Colin Montgomery: We must save this icon of Leith docks

Cruz Restaurant on the Ocean Mist at Leith Shore.
Cruz Restaurant on the Ocean Mist at Leith Shore.
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They called it Samuel Green. Then it was Ocean Rover. Then Aries. Then back to Ocean Rover. Then Ocean Mist. And so it remained until it became what we now know it as: that ancient old tub that sits in the Water of Leith right opposite The Granary.

I would call it Cruz but I’d have to splice my own tongue out before splicing the main brace. Because who would call an ocean-going steam trawler – probably the only surviving one of its class – built for the Great War effort, something as inane as Cruz?

I refer of course to the ship on the shore. Some clarification is in order or I’ll be for the plank. When I said ‘ship on the shore’, I don’t mean the rather splendid bar/bistro called Ship on the Shore that’s always shipshape and Bristol fashion just a short walk across the quayside (their seafood is enough to make you yearn for a life on the ocean waves).

No, I really do mean the actual vessel, which is something of a local landmark. But whereas Pisa’s famous tower is listing gracefully, this sad-looking hulk is doing anything but. It’s like watching an old pal slowly succumb in public. Nautical but not nice.

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So, a rather ignominious end then to boat’s voyage through these temporal seas? Well it’s a bit of a mystery. The business, called Cruz, still has a website, but the ship has been closed up for a year or even longer, according to a quick survey of local businesses. I certainly pass it day and night and it should be renamed the Marie Celeste such is the level of activity on it. I’ve tried to email them. I’ve tried to phone them. I’ve even tried to book online, only to receive an error notice.

Time to do some further digging (or sploshing) on the interweb I thought. It was there I chanced upon the recollections of one Captain W L Hume, formerly of Newhaven, which provided answers as to the boat’s fascinating past (if not any as far as its less than glorious present is concerned). It set sail back in 1919, when the Ocean Mist first wetted its hull as an addition to the Admiralty’s fleet – one of 500 such vessels built to replace fishing trawlers requisitioned as mine-sweepers for the First World War and subsequently lost in action. However, after the conflict, the Ocean Mist bobbed and lurched from one owner to another.

Among its many keepers have been: a scion of the Guinness brewing family (he converted its hold to accommodate and transport his collection of racing cars); the Duke of Leeds, who sailed it to the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean; and a rather rotund multi-millionaire yachtsman from Peterborough called Tiny Mitchell.

READ MORE: Leith Docks permanent new home for luxury floating hotel In between, it saw action in the Second World War, along with pretty much the rest of the British Fishing Fleet, functioning as a coastal patrol vessel. Plus it dabbled with danger as both a torpedo recovery vessel and an anti-mine

calibrating vessel. From there, via a stint on the Caledonian Canal, it finally found a home as a floating venue in Leith. And initially it was a worthy retirement.

Indeed, I remember my first schlep down to the Shore as a student for some 21st birthday party being staged on the ship. The Leithy ‘charms’ of the quayside seemed a million miles away from the leafy gentility of the southside. And the venue, well, what’s not to like about getting totally steamboats on a steamboat?

Later, post-uni, I moved into a flat in Bernard Street, sharing quarters with two rogue chefs and a crazy cat called Edna that used to climb the walls – literally. By then, being discombobulated in a stubborn boozy haze as you tried to negotiate a full breakfast on the far-from-even eating surface was a ritual challenge of a Sunday morning. Mal de Debarquement syndrome was a distinct possibility.

Fond memories. But where once revellers imbibed after the sun had passed the yardarm, the open air deck seems less than convivial now. More pressing still is the fact that the whole thing needs a good lick of paint and improved security; local Leith ragamuffins have actually found their way into bridge to sound its horn – a mournful reminder of an apparent neglect of this craft. It begs not just one, but several questions. Who owns the thing? Is it still open as a ‘going concern’? What’s the future for it? Will it be allowed to just slip away as a terrible eyesore?

It would be good to get a status update from anyone in the know. I’m not the only landlubber who has raised an eyebrow at this lamentable state of affairs. There’s already an online petition on 38 that calls for some clarity on the situation. To be honest, I’d rather see it avoid the breakers’ yard; I’m sentimental that way. If some other craft round the corner at the dry dock can be transformed into a ‘dazzle’ ship, why can’t we find or indeed force a way to save her from sinking into the silt for good? Time to make some waves.