End of Wolraad Woltemade

Posted by batman on May 1st, 2010
May 1

The Beginning

Wolraad Woltemade and her sister ship John Ross were in their time the most powerful of their kind on the planet. This pair of South African tugs, or salvage vessels, patrolled the seas around Cape Point and further afield. According to contract, one of them was required to remain in port to handle any emergency, while the other was free to roam the high seas competing for international salvalge prizes. And work there certainly was – with the constant traffic of overweight supertankers going around the point there was almost always someone in trouble.

Wolraad Woltemade was built by Robb Caledon Shipbuilders in Scotland and delivered to Safmarine in Cape Town during 1976, while her sister ship John Ross was built by the Durban shipyards of Elgin Brown & Hamer. These immensely powerful vessels were powered by two Mirrlees-Blackstone type KVMR16 diesels with 19,200 bhp (14,132 kW) – providing unmatched pulling power. They were 94.6 metres long. Ownership of these two sisters has been transferred between Safmarine, Pentow Marine and Smit Marine Cape Town. Current owners have renamed John Ross to Smit Amandla.


The End

Wolraad Woltemade’s time has unfortunately run out. The ‘Standby Tug Contract’ requires the presence of one tug in a South African port at any given time, a duty that has for some years been taken up by her sister tug Smit Amandla. This contract was due for renewal in November 2009, but the South African goverment decided not to renew – leaving our coast unprotected for the first time in 30 years. She was unable to find a buyer, and her somewhat ignomius end is that she has been sold as scrap.
As can be seen from the accompanying photograph, she is riding high, and showing signs of her age. All insignia have been removed in preparation for the breakers. She has since sailed from Cape Town, appropriately her last port of call, and is now awaiting her fate at the hands of the breakers.

Rest in peace, WW.

The Legend

Wolraad Woltemade (c.1708 – June 1, 1773) was a South African dairy farmer, who died while rescuing sailors from the wreck of the ship De Jonge Thomas in Table Bay on 1 June 1773. Read about the legend of the man here on Wikipedia

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19 Responses

  1. batman batman Says:

    by the way, if there is anyone that has sailed on this ship, or someone closely associated with her, i'd really appreciate if you could share a relevant piece of trivia, or an anecdote, with us.


  2. Lloyd Merriman Lloyd Merriman Says:

    A few of us are trying to organise a WW and JR reunion next year for all who had the pleasure of sailing in them or being associated with them in some or other way. We would like to recapture all the old memories –  funny stories and naturally, some of the more famous endeavours they have been involved in…before the memory of such beautiful vessels fade as time goes by.
    That second photo only shows signs of a real working salvage tug…only cosmetic! The steel in her hull was still stronger than what is used today on modern day tugs!
    See the website http://www.salvagetugs.co.za if you have been involved with the tugs in anyway over the last 35 years. Please add your names to the crew list, contact details and if you have any, photos from the good old days.
    These vessels are very important part of South African, if not worldwide, Maritime heritage and the memory of them needs to be preserved.

  3. Greg Pearce Greg Pearce Says:

    Hi Lloyd. Will certainly add my name. Sailed on her and her sister for many years. To my knowledge Bruce, the Smit Amandla (aka 'John Ross') has been awarded a 3 year coastel contract as of this year.

  4. sandy carson sandy carson Says:

    I was on the building of  wolraad woltemade at robb caledon as an engineer and was on sea trials fantastic ship sad to see her scrapped lying on her side.
                                              regards sandy

  5. ken hunter ken hunter Says:

    writing on behalf of my dad ken hunter who was on both ships for their sea trials and holds them dear to his heart. he was one of the engineers and would be bery interested in any updates or reunions coming up. thanks emma hunter

  6. Gary Grenfell Gary Grenfell Says:

    Hi, I sailed on both these vessels and was last on the WW in 2007, sorry to see WW go to scrap, is any of the regulars still working for Smit on the Amandla. Would be interested to know who is still around.

  7. Neke’ Neke' Says:

    Dear all, it's sad for me to hear that the WW is being scrapped.i had the pleasure of seeing this pressius vessel moored at Scharloo (Salazar Kade) in Curacao (Neth. Antilles) at a Smit International terminal, where i work at the same pier for the Curacao Towage Company, a lokal tug company in Curacao. The WW was ondergoing some repairs, and a college went aboard and was told and showed the repairs. The main engenes were beeing overhauled, and the vessel was equiped with every spareparts, and repaires were beeing done conpletely by the crew it self. Unfortunetly i never went aboard,'cause i thouth there will be plenty of time to do that. My college told me, that  he never could imagine from the outside how the vessel looked from the inside ! He was impressed and astound by it's beauty and it's tidyness.
    Seeing these pictures and espessially the one it's lying half sideways aground, broke our hearts. How is it possible somthing like this is possible, the vessel we saw for the last time about two years ago was looking healthy as ever. It's a shame, it's a bloody shame something like this can thruly happen and no one does anything to stop it. I know it must feel verry awfull for you all, 'cause i feel verry bad my self. Please inform if anyboddy have information if she has allready been scrapped. KRGD'S

