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.
ST HELEN GOES INTO THE WATER
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.