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  • Writer's picturePaul Whittle


The 1970’s also saw the size and capabilities of individual aggregate dredgers increase and improve as they started to dredge on licensed areas further from port and in deeper water, the economics of which required ships with significantly larger cargo capacities together with increased rates of loading and discharging. Whilst also desirable, to increase the speed of the ships was a balance between the cost of fuel against the time saved which most often came down in favour of making a tide regardless of all other considerations.


Konsul Retzlaff during her conversion to the Norstone

The first aggregate dredger named Norstone started life as the West German 1868gt cargo ship Konsul Retzlaff. Built at the Astano shipyard in El Ferrol, Spain where she was launched on 31st October 1963, her named changed to Norstone when Westminster Gravels acquired and converted her in 1970. 1975 saw her change owners and name this time to Sea Trailer owned by Oceanic Mars Inc of Panama. Her final fate is not known but she was de-registered on 15th December 2003.

Mersey 42

In 1972 the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board 637gt hopper barge Mersey 42 was sold to Woodfords (London) Ltd and managed by J.Willment Marine (Cowes) Ltd . Converted to a suction dredger by Whites Shipyard in Woolston, Southampton. Amusingly renamed Mersey Beaucoup, she traded to various wharfs on the River Itchen including Willement’s own Itchen yard before being sold to Turkish owners, Sezai Turkes ve Feyzi Akkaya Insaat AS of Instanbul, in 1976. Powered by a 960bhp 4-stroke 8-cylinder Ruston & Hornsby diesel engine giving her a speed of 10kts she was renamed Kumbasan. The well used old lady was broken up in 1986 one year short of her 30th birthday and which time she was registered to Sondora Shipping Co. SA of Panama.

The 1970’s saw over two dozen new ship names appear in the various aggregate dredging fleets as trade expanded amongst which would be an increasing number of new buildings, many with innovative features. Amongst the first being South Coast Shipping’s Sand Swan. Sister to the Sand Swift, she was delivered in March 1970.

Sand Swift

Bedhampton Sand & Gravel Co Ltd entered the trade in 1970 with their 1950 built 116gt ex tanker Regent Robin which was launched on 13th April 1950 at Hill & Sons Bristol yard for Regent Oil Co Ltd. Subsequently transferred to Texaco Ltd. In 1969 she was sold to D.Arnold of Woking who converted her to a “sand barge” and named her Sand Robin in 1970. Sold again in 1972 to John Willment (Marine) Ltd; and again to Bedhampton Sand & Gravel Ltd in 1974. Her last known owners were D.Cook Ltd who re-named her Regent Linnet when they acquired her in 1999. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping have her classed as a “Tank barge”, not a dredger.

Regent Robin

The 330gt War Transport mv Empire Boxer was launched at the yard of Rowhedge Ironworks Ltd on 14th October 1943 and delivered to her owners in February of the following year. She was sold to C. Rowbotham & Sons Ltd in 1946 who operated her under the name Chartsman for ten years before selling her to Steersman Shipping Co Ltd who, in turn, sold her to the Quatermane Shipping Company in 1963. She first worked as a dredger, for tin out of Hayle in Cornwall, for Coastal Prospecting Co Ltd who acquired her in 1966, converted her and named her Baymead. Judging by a photograph of her as a tin dredger, the conversion work was clearly extensive and by her short time in the trade dredging for tin was not a success. 1968 saw her arrival in the Solent where she was expected to be broken up at the Portsmouth yard of Pounds Shipowners & Shipbreakers Ltd; however she joined the dredging fleet of T.J.Bowen & P.D.James who converted her to an aggregate dredger. She was still registered as such in 1993.

