Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills


by  Bill Mills

     Essentially the Clyde Puffer was a strongly built wee steam coaster just less that 70ft in length that could carry about 100 tonnes of cargo and could load or discharge it when there was sufficient water to float her.  When there wasn’t even the pretence of any harbour or pier, or insufficient water, due to her hull shape and design, she could be beached and her cargo discharged over the side, into wagons or lorries driven alongside on the sand and then sail away on the next high tide.

       Crew accommodation was rather basic,  being a dark triangle with a 15ft base right forward.  The four crew lived there.  The ‘comfort’ station was a small sentry box affair on the quarter-deck or forward by the mast rigging and for some reason, had been known to be called the ‘thunder box.’

    Early vessels had a non-condensing steam engine that exhausted into the funnel with a distinctive sound pattern that earned them the name of ‘ Puffers.’  That name stuck to this maritime breed even when more modern designs arrived with diesel engines and better accommodation.

Thousands of people have read and laughed at Neil Munro’s  characters in his stories  on the Vital Spark and his crafty, irascible skipper –Para Handy.  But the real men who sailed in the puffers –older or newer – were characters in their own right without any need for scripts.  I was fortunate in going aboard the later ones to work on their radio, radar and VHF equipment.  I met some of those modern Puffer-men with some eccentric personalities.  I also heard some stories from a very reliable source.

Bill Mills