Meets: at Avonmouth Community Centre, 257 Avonmouth Road, Bristol BS11 9EN, on the first Thursday of the month from September to May, 7:30 PM.

Contact – Richard Brown, 4 York Avenue, Ashley Down, Bristol BS7 9LH.

Tel: 0117 9513168.

Email: [02.2022]

Activity Report

Latest (February 2022)

The Bristol Branch will be represented at the South West Ship Show which is taking place at the BAWA Social Club, 589 Southmead Road, Filton, Bristol BS34 7RG on Saturday 2nd April from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm.

Sadly, Bernard McCall, the founder of Coastal Shipping who organise these Ship Shows died suddenly last year.  It will have been three years since the last Show and the Coastal Shipping team are preparing a display about some of his achievements with regard to things maritime over the past few years.  He was latterly also the Bristol Branch Chairman for the past ten years and was well known in the Society for his visits to other branches with his wide selection of coaster themed talks.

Bristol Branch will be manning a stall where we will have a good selection of pre-owned Naval and Merchant books for sale.  Proceeds will go to Branch and WSS revenues.

Come along and see us and meet and chat to members from other branches as well.  We shall, of course, also be looking to recruit new members.

Admission will be £3 for adults and £2 for concessions.

Arthur Clark

Arthur Clark who was Secretary of the Bristol Branch for 17 years and doubled-up as Treasurer in later years died in early November.  He will be remembered outside of Bristol for organising the inter-branch quizzes at Frenchay village hall.  Our Branch was very important to Arthur and when we hit hard times and activities were put on hold he started meetings at his house to enable the small number of members to keep in touch with each other.  Thanks to his actions we re-formed in 2012 and numbers have grown and we have kept a full programme running since then.  Sadly, Arthur’s health did not allow him to attend meetings in later years but he was always interested in our progress.

Bernard McCall

Ship enthusiasts in our area and far beyond will mourn the loss of Bernard McCall, who
passed away suddenly on Friday, 20 th August.
As well as running a successful maritime book publishing business, being a prolific author of
maritime titles and producing the popular “Coastal Shipping” magazine, Bernard completed
two spells as Chairman of the Bristol Branch of the World Ship Society and in the latter
played a major role in the revival of the branch.
He was also the organiser and driving force behind the very successful South West Ship
Shows which have attracted thousands of visitors over the years.
Bernard had an impressive knowledge of merchant shipping and was always willing to share
his expertise with fellow enthusiasts.
Bernard undoubtedly made an immense contribution to our field of interest and he will be
much missed.
We send our condolences to his wife Doreen and family.

February Report

We were pleased to welcome Richard Osborne back with the second part of his presentation ‘From Suez to the Falklands – The Royal Navy, 1956-1982’. Although the Suez operation has been a success militarily the fleet was old and worn out. In the following years the political will to upgrade our requirements waxed and waned regularly although it seemed that carriers and their aircraft were the way forward. Richard gave us a breakdown of the Navy’s fighting capacity during those years and prior to the Falklands conflict and the loss and damage suffered during the fighting. Thank you, Richard.

January Report

Krispen Atkinson was a welcome guest to present our first programme of the new decade. Entitled ‘Krispens Travels – Thirty days in September 2016’ we were first transported to Terneuzen and Antwerp for a group visit and Hamburg for work with photographic opportunities followed by a quick dash to Rotterdam to join AIDAPRIMA for a mini-cruise around the busy ports and anchorages of the North Sea. Without taking breath we were whisked off to Singapore for the rest of the month where we saw ships in port and in the famous anchorages. Krispen travelled 17,500 miles seeing 3356 ships and spent three nights in his own bed during the month. Thanks Krispen, for sharing the memories and a great deal of information with us.

November Report

Unfortunately, our advertised speaker had to postpone his visit so our Chairman continued his presentation from last month on the World Harbour Days at Rotterdam. We resumed just before the PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM turned round to journey back to its normal berth. This time there was more emphasis on the ships and tugs seen and Bernard was able to explain about their spheres of operation. The highlight was Gearbulk’s JAEGER ARROW which is a Totally Enclosed Forestry Carrier which can also carry liquid pitch in some of the holds. Another good evening. Thanks Bernard.

October Report

Our Chairman, Bernard, presented his views on the World Harbour Days at Rotterdam. During the first weekend of September the port of Rotterdam opens its doors to the public to visit many installations including power stations, dry-docks and container terminals, for example. The floating alternative is to board the PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM to cruise the 20 kilometres plus of the Nieuwe Waterweg, there and back, to see the many types of shipping and shore exhibits being proudly shown. This was an unusual aspect of port visits which we greatly enjoyed. Thanks Bernard.