Pen Stour

Pen Stour's Hy Mac grab

With a troublesome poor discharge rate, caused by the design of her Poclain crane which was eventually replaced, the 1582gt Pen Stour was launched at Appledore on 22nd May 1970 for Amey Marine. She later became the Chichester Gem when purchased by Frances Concrete Ltd (part of Tarmac) in 1974 and the Nabstone in 1979 when acquired by Westminster Gravels Ltd. Her named changed again to Arco Swale when “Gravels” was acquired by ARC Marine Ltd. She was significantly upgraded in 1991/2? with the installation of an automatic grab discharge system similar to those fitted on Hanson’s new buildings Arco Dee and Arco Dart. She was reportedly the last working cargo ship to sail from Bristol’s Floating Dock in 1991, six years later, on 19th March 1997, she sailed to the breakers in Brugge.

Nabstone (Arco Swale)

Arco Dee

The 500grt general cargo ship Thuban was launched at Foxhol, Holland on 6th June 1957. She was sold in 1964 when she was renamed Jovista, 1966 saw her new owners name her Petro Minor and 1968 another Norwegian owner changed her name back to Jovista. Marinex Gravels Ltd acquired her in 1970 and named her Marinex IV. Marinex sold her to W.N.Lindsay Ltd of Leith who re-named her Rosemarkie. She was finally sold to Naviera Carlizanne in 1977, registered in Panama and re-named Carlizanne under which name she departed Gibraltar on November 20th 1985 for Puerto de Santa Maria in Spain where she was broken up.

Marinex V

Moving from their less than successful venture at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Marinex Ltd arrived in the Thames with the 2825grt Marinex V, their first purpose built aggregate dredger, which was launched at Ferguson Brothers’ Port Glasgow yard on 4th August 1970.The innovative design of the Marinex V, which not only included twin controllable pitch propellers a bow thrust and a venturi dredge system but also a facility to transport sewage from the plant on the Thames at Woolwich out to the Barrow Deep in the Thames Estuary which necessitated hydraulically operated hatch covers (and bottom dumping doors?). Her discharge system, which had not been used for gravel before, proved unsuited to the task and the swell compensator for her dredge pipe, which could load from depths of 45mtrs, proved practically troublesome due, in part at least, to the design of the drag head winch controls.

Her discharge system was by way of a ‘Conflow’ unloader built by the German company Orenstein & Koppel which was very efficient when handling free-flowing material such as coal or iron or but was something of a disaster when trying to discharge a wet sand and gravel mixture. The bucket ladder could not move laterally so just dug itself into a trench leaving an unstable wall of dredged aggregates on either side which, inevitably, collapsed onto the buckets breaking them and the links. The resultant required ‘dig out’ and repairs undertaken by the ship’s crew never put smiles on their faces.

In the event, the contact for carrying sewage was thwarted by the crews of the GLC “sludge boats” whose union threatened industrial action if even a single cargo of sewage was carried by the MarinexV. The need for the ship to dredge at a depth which was deeper than the norm at that time was driven by the company’s relatively shallow licensed areas being bereft of suitable deposits. It was anticipated that commercial material would be found in deeper waters.

Marinex Gravels Ltd. established an aggregate plant at Cliffe on the banks of the River Thames in 1970 which was one of the biggest in Europe when sold to Brett Aggregates in 1976.

By 1976 the troublesome Marinex V was laid up out of class. She went to the breakers in August 1979 having been briefly owned by Civil & Marine after Marinex Gravels Ltd was wound up.

Marinex V1


When Marinex Gravels Ltd ceased its dredging activities in 1976 The Marinex VI was sold to Westminster Gravels who traded her as the Marinestone until that company was acquired by ARC Marine Ltd. Renamed Arco Tees, when fully loaded on 4th August 1986, she was blown up by what was thought to have been a WWII magnetic mine off Great Yarmouth. Although a constructive total loss, with practically every fixture and a great deal of pipe work fractured on board, her hold being full of cargo, was believed to have cushioned the explosion sufficient for her to be kept watertight and prevent serious injury to any of her crew.

The Arco Tees insurance claim came under the category of a war risk and as such the company received £1million in compensation with a luncheon for the company’s directors at Lloyd’s to mark the rarity of such a war risk claim.

