a terrific success. Nick and Rachel gave the boat to the `Trust’ and became directors together with Mike Smith, later to be followed by Jim Hay.
The main advantage of becoming a Trust is that access to funding is simplified. This was soon to become obvious as in the spring of 2004, the Allianz Cornhill insurance company’s boiler inspector failed the Puffer’s boiler. Their metallurgy experts had made their best efforts to try and overcome the boiler’s problems but to no avail. All the bookings were cancelled for that year, ‘Savethepuffer’ website was started up and morale was very low.
I don’t think we realized how popular the boat was. Members of the public came up to Nick in the local supermarket and sympathizing with the situation, stuffed £10 notes into his top boiler suit pocket. Children gave him their pocket money, did sponsored swims and walks along the Crinan canal. Local artists raised £11,000 by giving their art that was sold one evening in the Crinan Hotel. The Heritage Lottery fund gave £105,000 toward the boiler replacement project which included new 8mm hull plating under and around the new boiler. The work was done by Corpach Boatbuilders at Fort William and by Roger and Paul Pridham at Tavistock in Devon. The entire project cost £158,000 and by September 2006 we were back up and running on the Caledonian canal.
The money continued to pour in from all over the world. We bought a new electronic chart plotter to add to the wheelhouse’s navigational aids. The varnished wooden dinghy was restored and a new ‘Carley float’ was built by Crinan Boat yard.
Since the inauguration of the Puffer Preservation Trust we have probably spent nearly £750,000 on the vessel. This includes approximately 60% of the underwater hull’s plating being replaced with new 8mm thick steel and 25% of the above water hull’s plating. We gather money in from all quarters during the year: mostly from selling holidays on board during the summer, but also from gift aided donations, gift aid itself, sales of souvenirs and raffle tickets and of course our new must have Cookbook.
Any future money given to the boat will continue to go toward its general restoration and the on-going hull replacement scheme.
The boat is open to the public every year during a weekend at Inverness and we also do ‘free trips’ round the bay at Crinan. ‘Free to get on, £10 to get off!” If you come across us anywhere you meet us, feel free to ask for a guided tour and see where the money you have donated has gone to. Unless we are very busy it is quite common to be allowed on board anytime during the year. Ask for our holiday brochure and come aboard for a 5 day holiday.
Thank you for your donation.
Nick and Rachel.
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