Life on Board
The Explorer had very comfortable accommodation for a compliment of 36, including 8 scientists, and all the accommodation is heated with hot water from an oil fired central heating unit. Former crew members remember how comfortable she was, especially in the winter. The officer’s and scientist’s berths occupy some of the space which would be used as the fish hold in similar commercial side trawlers. There is a large galley and messroom aft, a forward recreation room for the crew and a spacious saloon for officers and scientists amidships. The saloon has veneer paneled bulkheads, 1950’s light fitting and a fireplace.
The Explorer worked in all the traditional North-East Atlantic fishing grounds as well as steaming further afield to Greenland, to the Barents and White Seas of Russia, sometimes venturing into dangerous Arctic ice-fields. These voyages were mostly routine and uneventful, but several were not without some measure of excitement
In the early 70’s, on returning from a voyage in Icelandic waters, the Explorer encountered severe storm conditions. While heading into the storm, a large sea broke over the bow and a lump of green water struck the casing with such force that it stove in the bridge front, breaking all the windows and flooding the wheelhouse. The ship shuddered with such an impact, but thankfully, even with the weight of water on deck she rose in time to ride over the following wave. the crew in the wheelhouse at the time were wet and stunned, some had been swept off their feet, but all had the presence of mind to keep the Explorer’s head into the wind, further reduce speed, heave-to and assess the damage.
In the 1830s several whaling ships from Aberdeen and Peterhead were engulfed in the ice floes around Greenland and trapped throughout the winter, only gaining freedom when the ice floes began to break up in the spring. The hardships these crews had to endure, with the minimum of equipment, is unimaginable, and when they returned to their home ports they left behind four crushed ships and over 50 dead crewmen. Fortunately the Explorer was never required to undertake quite such dangerous expeditions.
However, her hull had been strengthened during building to enable her to withstand the pressure of moving through ice, and she had a powerful engine.
All this stood her in good stead, when during manoeuvring, a large block of ice swept under the stern and came into contact with the propeller, bending on of the blades. Luckily the propeller was still able to turn, although the propeller made contact with the rudder stock on each revolution. With great trepidation, the Explorer was turned and a course set for home at low revs. She returned to port having clunked and clicked her way for many hundreds of miles and the crew having had several sleepless nights. But they faired a great deal better than her forebears of 130 years previously.
For the crew, there was always work to attend to. On deck the trawl gear was shot, towed and hauled, with repairs being made as necessary. Quieter moments were filled with cleaning, greasing and painting. The scientists were assisted and steering watches stood. Explorer was never fitted with an autopilot!
Down below the Engine Room Work Book gives us a glimpse of the continual work required to keep her in tip top condition and so ensure that she would be seaworthy and dependable for her main purpose of providing a moving laboratory. Entries show that it was an ongoing job with no let up, even for Christmas day festivities.
25/4/69. Arrive Leith 0800. Bunkered heavy fuel. Shifted to Edinburgh dock. Boiler blown down and doors knocked in.
11/7/69. Cascade filters changed. Hot and cold oil fuel filters changed. Pressure gauge on hot filter outlet to Menzies for re-calibration. Heating boiler watches. Steam pressure maintained.
18/8/69. Arrived Aberdeen 0300. checking water cooling pipes on aft generator f.w. & s.w. cooling pumps taken off and spare ones fitted. 24kw generator polarity reversed (Halls elect) For’d generator shut down midnight.
25/12/69. Heating boiler watch and maintaining boiler steam pressure. Two new carbon brushes fitted to heating boiler motor.
Meanwhile, two cooks baked bread and provided good, substantial meals for all hands, in all weathers! While the crew maintained the ship, the scientists attended to her real purpose through conducting the research programme for the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen.
The main thrust of the Marine Laboratory’s research programme is in support of the fisheries management responsibilities of the Scottish Office. For this reason, the Maritime Laboratory has, for many years, monitored the main fish and shellfish stocks exploited by Scottish fishermen, and has studied the design of working both existing and novel fishing gears. The laboratory has also assessed changes, both natural and man-made, in the marine environment of the North East Atlantic in general, and of the seas off Scotland in particular. In turn, these environmental changes – sometimes, for example, showing up as changes in current patterns, sometimes as changes in pollution levels – are studied in terms of their impact on fish and shellfish stocks, and the mechanisms by which these effects take place investigated.
During her working life, Explorer was fully occupied in such activities, particularly in distant waters, proving herself a happy, safe and dependable vessel with execllent sea-keeping qualities. Further, from the beginning she was planned to be adaptable, and in particular, she was provided with sufficient electrical power to meet all the power requirements that might arise from development of new research techniques. Just such a development occured when in 1969 Explorer became one of the first fisheries research vessels in the world to have a computer installed on board. Initially installed to further Explorer’s then extensive involvement in fishing gear studies, such systems eventually became of more general application, and have revolutionised the ability of sea-going scientists to collect elaborate data sets.
For a taste of life on a Granton trawler click below.
One of Explorer’s successors, the F.R.V. Scotia, named in May 1998 by the Queen Mother, continues this vital scientific research work today.