Arco Trent at Sizewell

Having grounded on a sand bank after the explosion where temporary repairs were carried out, she arrived in Brugge in December to be broken up but not before her main engine was removed. The engine being refurbished at a cost of £25,000 before being installed in the hold of the Arco Trent to be used as the pump engine for the hugely successful Sizewell B power station contract. The building of Sizewell B required 1,330,000 tonnes of material to be delivered directly to the site via an offshore floating pipeline and was won by ARC Marine Ltd who received an up front payment of £750,000, which went a long way towards preparing the marine equipment used on the contract.


Sand Skua in Roath Dock, Cardiff

Bolson & Sons launched the 1168grt Sand Skua for South Coast Shipping on 29th March 1971. With a hull similar hull to that of the Sand Swift & Sand Swan but with an aft facing dredge pipe together with layout improvements and modifications required by the BOT (What did they want exactly?) On 30th May 1971 a shell exploded in the Sand Skua’s dredge pump whilst dredging on the Solent Bank. She sank by head in 13mtrs of water with just her aft accommodation showing after her quick thinking Captain, Hugh Smith, ran her into the nearby shallows. She was refloated with the aid of Smit’s floating crane Magnus X. 1981 saw her dredge gear removed and briefly trading as cargo ship carrying stone from the A.R.C. Rayne’s Quarry in Colwyn Bay to Germany, Norway & Sweden. She was later sold to Tans Ocean Marine of Malta from whom she was acquired by Northwood (Fareham) Ltd in 1997 who named her Norstone. Still trading in 2013 fitted with an over side discharge conveyor loaded by a Caterpillar crane fitted to a movable deck allowing her to self discharge self discharge. (Is this true?)


Designed to work the Southern North Sea dredge grounds into the River Thames and Near Continent, South Coast Shipping added the Sand Wader to their fleet when they took delivery of her at Ailsa Shipbuilders in September 1971. With a Gross Tonnage of 3085 and a cargo capacity of 2400 m3. she was significantly larger and, with 25mm shell plating rather than the statutory minimum of 15mm, stronger than any of the company’s existing vessels. Entering Dieppe in 1980 she struck an obstruction, sank by the head and brought the port to a standstill for some hours. Refloated and refurbished, she continued with the company until 2000 when she was sold and re-named Anjos under which name she was still seen trading in 2009 and looking very good for her age in Maderia.

Pounds Shipowning & Shipbreaking Ltd; purchased Shell- Mex 3 from the Admiralty Marshall in 1968 and sold her on to Norman Woods of Gosport in 1971 who converted her to an aggregate dredger. The 128gt oil barge Shell- Mex 3 was built in 1916 by W.Dobson & Co of Newcastle. Her original 2cylinder main engine, supplied by J. Pollock, Sons & Co of Faversham, was replaced in 1957 with a second hand 5cylinder Ruston & Hornsby engine. On 6th May 1974 she was holed and sank on the Winner Bank off Portsmouth. Refloated the next day and laid up in Portsmouth before being broken up at Hayling Island in 1975. No record of any change of name has been found.


Arco Test

Arco Trent

In July and August 1971, Amey Marine Ltd. took delivery of their 489gt sister ships Amey I and Amey II from Appledore SB. As a consequence of them not reaching their design tonnage (reportedly their cargo capacity was short by some 25% / 200tons) both ships were jumboized with some 4mtrs added to their length with an increased gross tonnage of 594. As a result it was reported that the ships’ speed was increased a little and that the work was carried out for a very competitive price by the shipbuilders. The Amey I was re-named Arco Trent in 1974 and arrived in Middlesbrough on 16th June 1999 where she was broken up. The Amey II was re-named Arco Test in 1973 and was sent to Brugge on 7th November 1998 for breaking up. Part of the Arco Trent may now be seen as Richard Wilson’s river sculpture “A Slice of Reality” in the River Thames close to The Dome.

