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 POOLTA - Yard No 465 - Diesel Cargo Vessel - Union Steamship Co N.Zealand - Built 1959

Leith Shipyards

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POOLTA - Yard No 465 - Diesel Cargo Vessel - Union Steamship Co N.Zealand - Built 1959



 The MV POOLTA Ship No 465 

(photo credit unknown)


Owners    Union Steamship Company Ltd (Australia)
Registered    Hobart, Tasmania Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Cargo Ship Launched    13/05/1959
      Handed Over    
Ship Details          
Length Overall    268' 5" Launch Details    
Length B.P.    250' 0" Weather    
Beam    43' 0" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     17' 6"      
G.R.T.    2085 tonnes      
DWT    2183      
Engines    5 cylinder Sultzer 1500bhp by G. Clark & N.E. Marine Ltd Sunderland      
Props    1      
Speed    10 knots      
Other known names   See story below.    
Current Status   Broken up in 1999    

Content on MV POOLTA will be added as and when available. 





Seen here unloading after her conversion

(photo credit unknown)


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.

The M.V.POOLTA was the sister ship of the M.V.PATEENA ordered by the Union Steam Ship Co of New Zealand Ltd.

Yet another in the long line of ships that had been built in the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.

She was built and launched in 1959, just before the the world changed forever in the next decade which of course was the swinging 60's.

The shipping industry was also changing and the need for cargo ships was not immune as they were soon to be superseded by Ro-Ro container vessels.

It may or not have been known at the time but this was to be the last of the ships built for the USSC of New Zealand Ltd.

This may have been down to the fact that the yard could not build large enough R0-Ro's for the customer or they may have just been too costly to have built in Leith I don't know, but the lose of the 2nd most prodigious customer was without doubt a blow perhaps not so keenly felt at the time as the yard was still booming with full order books.

She was built for the Tasmania New South Wales Run, and was to work on this route for almost 10 years before it was decided that she would be more profitable if she was converted for the carrying of newsprint which it seems was very much in demand, so her conversion was carried out in Hong Kong, she was lengthened to 329 ft and with an increase in tonnage to 2,889 grt, she was also fitted with stabilisers (Which funny enough would have came from the Company of Brown Bros in Edinburgh, Scotland, just up the road from the shipyard in Leith, who had a monopoly on the design and build of them)


She certainly did not look quite as good after her conversion but was a very capable ship and she worked for the USSCo Ltd until 1976 when she was sold on.

This ship was to end up being sold on to many different shipping Companies and re-names a number of times (See below for Dave Rowden's story from Ships Nostalgia website)

As it says this fine little Leith Built Ship was eventually broken up for razor blades or whatever in the summer of 1999  a remarkable working life span for a ship that had spent so long at she braving all that Mother Nature could put her way.

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.


The MV POOLTA arriving at Melbourne (photo from Oceanai shipping forum)
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.

Story below from Dave Rowden from the Ociana Website forum:-

I sailed on the Poolta in 1965 as 3rd Mate, at which time she was engaged on a general cargo service Newcastle-Port Kembla-Hobart. In 1968 she was lengthened by about 18 metres and had derricks replaced by cranes at Taikoo DY in HK. She was sold to Bulkships 76-81, then onto Hetherington Kinsbury 81-84. Sold overseas in 1984 to a variety of owners in a variety of locations under a variety of names ;
1984 - Tonga - named Kali
1988 - Sharjah - named Ali
1989 - Dubai - named Mahan
1990 - Dubai - named Sublime
1992 - Dubai - named Blue Pearl
1993-1994  - under arrest in Bombay
1995 - renamed by same owners Ocean Success
1999 - sold for breaking up at Alang, arriving 2/6/1999

So this great little ship which was a pleasure to sail on, lived up to her final name, and lasted 40 years. 

The following is from Rodney Giddens who sailed on the MV POOLTA's maiden voyage from Scotland to Australia as "Peggy". His story as told.

Some time prior to the handing over I visited Robb's yard and was shown around. There I saw in action what was reputed to be the last two men riveting ships plates in Scotland. Red hot rivets, brazier etc. Then I was taken to see what had replaced them - an automatic welder propelling itself along the join in two plates welding as it went and no one in attendance at all.



The above photograph was sent into the Leith Shipyards website by Rodney Giddens and is shown here by permission.


Poolta, the Delivery Voyage Remembered.

By Rodney Giddens

When I applied for a years leave of absence from my work in the head office of the Union Steam Ship Company to have a look at England and Europe the management decided that I should return on the delivery voyage of the Poolta which was under construction at Robb's yard at Leith near Edinburgh. It was just as well they made that decision as my financial position by sailing date was such that I would  have had to remain in Scotland. That is how I came to be crew messman, or "Peggy" as the position was called by all on board. Nothing to do with my gender but a hangover from the days when peg leg sailors did that work. My knowledge of shipboard life was restricted to the voyage to England from New Zealand  as a passenger on the s.s. Australis so my first impression of the Poolta was that it was a tad on the small size.  The scuppers in the well deck area were about 18 inches above the water line when loaded. From Leith, Poolta went to Fowey in Cornwall for a full cargo of bulk china clay which was loaded by up ending loaded railway wagons over the hatch. The dust created was terrible, like talcum powder, slippery and went everywhere which made a job for me keeping the crews mess clean. The scrumpy in the pubs at 6 pence a handle took its toll and I never managed more than one shillings worth.

Onwards to Gibraltar for bunkering and then via the Suez Canal to Colombo for more fuel. No shore leave at either of those places.