September Report

For our first meeting of the new season we broke with the tradition of indoor evening meetings and enjoyed an afternoon visit to M Shed in Bristol City Docks. This is the waterside museum for the Social, Industrial & Maritime History and working Exhibits for Bristol. As with most museums at least 95% of exhibits, perhaps more than a quarter of a million items here, remain unseen. In the stores we saw many ship models, half models, pictures and so much more. At the photo library we had glimpses of many collections including the works of York and Keen. There were another 15,000 photos donated from the Port of Bristol Authority and working drawings from the David Abel dockyard which has recently closed. Work is continuing on the huge task of checking, collating and digitising the entire collection. We enjoyed ourselves so much we ran out of time and had to leave a proposed ferry trip around the harbour for another day.

May Report

For our last meeting of the season we welcomed Richard Osborne with his presentation ‘From Suez to the Falklands: The Royal Navy 1956-1982’. At the end of the WWII Great Britain had the world’s second largest Navy but many ships battered by the war were obsolete and new designs and ways of thinking were required. Aircraft carriers came to the fore and were needed for a successful Operation ‘Muskateer’ at Suez. However, there was so much interesting information in the talk it became clear that Richard would need to visit us again to complete the presentation and this will be arranged next year. Many thanks, Richard.

April Report

There was a very good attendance for our April meeting for Jim Charnock’s presentation from the late Captain Askew’s extensive slide collection. Although we started with very bad weather conditions on the North Atlantic the majority of pictures concentrated on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes often with severe ice navigation although we warmed up with charter trips to the Far East and Australia. There was a good deal of audience participation especially concerning ‘The Lakers’. We all enjoyed the excellent evening and thanked Jim for travelling down from Manchester.

March 2019

‘Ships around Scotland – Part 2’ was our presentation in March given by our Chairman, Bernard McCall. We saw and heard about ports, some very small, tucked away often in remote locations on the mainland and islands between the Kyle of Lochalsh and the lochs of the Clyde. Coasters predominate even now in the increasing timber shipments from the Scottish forests. As well as the history and economic aspects we heard anecdotes of Bernard’s efforts to obtain pictures which in some cases are unlikely to ever be available again. It was much enjoyed as the area invoked memories for many of the audience.

February 2019

We welcomed well-known author Richard Clammer to our February meeting. He told us the fascinating story of passenger steamers on the River Dart. Richard had researched the story of every steamer (and more recent motor vessel) that had navigated that beautiful river between Dartmouth and Totnes. Every vessel was illustrated and we were amazed to see the remains of some of the early vessels still in situ on the river bank. We had a pleasing attendance with numbers swelled by visiting guests.

 January 2019

Roland Whaite was our January speaker. He described in detail two projects he had investigated recently. The first one started in 2011 when he saw photos and a diary of a 1926 cruise to Greece and Turkey to visit WW1 war graves. The ship involved was found to be STAR D’ITALIA owned by Cosulich of Trieste. After the break Roland’s research into a luxury motor yacht, DONA AMELIA of 1929, photographed in Falmouth in 2007 gave us a fascinating glimpse into the lives of wealthy individuals who had owned it. With a wide emphasis on the human stories behind both vessels it was an enjoyable start to the New Year.

December 2018

There was a good turn out for our December meeting. After a straight forward AGM we enjoyed some seasonal refreshments before our speaker was introduced. Carl Merry pilots ships to and from Sharpness Docks. The River Severn has the second highest tidal range in the world and beyond Avonmouth the river narrows in places, there are very strong currents and the water depths vary considerably. The size of ships continue to increase, latest record is 8,800 deadweight, and the window for entering Sharpness can be as little as ten minutes. It was an excellent talk and was of great interest to all present.


Barry Peck travelled up from Southampton to give us a wide ranging talk about Strick Line. Set up by Swansea business man Frank Clarke Strick in 1887 as one of his many business ventures the Company traded to the Persian Gulf. Barry served with Stricks for several years until its merger into the P & O General Cargo Division in April 1972. As he said ship’s histories are about people as well and we had insights and anecdotes about the crews some who served the Company for many decades along with interesting details about how the ships evolved incorporating the latest technologies. Many thanks, Barry.


Harry Spong recently visited Meyer Werft, Papenburg ship builders on an excursion from one of his many cruises. His presentation told us that this family firm dating from 1795 was for many years working on a restricted site 56 kilometres from the sea and modest size vessels were their normal output. Even their first large liner HOMERIC (47,000/1986) was launched sideways. Now with greatly expanded facilities ships like NORWEGIAN BLISS (168,000/2018) are taken down the river stern first. We greatly enjoyed the evening enlivened with many facts and anecdotes about the company and his own experiences cruising in Meyer’s and other ships.


We were very pleased to welcome Ian Wells with his ‘London Shipping 1972 – Part1’ presentation at our May meeting. It was nostalgia aplenty as we saw excellent pictures of ships at the Royal Docks in London. There were views of some of the ancillary vessels as well. No high visibility jackets in view and containers were not talked about until the last shot. This was the beginning of the end for conventional ships and British liner companies who had dominated traditional cargo handling routes for many years. This was the last meeting of the season and we will be back in September.