Arco Trent (or at least part of her!) at The Dome

British Dredging purchased the Dutch 1971 built effluent tanker Hudson Stream in 1972 completing her conversion to a dredger in 1973. Lengthened by 10mtrs with a new gross tonnage of 1555 she was named Bowstream and traded by British Dredging until 1996 when she was sold and renamed Porto Novo. Still in service in 2013


The 1583gt Amey Marine Ltd’s new build was ordered as the Amey III but she was launched on 18th May 1972 as the Arco Scheldt at Appledore S.B. Ltd. under which name she traded until sent to the breaker’s yard at Brugge on 14th March 1997. She was the first ship operated by the company to use a drag-scarper discharge system and was retrofitted with a Nagron automatic grab discharge system in the early 1990’s. She is said to have been the last cargo ship to have sailed from Bristol’s Floating Harbour.


When Bowen & Caines acquired the Sand Wren from South Coast Shipping in December 1972 she was re-named Margaret Smith, being the maiden name of Tommy Bowen’s wife. Six years later, on 28th June 1978, she capsized and sank in 12mtrs of water off Yarmouth I.O.W. A popular venue for sub aqua club outings …. she remains substantially intact, lying on her side and standing 5 or 6 metres clear of the shingle seabed. Still looking very much like a ship, she has not yet begun to break up. A report of her sinking reads thus:- The ship had developed a severe list to starboard and the sea was washing across her deck when the Royal Navy helicopter from the Search and Rescue Flight at HMS Daedalus, Lee-on-Solent arrived. The crew were ordered to quickly jump into the water before the ship capsized. Within 30 seconds, Margaret Smith went right over and capsized, the diver and 4 crew were all winched aboard the helicopter to safety.

The 1955 built 561grt Hexhamshire Lass arrived in the Solent in 1972 under the ownership of Bedhampton Sand & Gravel Ltd; with her original owners John Willment (Marie) Ltd of Twickenham remaining as managers. She was launched on the 21st June 1955 at Charles Hill & Sons’ Bristol yard as a hopper barge for the Central Electricity Authority in order to carry residual fly ash slurry out to sea from the North & South power stations on the River Tyne. She was acquired by Northwood (Fareham) Ltd in 1973 who operated her as an aggregate dredger until she was sent for breaking up at Southampton in September 1993.

In 1972 another new entrant into the industry, Lee Shipping Ltd, appeared on the scene when they converted the 616grt cargo ship Clonlee into an aggregate dredger managed by Normandie Dredging Co Ltd. At conversion she was widened by 1.8mtrs to 11.5mtrs and re-named Humber Lee. The Clonlee was originally the effluent carrier Calcium and it was to that trade she returned when sold to Redland Purle Ltd / Cleanaway Ltd in 1976 who based her in Cork. On 28th December 1984 she arrived at Birkenhead where she was broken up.

Launched at IHC’s Verschure yard in Rotterdam on 12th October 1972, the 2206grt Marinex VI was to prove a more successful design than that of her older sibling which included a screening system involving movable screening towers and a twin bucket scraper discharge system, both of which were to be widely copied by the trade. Also launched in 1972, on 28th January at the IHC Smit yard, was Westminster Gravels’ first new building, the 5487grt Deepstone. She was far and away the largest purpose built aggregate dredger at that time and would remain so until Civil & Marine’s Camdijk was launched 20 years later. Having had a couple of major refurbishments, the Deepstone is still trading today as Arco Humber being a testament to her robust original build which included a number of dry tanks with those designated wet being lined, thereby significantly reducing corrosion . With a single propeller, transverse bow thrust driven by her dredge pump, a cargo capacity of 3,900m3, a 6600bhp main engine and crew of 21 she set impressive new standards of size in the trade.


The Deepstone’s unique, never to be repeated, discharge system included a massive crane gantry housing twin grabs which, operated by a dedicated crane driver, moved along the cargo hold depositing material onto a 44 meters long conveyor belt via a hopper delivering the aggregate to an 18meter overboard conveyor which deposited it onto the quay at a design rate of 1500tons per hour. When stowed against the fore part of the bridge the crane gantry significantly restricted the view forward which required the watch keeping officer to move constantly in order to keep a proper lookout.

She was renamed Arco Humber when ARC Marine acquired Westminster Gravels in 1982? being an acquisition which included the much needed Westminster dredging licences.