The crew's food was plated up in the galley and passed to me to hand out or keep warm for those on watch. In my early days I had several messages coming down to me from on high. "Masters Compliments", but would you please stop burning the toast!" It seems there was a vent near the bridge that conducted the smoke from the toaster onto the bridge.

While transiting the canal the vessel in front of us was a new ship for the New Zealand coastal trade. I remember a green hull with yellow stripe so I guess it was a Northern Steam Ship Company vessel. Anyway, part way through the canal, a small tug boat that was proceeding in the opposite direction turned sharply and struck the midship section of the NZ ship in front and bounced off. Just before impact the crew appeared on deck, dived in and swam for the shore. The now abandoned tug missed our ship and the convoy continued on its way.  

The monotony of shipboard life on the long haul from Colombo to Perth was broken one day when a warship appeared over the horizon and headed straight for us at high speed. We wondered if war had been declared but it just took up station 200 yards away for a while. One of the ABs said to me, "watch what happens on that ship." He went aft and dipped our ensign and on the warship a tiny figure appeared on deck and ran very fast all the long way to the stern to return the salute.

The AB's were a great bunch, a few weirdos but not too extreme. One very hot day, Chad, an AB asked if I would step out on deck for a photo. A quick brush of the hair and out onto the deck and wham! A bucket full of water got me from the deck above. For a long time I had a picture of me dripping wet, still with the foolish smile for the camera on my face. The cook was quite skilled and treated us to baked ice cream desert at one meal. On another occasion the cook having made a potent brew from raisins and bread yeast for himself he got very drunk. He called me into the galley and accused me of being a head office spy. Nothing I could say had any effect other than to make him madder and madder till he was chasing me round the galley with a large chef's knife that he was going to fillet me with (his word's), until I was rescued by the Bosun. The bosun was a very large, and as I learned later a very nice, Yorkshire man. He confidentially said to me on my first day on board, "Peggy, don't ever serve me any vegetables, I eat only flesh." My hair stood on end and I wondered just what I had let myself in for.

Somewhere on the voyage one of my thumbs became infected and the Mate declared he would have to lance my finger. Such an excuse to broach the medicinal brandy was not to be wasted so by the time my finger was lanced I felt no pain at all.  The next week my time was spent on deck duties to keep my hands out of the washing up water. Perth meant a few hours ashore at last. Approaching Bass Strait the crew covered the hatches with tarpaulins and sealed of all the deck vents as we were expecting rough weather. My admiration for what I considered to be a fine little ship increased. Looking forward from the superstructure most of the forward part would be submerged and then as the ship rose the water poured off on each side and the hatches etc would appear above the water again.

The china clay was to be unloaded in Burnie, Tasmania. Before that could happen the ship was declared black by the local unions as in their opinion Aussies should have been sent to Scotland to bring the vessel out. For our safety we were told not to go ashore so the locals came on board and there was quite scrap for a while. The next day one of our motormen announced he would see about this, put on his best suit and hat and went down town. On his return he announced he had a drink in every pub and it was safe to go ashore. What he did we never discovered but when he jumped ship a few days later for a vessel going offshore the rumour was he was wanted for murder in Melbourne.

As unloading finally got under way it was dreadfully slow (compared to the loading), as a small single grab was used. More dust.

In ballast on the way to Sydney there was a big following sea and the master decided that was the time for me to have a go on the wheel. I tied a few knots in the wake that day! I seem to recall the voyage took about 7 or 8 weeks. From my point of view everything on the Poolta functioned very well and there were no breakdowns or problems that reached my ears. Before I retired I was employed in visiting overseas ships to grant health clearances in Tauranga, New Zealand. How today's seamen would envy the comfort and working conditions that we enjoyed on the Poolta.


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+1 #3 Luke Elliott 2016-06-05 03:44
I sailed on the Poolta as Bucko when she was nearly shipwrecked by Cyclone Simon off the Queensland coast.She was all hand steering, no "Iron Mike" I refused to to leave the wheel,huge seas and powerful winds as Simon was a "category 4 cyclone".Anothe r hour at the rate we were going astern Serge our Captain was going to go full astern on the engines and try and get us as far up the beach to try and save us!! Simon was moving quickly and the eye of the cyclone passed over us, we managed to make some headway and the the top of the cyclone which blow in a clockwise direction in the Southern Hemisphere hit us and blew the mighty little Poolta back out to sea.This is a very abbreviated account as there are many tales to tell about the experiences of the other crew members.
0 #2 Ann Benston 2013-10-29 02:17
Hello from Frankston Australia...

I am wondering how I can add more photos on this website. I have some beautiful photos of Melbourne's Tallship, The Enterprize, which I have sailed on, round the Victorian coast for 6 days, from Blairgowrie, Mornington Peninsula, to Portland in Western Victoria.
Also have photos of the ships which my Brother Bill. Capt. W.B.Benston, sailed on.
Regards Ann..
-2 #1 Ann Benston 2013-10-28 10:03
Hi from Frankston Australia.
My brother, Captain Willia (Bill) Benston sailed on the Poolta. and while I was living in Hong Kong, the ship was at the Taikoo Dockyard to have the 75' added to her amidships.
There was an article in the Hong Kong papers about this. I do have a copy if you would like to see it.
Bill sailed on many of the Union Steamship Co. ships in his 30 years at sea, from 1947 to 1977 when his last Eight Bells tolled, after his second heart attack..
Would love to hear from anyone who remembers my brother..
Look forward to hearing from you.
Ann Copelin. (nee Ann Benston)

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