A FOUR-YEAR journey towards the completion of Helensburgh’s newest visitor attraction moved a big step closer this week.
A major logistical operation at the Scottish Submarine Centre on Tuesday morning saw a Cold War midget submarine manoeuvred off two low-loaders on the last leg of a long journey towards its final, permanent, home.
HMS Stickleback – also known by her original designation, X51 – will form the star attraction at the centre, which could be ready to open, at least in partial form, as early as next month.
Fascinated onlookers paused during their morning commute or school run to watch as the two parts of the submarine were manoeuvred off two HGVs owned by Dumbarton-based Galt Transport, and transported inch-by-inch towards their new home by a team of forklift truck operators from specialist firm Allelys.
The operation is expected to continue until the end of this week:welders were due to arrive on Wednesday, after the Advertiser went to press, and cement contractors on Thursday to construct the base on which the submarine will rest.
The last piece in the jigsaw will come on Friday when X51 will be lowered into place, and when the centre’s founder, Brian Keating, will be given the job of crawling inside X51 and putting her back together – something which can’t be done from outside the vessel.
As to what happens next, Mr Kearing said: “We have a series of work details in place between ourselves and the Submariners’ Association for painting the submarine, installing electrics, projectors, underfloor heating and insulation.
“I think we’ll be in pretty good shape to do something by Remembrance Sunday, although the final decision on whether to do a ‘soft launch’ then or to wait until the centre is fully complete will rest with the members of the Scottish Submarine Trust.”
X51, which has been donated to the centre by the Royal Navy, was separated into two pieces before being brought north last month from the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, Hampshire.
Previously she was on display at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire.
Bob Seaward, preisdent of the Submariners’ Association for Scotland, said: “Given Helensburgh is soon to be the home of the UK’s entire submarine fleet, this initiative couldn’t come at a better time.
“I’m sure it will be much visited and has universal support locally”.
Helensburgh councillor Aileen Morton, who also has responsibility as Argyll and Bute’s policy lead on sustainable economic growth and tourism, added: “Supporting new attractions to enhance the viability of our town centres is a critical part of economic development in Argyll and the new Submarine centre’s location, in the town centre should have a very positive effect on Helensburgh.”
Among the fascinated onlookers outside the centre on Tuesday morning was local councillor, West of Scotland MSP and Helensburgh resident Maurice Corry, who said: “I’m delighted to see the submarine arrive. It’s been a long time in the planning but the operation has required a great deal of specialist planning and Brian Keating is to be congratulated for driving it forward as chair of the Scottish Submarine Trust.
“All the trustees are also to be congratulated for their perseverance in making this happen, because the centre will be a very important visitor attraction for Helensburgh and the surrounding area.
“The Royal Navy Submarine Museum also deserves great credit for all the help they have given to the Trust in enabling this project to happen.
“I must also pay tribute to the members of the West of Scotland branch of the Submariners’ Association, who have given their time to the project voluntarily over the last two years.
“They, like me, are very pleased that the centre will include a memorial to all the men of the submarine service who have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country, and I look forward to the memorial’s dedication once the centre is complete.”