In 1999, having been laid up in Middlesbrough for several years, the Arco Humber underwent a major refit which included the installation a bucket wheel discharge system.

In the years ahead she would have her somewhat complex cargo screening system converted to the Marinex invented screening towers and her grab discharge system changed to the bucket wheel system pioneered by Civil & Marine. Also and inevitably, in common with the wider merchant shipping industry, her crew numbers reduced. The huge gantry arrangement which held the discharge grab and which was stowed against the fore part of the bridge, significantly obscuring the view ahead, made the ship unmistakeable to any observer. Laid up for a number of years in Middlesbrough and refurbished again in 2009.

Deepstone with her original discharge gear

Engineer Superintendent Dick Lee who managed the conversion of Arco Humber's discharge system standing by the bucket wheel discharger which was fitted to the

Arco Humber at Swansea

Another view of Arco Humber's bucket wheel discharger on the quay in Swansea

Arco Humber with her bucket wheel discharge system fitted


First owned by the Rowbotham company, Quarterman Shipping Co Ltd; the 757gt Helmsman she was purchased by the Helmsman Shipping Co in 1966 before Lee Shipping Ltd acquired her seven years later in 1973. Lee Shipping had her converted to a suction dredger by Drypool Engineering, where she had been launched as a tanker on 25th August 1958. Re-named Solent Lee, she was managed by Normandie Dredging Co. Ltd. Her ownership changed to Redland Purle Ltd in 1976 and finally to Solent Aggregates Ltd in 1979. She went to be broken up at Rainham in 1989.

Bowen & Caines next ship was the 278grt tanker Waterdale H. which was built by Sharpness Shipyard Ltd in 1953 for John Harker Ltd; who traded her until sold to Beagle Shipping Co Ltd in 1968 renamed Eagle Pioneer. The Lambert Barge Hire Company acquired her in 1971 before Bowen & Caines purchased and converted her to an aggregate dredger at Fareham in 1973. Briefly owned by Beagle Dredging Co Ltd; who held her mortgage, she returned to Bowen & Caines in May 1975. She was still trading in 1975 but her end is currently unknown.

Arco Humber being broken up at the recycling facility in

Gravendeel near Dordrecht, Holland.


First owned by the Rowbotham company, Quarterman Shipping Co Ltd; the 757gt Helmsman she was purchased by the Helmsman Shipping Co in 1966 before Lee Shipping Ltd acquired her seven years later in 1973. Lee Shipping had her converted to a suction dredger by Drypool Engineering, where she had been launched as a tanker on 25th August 1958. Re-named Solent Lee, she was managed by Normandie Dredging Co. Ltd. Her ownership changed to Redland Purle Ltd in 1976 and finally to Solent Aggregates Ltd in 1979. She went to be broken up at Rainham in 1989.

Bowen & Caines next ship was the 278grt tanker Waterdale H. which was built by Sharpness Shipyard Ltd in 1953 for John Harker Ltd; who traded her until sold to Beagle Shipping Co Ltd in 1968 renamed Eagle Pioneer. The Lambert Barge Hire Company acquired her in 1971 before Bowen & Caines purchased and converted her to an aggregate dredger at Fareham in 1973. Briefly owned by Beagle Dredging Co Ltd; who held her mortgage, she returned to Bowen & Caines in May 1975. She was still trading in 1975 but her end is currently unknown.


Civil & Marine’s second new building was the 3896grt Cambrae which was launched at Ferguson Brothers Port Glasgow yard on 18th January 1973 by the wife of managing director Mike Uren and continued in service until sent to be broken up at Brugge on 3rd September 1999. With a considerable amount of duplicated systems on board she had high level of redundancy which was to serve her well over her lifetime. The only aggregate dredger ever to be fitted with two dredge pipes, on a good day she could load some 4500tonnes of aggregate in two hours. Her discharge system was also unique in that four bucket scrapers were operated simultaneously giving a discharge time of around two hours.

