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CLYDE PUFFERS and the Wee Spark

When visiting the Basin, you might come across a cute boat proudly displaying the name of "WEE SPARK". This is the world famous third scale Clyde Puffer.

The term Clyde Puffer, or simply "puffer", describes a small steamboat which was once used to transport cargo and supplies around the Scottish coast. Working mainly around the west coast, hence the Clyde prefix, these boats would also venture as far as the Hebrides. Their essential characteristics were flat bottoms and bluff bows, which allowed them to beach at low tide and operate in areas without piers or jetties. Cargoes varied from material such as coal, gravel, and building supplies, to farm produce and furniture, followed by munitions and fleet supplies when they saw service during both World Wars. [Secret Scotland]. Being compact, they could also operate on the Forth and Clyde Canal, as here. 

The puffer evolved from small, single masted sailing barges which operated on the coast during the mid-19th century, and featured a length of 66 feet or less, so they could operate within the locks of the Forth and Clyde, and Crinan Canals. Until 1870, they were powered by simple non-condensing steam engines which exhausted through the funnel and were responsible for the characteristic puffing sound which gave the boats their name. Even though later boats were fitted with condensers which eliminated the sound, or diesel engines, the name had become associated with the design and has remained in use.[Secret Scotland]. 

Its stocky shape made it very versatile so it could be used almost anywhere, 

Puffers which operated only on canals were referred to as inside boats, while those that ventured further out into the firths of the River Clyde and the River Forth were referred to as shorehead boats.[Secret Scotland]. 

You may have come across a book series about the master mainer Para handy. These were first published in the Glasgow Evening News in 1905, and appeared in the newspaper over twenty years, achieving widespread fame. The collection was issued in book form in 1931, and is still in print today. With the continuing popularity of these tales, the puffers became film stars in The Maggie, and Para Handy with his Vital Spark was the subject of three popular BBC television series dating from 1959 to 1995. You can find these on YouTube. And the books are available online and many bookshops entitled Para Handy Tales or Tales of Para Handy.

The author was Inveraray born Neil Munro, a jounalist who had them first published in the Glasgow Evening News Para Handy is the crafty Gaelic skipper of the Vital Spark, a Clyde puffer of this sort that delivered goods from Glasgow to Loch Fyne, the Hebrides, and the coast of Argyllshire and Inverness-shire in the early 20th century.

It would have been nice to see a restored puffer on the canal, but that now has too many impediments to craft of the original size. THE WEE SPARK, bing a third scale has no such qualms. When you see her in the confines of a basin or canal she looks qutie imposing, although outin open water she looks more her actual scaled down size. Technically she is not a real puffer but is nevertheless looked on with fondness. And she is a link through to the important traditions of her hardworking puffing predecessors. 

This one-third size replica of the original puffers - is the result of two years' work by Mr MacFarlane, a heating contractor from Bowling and member of the Forth and Clyde Canal Society.

The Vital Spark as used in the TV series seen here at Inverary

And its scaled down offspring in the Bowling Basin

GLASGOW HERALD : 13th May, Sandra Dick. 2000. https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/23445751.vital-spark-legendary-clyde-puffer-returns-waves/

RIVER CLYDE PHOTOGRAPHY : https://www.riverclydephotography.uk/2008/04/wee-spark.html

SECRET SCOTLAND : https://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/ClydePuffer

WEE SPARK FaceBook : https://www.facebook.com/theweespark/

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Para_Handy

Also look it up on YouTube and online book sales.

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