  8. Neke’ Neke' Says:

    WW entering harbour in Willemstad june 26th  2009
        The last picture indicates our tugs at work in the harbour with at the far left the Harbour office and at the far right the SMIT International building an our office and repairshops in the center in Curacao Dutch Antilles,

  9. Neke’ Neke' Says:
  10. David Grober David Grober Says:

    Wilbur Smith wrote “Hungary As The Sea” based upon the John Ross and I presume WW. I’m a writer and do maritime film production in the United States, and in the early 1980’s was writing the screenplay for Hungary As The Sea, and had a chance to go aboard the JR in Cape Town. Incredible ship and fantastic crew. Very sad to read about WW. If you do have a reunion, let me know. If I can make it, I’ll be there. You might also advise Mr. Wilbur Smith as I believe he still lives in Cape Town.
    Cheers. David Grober. davidgrober1@gmail.com

  11. The Loftsman The Loftsman Says:

    She was one of my fav ships and i remember good times working on her as an apprentice Loftsman, to keep the memory of WW and all the ships built in the Leith Shipyards i now have a website listing them and would welcome stories and photographs, have to add that i have still to get to this incredible ship as the list is pretty long.

  12. Henry Edwards Henry Edwards Says:

    I was draughtsman / systems engineer @ Mirrlees on the WW/JR,& with Ken Hunter (see 5) & co at Robbs Leith , we were the first to turn the engines / propshaft of the Wolraad ( for Capt Grapow)

  13. Huw Jones Huw Jones Says:

    I am posting this on behalf of my father. We only found out today that the Wolraad has been scrapped and the very sad photo of her beached at Alang has had my father in tears. Here is his message…

    It is with great sadness that I read about the end of the beautiful tug, Wolraad Woltemade. My Father, Captain Robert Jones was captain aboard both the W.W. and the John Ross during the eighties and early nineties and travelled all around the world on them. It is very ironic that my father passed away the same year that the W.W. was finally scrapped and I know that he would have broken his heart if he had known of her scrapping. I hope the John Ross still has a few years to go yet and I know that my father would wish all their crews a long and happy future.

  14. batman batman Says:

    thank you so much for your comment Huw, and everybody else. it has been warming to see the responses i’ve received. from all accounts she was much loved by all who sailed in her, and it really saddens me that no solution could be found to keep her afloat.

    and I heartily agree – long live JR (or at least SA)



  16. dave murray dave murray Says:

    i sailed on both tugs in the mid-80’s and am now the business unit manager in charge of them. i was the one who negotiated the sale of the ‘ww” to the indian breakers in 2010,and although it was a commercial decision (and isn’t it all about money these days), it was one of the toughest periods of my life. being pushed by the shareholders and being vilified by local interested persons who did not understand the dynamics of completely financial shareholder demands was not pleasant. however i did make a pact at the time, the “john ross” (“smit amandla”) will not be permitted to go the same way. she was built in south africa and should be retained in south africa as a museum ship to show what we were able to achieve as a country. however finances are required for this and i plan to get a interest group going where we can involve big business to sponsor the continuation of this fine ladies life. she was built in durban (and although i am a capetonian) what a great place for her to retire to, as durban do have a maritime museum with floating exhibits. anyone who has ideas or possible benefactors, please revert. i am reachable at d.murray@smit.com

  17. Jimmy Hey Jimmy Hey Says:

    I sailed for several years (late ’70’s early ’80’s as Chief Eng on both the tugs. I remember Nigel Hudson and Co carrying out mods on the JR. They had the Stbd Engine in 50 million pieces when we got a called out to do a LOF on the tanker Alcazar which had lost its rudder off Cape Point in the middle of the night in a force 8 (of course). I asked Nigel if he would mind sailing with us in case we had to put Stbd engine back together again as they (Mirrlees) had taken it to pieces. Luckly he agreed as in the end we needed to put that engine back together in a hurry and run it for a short period. It was a sucessfull LOF and Nigel survived (he changed complexion several times during the operation). We awarded him Honoury Marine Engineer status. There are many stories to tell about the two tugs.

  18. Charlie Butt Charlie Butt Says:

    I started out on these boats in 1978 as 4th engineer and spent many years sailing on both vessels. Sometimes good and some times bad. I remember the Pentagon 82 tow where we had high vanadium content in the fuel which resulted in blocked turbocharger nozzle rings and rotors. Eddie Freestone was chief and I was 2nd. Eug was 3rd and Richard Beeming 4th. Neville was the lecky. Jimmy relived me in Cape Town when we eventually got back. I did a 6 month trip that time. Wasn’t nice.

  19. The Loftsman The Loftsman Says:

    To all interested now have a good few pages on the mighty W.W. on my website and she also features on the front page of what is now a very large website at http://www.leithshipyards.com

    All welcome as is photo’s and or stories, keeping the ship and her history alive.


    The Loftsman

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