Her loading and discharging equipment, coupled with her twin propellers giving a speed of 13kts, made the Cambrae a formidable & profitable dredger but not one that was trouble free. Whilst loading in the early hours of the morning on her maiden voyage, she suddenly took a large list to port which required the bottom dump facility to be activated. The four port side bottom dump valves were opened one at a time and as the cargo started to dump the rate of list slowed, stopped and started to reduce. The dump valves were closed one at a time in order to prevent the ship rolling to starboard. Having listed to 34 degrees she settled at 6 degrees but not before the port side accommodation was flooded. With her stability now in question, the Cambrae traded to her international load line until the loading system was redesigned with four rotatable loading towers allowing cargo to be directed into all parts of the cargo hold replacing the top heavy eight screen boxes of the original build.

The redundancy built into the Cambrae came into its own when, in April 1974, a connecting rod in the port main engine fractured and came through the side of the engine, wrecking the engine crankcase. Fortunately nobody was injured but the engine had to be removed and requiring the ship to trade with one engine until the engine was reinstalled six months later. In 1996, now part of the ARC Marine fleet but never renamed, the Cambrae was laid up at Haverton Hill in Middlesbrough before being cannibalised for some of her equipment prior to being towed to Brugge where she arrived to be broken up on 3rd September 1999

The abrasive nature of an aggregate dredgers cargo acting on moving parts, their low freeboard resulting in their decks frequently awash and the work rate of 250 plus cargos a year makes their maintenance, which is mostly done without down time, worthy of note. With this in mind there follows some recollections of Captain Philip Wiggs who was Mate on the Cambrae when she was first commissioned:-

Work on the Cambrae was heavy going. Machinery on deck was frequently failing and a number of modifications were made to try to improve things. Usually this was to make the many electric motors a bit more sea-proof. The electrician, who had served on destroyers in the war, was kept busy at all hours to fix the various electrical problems.

The bucket wire ropes had a fairly short life as they were continually dragging tonnes of weight though abrasive material and we had to get wire repairs down to a fine art. They usually broke a short distance from the bucket and we would shoot down into the hopper with burning gear, cut away the broken bits, heave the wire through the bridle and bulldog grip it back on itself. Burning through the wire used to effectively weld the loose ends together. It wasn’t text book but I don’t recall any of those bulldog splice failing. When the wire rope was too short wee would have to reeve another one on which we always tried to on passage so the operation was not held up.

Occasionally we would have to change one or two dredge pump impellers and if there any sort of sea running this was a tiresome task, especially as it had to be done on the way back from the dredge grounds when we were loaded. The impeller was huge but as they had to cope with about 1000tonnes an hour for two hours every day, they needed to be. The dredge pumps were big vertical centrifugal pumps, like 15foot high washing machines, but, unlike on deck where there was virtually no way of fixing lifting equipment, the pump room, winch room and engine room were well equipped with chain hoists above the equipment they served.

Working with anything on deck was fraught as without any lifting gear to work with together with the pressure of the ship’s programme meant that repairs and maintenance were sometimes carried out in less than the best conditions.

A daily task was working along the dredge pipe to check that flange bolts were tight after each dredge. This meant putting a “clumping spanner” on the flange nut, stretching up high to do so, then walloping it with a sledge hammer. There was no guard rail outboard of the pipe and when loaded there was very little freeboard so waves would often tickle your feet. With both hands on the spanner and hammer there was no hand for yourself.

A perennial problem with dredging is the stuff you pick up that you don’t want, some of which looks like it might go bang! Most of these looked like the sort of bombs that were fitted under the wing on aircraft in the Second World War. Sometimes it was a load of 303 or point 5 ammunition. Another problem was old wire ropes. We often picked them up when trail dredging as they would snag around the draghead. When the pipe came up the officer of then watch would go down to clear them so they wouldn’t end up around the propellers. I went down one night and found a wire stuck with a load of debris rammed in the grid of the draghead. It was really secure and took several wallops to get it off. Then I saw what I had been hitting with all my might was one of those flipping bombs!