The ‘Beast from the East’ came west in time to cancel our March meeting. The first part of our April open evening was taken up by admiring a selection of a member’s scale models (1/1200) showing cargo ships belonging to British companies in the 1950s and ‘60s. He also brought along photographs of ships in the Bristol docks taken over many years. Another member talked about his projects involving wrecks near Clevedon and tugs from Germany working in Bristol. We finished with a slide show of more local ships taken from a selection of 5000 slides given to our Chairman.


Our previous Secretary and Treasurer, Arthur Clark, was ‘Wandering the Med again’ for us with his pictures from a cruise on the 1965 built ‘OCEANIC’ in 1996. Unfortunately, Arthur could not be with us so the presentation was co-ordinated by Roland Whaite with ship histories and Arthur’s comments. Following on Roland showed views of about twenty ships operational in the ten years from 1948. The connection to them was a man who had served on deck on all of them. Roland had researched the vessels, obtained photos of them and intertwined histories and experiences. Thanks to Roland and Arthur for a very interesting evening.

January 2018

Our Chairman, Bernard McCall, entertained us in our first meeting of the New Year with his presentation ‘Ships around Scotland’. We began in Alloa on the River Forth. Yes, it was an important port in its time linking exports from Glasgow to Europe but closed commercially in 1970. We then journeyed around the east coast through ports old and new via Orkney and Shetland to the west finishing at Kyle of Lochalsh. We saw a wide range of ports and shipping, ancient and modern, and accompanied with audience participation plus some personal anecdotes it all combined into a very enjoyable evening.


At our AGM the usual formal business concerning the Committee remaining in place, the reasonable financial situation and the various Officer reports were soon dealt with.

A long discussion then followed about trying to increase our numbers by local advertising and as a result some initiatives were agreed. After the break we were able to indulge in some good old nostalgia as Cedric Catt showed some of his slides taken in Bristol, Avonmouth and Sharpness in the 1970s and 1980s. Happy days!


For November our Treasurer, Nigel Edgell, presented our Naval evening – ‘Royal Navy Carrier Air Power’. There were several strands incorporated. Why aircraft carriers are important; the UK contribution to carrier technology (considerable); how carriers supplanted ‘dreadnoughts’ and their history from World War II onwards. There were 58 carriers at the end of the war although not all suitable for more modern use. Now we will have two. We were well informed on the ups and downs of the last few decades which were not surprisingly guided by political decisions. Well done, Nigel, it was an interesting evening.


At our October meeting, we were delighted to welcome back David Walker,
secretary of the Torbay Branch. David gave a splendid account of some
of the minicruises that he has enjoyed in recent years. We were
particularly impressed by the facilities on board ferries in northern
Europe where ferry travel is just as popular as it ever was and the
ferry companies serve their passengers extremely well. Many thanks,
David. We look forward to Part 2.

August  Excursion

On the 1st August for our second excursion of the summer thirteen members and friends travelled on the ‘Balmoral’ sailing the 3 Rivers and 5 Bridges trip from Clevedon pier. 3 Rivers – Severn, Avon to Bristol and return plus the Wye. 5 Bridges – M5 and Clifton Suspension Bridge, the two Severn Bridges and the Wye Bridge. The weather for the six hours or so was bright and breezy. There is a wealth of history to be seen from over two hundred years ago to the latest technology which in some cases cannot be accessed from the landside. The ship was very comfortable with plenty of refreshments available and expertly handled in some tight turning situations in the Avon and the Wye. It was disappointing that the ship movements for this particular tide at Avonmouth and Portbury occurred before we embarked and after we left but the day was enjoyed by all. Let’s hope we can travel on the ‘Balmoral’ again next year.

Ship arrival – ‘Cuidad de Cadiz’ – Airbus on board – 15,643gt/2008.

Ship departure – ‘Grande Ellade – 52,485gt/2001

Ships noted in dock – ‘Arklow Bank’ – 8565dwt/2014, ‘Arklow Brave – 8660dwt/2015, ‘Arklow Spirit’ – 34,905dwt/2013, ‘Aasheim’ – 5826dwt/2001

July VTS Centre Visit

On 24th July nine members from the Bristol Branch visited the marine planning and VTS centre of the Bristol Port Company. The building is located on the South pier at Avonmouth Docks and is responsible for shipping movements between the Holme Islands, beyond Weston-super-Mare, and The Shoots, by the newest Severn bridge, as well as the River Avon to Bristol. We were given a detailed assessment of the many factors which have to be considered when ships arrive or sail. The tidal conditions can be testing as the Severn estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world and Panamax vessels are not uncommon in the container, tanker and coal trades. At the other end of the scale small coasters can be pilot-free and need a different approach. There is also an increasing number of leisure vessels in use with the Portishead marina facilities nearby. It was a very interesting visit and will certainly help us to understand what is happening when we are ship-spotting at Battery Point.

We were very grateful to the Port Company for making the visit possible.

Shipping seen: Clarity – 1307gt/1989 and ‘Neptune Aegli – 21554gt – 2002 leaving Royal Portbury Dock. ‘Titania’ – 74255gt/2011 arriving Royal Portbury.