A Future for Explorer – a ship unique within the Scottish maritime heritage.
October 2016

Built as an arctic side trawler, Explorer was launched in 1955 by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen. Because she uniquely combines and embodies so many maritime characteristics of her time, this ship occupies an essential position in the history and heritage of the Scottish ship building and fisheries industries and merits the most comprehensive restoration and conservation.
• Explorer was Scotland’s first purpose built fisheries research vessel and was the lead research facility in this field for 28 years, 1956 – 1984.
• She was one of the last ships built in Scotland equipped with a traditional (reciprocating) steam engine and was the last such vessel registered to the port of Leith
• She is the last known Scottish built side trawler (‘sidewinder’) still afloat and is probably the only known steam powered sidewinder left afloat in Europe, possibly in the world.
• She was amongst the last working ships built in Scotland with a riveted steel hull but paradoxically has an aluminium superstructure – an advanced feature for her time.

Explorer is currently berthed in Leith, her original port of registry. Since decommissioning in 1984, the ship has had a chequered history including two close encounters with ship breakers. But there is now a renewed impetus to promote a programme to restore the vessel.

The aim of the Explorer Preservation Society (EPS) is, in the first instance, to restore Explorer to a condition in which she can fulfil a variety of uses based around her acting as a museum amongst the other Leith and Forth estuary maritime heritage attractions. Once a technical survey of the ship is available, further restoration measures will be considered.

The EPS has members with specific ship repair/maintenance skills and some members who actually served on the vessel; these volunteers have worked hard over the years to hold back deterioration. However, the major restoration works will have to be carried out professionally, whilst these members continue to address some of the practical issues on board.

To support and realise what will be a complex and lengthy project, the EPS proposes to recruit volunteers to address and manage areas such as
• developing a robust organisation to manage the ship’s restoration and supporting activities
• refining the Society’s financial transparency and accountability
• researching and recording Explorer’s history and heritage
• gathering and conserving relevant artefacts
• establishing the ship’s position within the context of Leith’s other maritime heritage assets
• adapting the ship together with its history and artefacts as a museum
• investigation of how the ship can “earn its living” as a museum and a venue for sundry activities within the wider Forth estuary maritime heritage context
Plus two first steps absolutely essential to the ship’s survival
• pursuing dry docking, cleaning, painting and securing of the hull along with a comprehensive technical survey of all aspects of the ship
• securing a publically accessible berth in Leith docks

Until further investigation and assessment are carried out, timescales are difficult to define. But a provisional target would be to have these two vital matters (of dry docking, etc. and the public berth) resolved by summer 2018 with the opening at least some of the ship to the public by summer 2019.

Obviously such a venture will require significant funds and the EPS must develop a credible organisation and working practices so that potential funders can have confidence in the Society’s management of the restoration programme.