On another cold winter’s night, at about four in the morning, I went down to clear a big wire away and whilst doing so was swept overboard. The electrician, who was watching me, thought I’d gone but I managed to hold on. I was heavily clad in donkey jacket and sea boots and it felt as it I weighed tonnes. Twice as the ship rolled I tried to pull myself back on board but it was only my third attempt, with my shoulder burning, that I managed to get back inside the rail.

Although these events happened forty years ago, since when health and safety practices have significantly improved, any modern “sand man” will recognise the nature of the work described.


22nd January 1974 Bowherald launched for British Dredging at Ailsa Shipbuilders. At 2966grt the Bowherald was by far the largest ship British Dredging has thus far commissioned. In 1980 shell exploded in her pump which required her to be assisted by the Walton & Frinton lifeboat. Re-named Sand Kestral in 1992 when South Coast Shipping merged with British Dredging, She was broken up in Spain in the summer of 2007.

Sister ship to the Bowherald, the Bowknight, was completed in July 1974 and re-named Sand Kite in 1992 by South Coast Shipping. On 27th October 1997, when transiting the River Thames in dense fog, the Sand Kite struck the “F” span of the Thames Barrier and partly sank. Lloyd’s List reported the event with the comforting words “…in this case no lives were lost, and the Thames Barrier has demonstrated that it is a good deal stronger than the forepart of a ship…” Howard Smith & Co salvaged the vessel which was refloated early on November 1st. Later she was sold her to Portuguese owners in 2000 who renamed her Albatroz . She was finally sent to the breakers at Averio in March 2007having been renamed again in 2001 as the Alba.

In common with some other aggregate dredgers, including the Sand Swift & Sand Swan, the design of the Bowherald & Bowknight had their main engines on a single shaft which was also used for discharging. This meant that the engines were working almost continuously for months on end

Sand Weaver

South Coast Shipping launched their 3366grt Sand Weaver on 22nd August 1974 at Ferguson Brothers in Glasgow just a month after launching their Sand Serin. The Sand Weaver was the first of that company’s ships to have a hydraulic (wet) discharge facility fitted. Later she was converted from a grab to a conveyor discharge at which time she was also fitted with a bottom dumping facility. Used for a number of beach replenishment contracts, early in her life she was employed on the Thamesmead Marshes contract which saw her discharging fill into the marshes and dredging Sea Reach outward bound for the PLA which work briefly saw her earn more than the rest of the fleet put together.

Sand Serin

In the Spring of 1992 the Sand Weaver transited the Kiel Canal en route to the Baltic where she spent some time prospecting different areas in the waters of the recently unified East Germany. Cargoes were taken to the Polish port of Szczecin where it was reported “…bribery and corruption (is) the norm, but with a smile…”. As with Hanson’s Sand Dart’s foray into the Danish Baltic waters some years later, the prospecting did not prove fruitful. Reported as being “well maintained and sturdy”, June 2013 saw the Sand Weaver sail from Swansea for Bahrain where she was delivered to her new owners 31 days later

Shell Welder

In 1974 Northwood (Fareham ) Ltd. acquired the ex-Shell-Mex BP Ltd. 500gt Shell Welder which was launched on 12th November 1954 at Clelands Shipbuilding Company’s Wallsend yard. It is thought that the Shell Welder was at Harry Pound’s breaker’s yard when Northwood acquired and converted her. Re-named Steel Welder, on 23rd January 1975 she went aground on the East Winner Bank at the entrance to LangstoneHarbour after the main channel buoy was washed away. Royal Navy tugs made two unsuccessful attempts to refloat her before she came off the bank under her own power. In her 37th year she arrived at Otterman Quay on the Medway where she was broken up.

Having been launched on 6th December 1973 at Appledore Shipbuilders, ARC Marine Ltd’s 1599grt Arco Severn was not delivered to her owners until February 1974 as a result of problems with her main engine. Towards the end of her time under the British flag she worked the Portuguese coast where suitable material was to be found on a rocky shoreline requiring ship handling skills of the highest order. She was eventually replaced on the contract by Arco Dart which, with her twin Aquamaster propellers and bow thrust, made her and her sister ship, Arco Dee, the most manoeuvrable aggregate dredgers built to date. She was sold to H. Pound of Portsmouth for scrap in 2005 by her then owners, Hanson Aggregates Marine Ltd. The Al Namal Group of Bahrain purchased her in 2005 and renamed her Achus 1. She was known to still be trading in 2012.

