Obituary: Ian Ramsay, shipbuilder and naval architect who witnessed finale of the great Clyde yards

Died: May 6, 2021.

IAN Ramsay was a shipbuilder and naval architect of experience and deep knowledge, especially of the Clyde, its yards and vessels. His lifetime’s experience encompassed the finale of an era in Clyde shipbuilding.

He was an unassuming man who gave freely of his time and his wide experience, especially to two great interests in his retirement – the paddle steamer Waverley and the Tall Ship, Glenlee.

It was fitting that a large part of his career was spent with shipbuilders A&J Inglis, whose Pointhouse shipyard lay on the very site of the present Riverside Museum and is the berth of Glenlee.

Later, he had a prominent post at Yarrow’s, ran a shipbuilding yard in India, and prepared the recently-decommissioned royal yacht, Britannia, for public display.

Ian Ramsay was born in Cambuslang on August 6, 1932, to Margaret and Dugald Ramsay, and attended Rutherglen Academy before studying naval architecture at the Royal Technical College, now Strathclyde University (which, incidentally, has Glenlee on its official crest).

He combined his years at college – 1949 to 1954 – with a premium apprenticeship as a shipbuilder and naval architect to A&J Inglis Ltd. The training provided him with a thorough grounding in practical and theoretical shipbuilding, which was to stand him in good stead.

National Service with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers followed and at the War Office in London.

On demobilisation in 1960, he was requested by Harland and Wolff to return to A&J Inglis as General Manager. When the yard closed in 1963, he became a Hull Estimator at Yarrow & Co. but returned to management eight years later as Shipbuilding Director on the Board of Yarrow (Shipbuilders).

This eventful and uncertain time for Clyde shipbuilding, the era of the Geddes Report and the ill-fated Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, left Ian in no doubt as to the reasons behind the failure of Clyde shipbuilding. Yarrows, which left UCS in April 1970, remained the only profitable company of the five originally involved.

Between 1965 and 1984, he was either involved with or responsible for the building of 16 warships, four survey ships, four large-stern trawlers for Hellyer Bros of Hull, and lifeboats for the RNLI.

In 1983, with a change in administrative location to Newcastle pending, Ian joined the board of Sir JH Biles, a long-established Glasgow firm of consulting naval architects and marine engineers. This involved him in the modernisation of the Hindustan Shipyard in Visakhapatnam, India. It was a fascinating, two-year-long assignment.

Funded by the UK government as part of an overseas aid package, he brought his expertise in shipbuilding to the project. It involved the design of new facilities, equipment and working practices, and a covered graving dock for ship construction. Sometimes he found it difficult to persuade less-skilled management what was necessary to move forward.

Returning to Glasgow, he became instrumental in setting up Sir JH Biles (Naval Services), and later became Managing Director and Chairman. He developed support for the Ministry of Defence (Navy) and acted as marine superintendent for the cargo ships of Ghana’s Black Star Line.

The MOD role engaged him in the establishment of technical support for refit and engineering for the Royal Navy, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Maritime Auxiliary Services, and the oversight of Britannia.

Retirement in 1997 did not ease his work for ships and shipping. From 1990 he had been on the Technical Committee of Lloyd’s Register; and he spent seven years as Secretary of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, his contacts and knowledge making him invaluable.

In 1996 he became Safety Director for the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer Waverley, built by the Inglis yard in 1947, and MV Balmoral. Under his expert guidance, the two vessels complied with the International Safety Management System so that they could call at Isle of Man ports.

From 1993 he worked on the recovery and restoration of SV Glenlee, one of the last five remaining Clyde-built cargo sailing vessels of the late 19th century.

A member of the ship’s technical committee from 1995, he saw the slow and determined restoration of the ship from a forlorn and neglected hull to the re-emergence of its original stature over the 28 years of his influential and essential input.

Over his long career, he witnessed the change from riveted ships to welded steel fabrication, which is now the basis of modern ship construction and mass production. He was also involved with the gradual introduction of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacture (CAM). His era was a time of extensive, wide-ranging and fascinating revolution in shipbuilding technology.

His book, Glenlee: How a Riveted Sailing Ship Was Built, is an indispensable guide and explanation of ship design and construction of the era. He was always generous with his time, his encyclopaedic knowledge, experience, and the patience to educate those who were interested in ships, their build and their function.

Ian was charming and sociable, a family man, keen on sailing his own, hand-built boat, Nabber,.

He is survived by his wife, Sue, children Peter and daughter Sarah, and their grandchildren.

Elizabeth Allen

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992