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24 September 2014

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You are in: Wear > People > People Features > Life after Sunderland shipyards

John Naisby in Cape Town

John enjoys sunshine 14 hours a day

Life after Sunderland shipyards

A Sunderland shipbuilder found himself working all over the world but finally docked in South Africa.

John Naisby has had a rollercoaster of a journey using his shipbuilding skills acquired in Sunderland all over the world and has landed in Cape Town, South Africa.

He enjoyed the place so much he has decided to drop the anchor there. John explains his journey of a lifetime.

"In 1981 Bibby Line, a Liverpool shipping company, contacted Sunderland Shipbuilders with whom I was employed and they were looking for someone to oversee the repairs of the vessel renamed "Cambridgeshire", an 80,000 tonne panamax bulk carrier, in Cape Town.

De Waal Hotel in Cape Town

John's home for six months De Waal Hotel

It was built and launched as the "Furness Bridge" at the Haverton Hill Teesside shipyard.

My experience was in Naval Architecture and ship design. I was an ex-Hull Surveyor with Lloyds Register of Shipping and I was, at that time, employed as the pre-fabrication steel construction manager at the Sunderland shipbuilding facility at Pallion.

At an interview with the Bibby Line management and the Liverpool Principal Surveyor of Lloyds Register of Shipping I satisfied their requirement and was advised of the ship repair details whilst afloat in Cape Town and that it would take three months.

In early June 1981 I then set off unaccompanied to Cape Town for what turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime.

The 200 week plan

The repair of the vessel had commenced before my arrival and at that time some five tonnes of tank top plating had been subjected to ultrasonic examination removed and replaced.

I then supervised the removal of a further tank top five tonne plate, it's removal and prepartion for replacement. This took almost a further week.

John's repair work

John's repair work

We came to the conclusion that, with 125 tonnes of steel in each of, at worst, eight holds, there'd be 1000 tonnes to deal with. And, working at a rate of five tonnes a week, it would take us 200 weeks. Nearly four years!

I then requested, via the owners to ask LR of Shipping London, for a programme of removing the maximum possible steelwork without jeopardising the longitudinal structure of the vessel.

In total approximately 1,000 tonnes of steelwork and consequential damage was removed and replaced. The integrity of tanks and pipe work repaired was tested to the satisfaction of LR and the owners representatives on board.

Next location, Japan

The work was finally completed in late December. During this time my knowledge of Fleet Replenishment Tankers, gained on design and build at Hawthorne Leslie in Hebburn, was such that SA Navy became interested in my work. But because my qualification did not include a professional engineer status I could not be employed as a consultant by them.

However, I was aware of the detail design requirement of a Yarrow design and was confident that I would thereby find some involvement. YAMCO SA was the company expected to be awarded the detail design contract of the project.

And so in order to be employed by YAMCO my first assignment was to supervise the build of three 35,000 tonne bulk carriers in Japan for Safmarine.

Undocking the Cambridgeshire

Undocking the Cambridgeshire

Three ships off one berth in 11 months without any nightshift or overtime working which was a constraint imposed at that time on all shipyards in Japan because of the reduced worldwide build of shipping.

On completion, YAMCO SA was closed. Armscor in the meantime had set up a Maritime section within Liebenberg and Stander (LSM) and were contracted to further the detail design of a 12,500 tonne Fleet Replenishment vessel. Security was of the highest order.

The late Dieter Carston (from Doxford) was Chief Draughtsman and a senior partner. I was appointed as design project engineer. Eventually some 90 members of staff and design engineers were employed from various countries but predominantly Britain and The vessel was launched in April 1986 as "Drakensberg".

John and the Cambridgeshire

John worked here for six months

Soccer at Roker Park

The reasons for not returning to Sunderland are many. Sunshine 14 hours a day, the climate for eight months is wonderful, winter can be cold at 15°C or hot at 30°C depending on the berg winds.

I live close to the sea and love my early morning walks, identifying ships coming and going. Gardening is very productive and I can grow numerous plants and flowers like fuchsia, orchids outdoors, no need for a glass house. Wonderful golf facilities all year round.

A lovely, well built, what in the UK would be called, bungalow with garden back and front with flowers all year round.

What I do miss, is the soccer at Roker Park but I'm able to gain my adrenalin rush from Sky and midweek replays. I did visit Stadium of Light in 2001 when Sunderland beat Charlton 3-2 though!"

Did you work in the shipyards? If so, we want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us your story, e-mail

last updated: 27/05/2008 at 17:09
created: 23/05/2008

You are in: Wear > People > People Features > Life after Sunderland shipyards

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