Arco Thames

The Amey I was renamed Arco Trent in 1974 and in May that year the newly named ARC Marine Ltd. took delivery of their latest new building the 2645grt Arco Thames, being their largest ship to date by some margin. The Arco Thames was to serve the company well until sold to Portuguese owners in 2001who named her Pelicano and traded her in Portuguese waters until sold to Independent Shipping Ltd. in 2008. Now named simply Thames and registered in the Cook Islands, she was working in UK waters at the start of 2013.

It was the arrival of these two scraper discharge vessels, Arco’s Severn & Thames, which spelt the end of the relatively new Pen Stour and the first Arco Avon which were sold in 1974 and ‘75 respectively.

South Coast Shipping was the next to add to their fleet with the launching of the 1219grt Sand Serin at Clelands at Wallsend on 19th September 1974. Later, the Sand Serin’s working life was extended when a caterpillar crane was installed on board allowing her to self-discharge. 35 years later, on 28th July 2009, she departed the River Tees under tow bound for Waterford where it was expected she would be broken up. She was reportedly moved up river to the breakers yard on August 6th but clearly received an 11th hour reprieve as she was later briefly registered as the Fastnet Serin under the Gibraltar flag and later as the Swat Links 9 under the flag of Panama. It is reported she arrived for a second time at Waterford at 0830hrs on 22nd December 2011 to be broken up.

The ex-Pen Stour, Chichester Gem’s arrival on the south coast in 1974 under the ownership of Francis Concrete Ltd.


The last vessel delivered for ARC Marine Ltd; in their current building program was the 2800gt Arco Tyne. A virtual sister ship to the Arco Thames, she was launched at Appledore Shipbuilders on 1st February 1975. Costing £2.4 million to build she was immediately laid up with for several months waiting for the UK and European markets to pick up. 30 years later she was sold and renamed simply Tyne for her final voyage to India where, on 27th July 2004, she was beached at Alang and broken up.

The size and sophistication of an aggregate dredger took a further step up when South Coast Shipping’s 3366grt Sand Weaver was launched at Ferguson Brothers (Port Glasgow) Ltd yard on 28th August 1974. Delivered in 1975. She was to be the last new building the industry would see until the early 1980’s when Civil & Marine’s Cambourne was launched in 1981.

Sand Wyvern (ex Sand Grebe) grounding off Hayle in March 1975


Roads Reconstruction Ltd was first formed in 1924 when the Teign Valley Granite Co. Ltd. (1910) changed its name reflecting the company’s wider spread of interests. The company’s size and influence was significantly increased in 1934 when the influential John Wainright & Co, together with those of many other Mendip concerns, pooled their limestone undertakings with Roads Reconstruction Ltd.

M.F.Horlock (Dredging) Co. Ltd. was originally a Brett company which had been acquired by the Amey Group. On 14th July 1977, M.F.Horlock (Dredging) Co Ltd, Gravelworks Ltd, Hambrook Gravel & Plant Hire Company, Hine (Quarries) Ltd and Hyde Sand & Gravel Co Ltd were amalgamated with Roads Reconstruction Ltd. which company remains in the Heidelberg Cement Group portfolio to this day.

M.F.Horlock were engaged in maintaining the navigation channels of the River Stour under contract with the Harwich Harbour Board. As was the case in the Clyde some years before, the material being removed was of a useable quality which, at the time of purchase, was being recovered by a floating pontoon grab, lighters and tugs. Amey replaced the grab dredger with an experimental suction unit from Boskalis and the lighters were reportedly named after girls he had known by the manager in charge.

Mr M.F. Horlock himself was something of a name in the whippet world winning the Waterloo Cup in 1973 with his dog Modest Newdown. Names of some other dogs owned by him included Mistley Grock, Gusty and Mistley Grace being names which would have looked well on the bow and stern of any ship.

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