A HISTORIC photograph of puffer Sitka berthed at Irvine in 1967 features in a new exhibition at the national maritime maritime museum.

The Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine has welcomed visitors back for the first time in almost five months with the 100 ton, 66 feet long major new exhibit.

For the first time, visitors can now step inside the hold of MV Spartan, which is the last surviving Scottish-built puffer in Scotland, and immerse themselves in the story of the hundreds of puffers like Spartan and Sitka which performed a lifeline service delivering everything from cows, cars and cabbages to Scotland’s islands and remote coastal communities for 100 years.

The permanent ‘Spartan: Inside Out’ exhibition charts the evolution of the puffer, which came to dominate cargo trade around Scotland from the mid 1800s.

Named after the ‘puff, puff’ of spent steam spewing out of the boat’s funnel, puffers were designed to travel where larger vessels couldn’t. With their unique flat-bottomed hulls they traversed the canal highways of mainland Scotland and, where there was no suitable jetty, they ‘beached’ at low tide, dropped their cargo and sailed at high tide.

The exhibition features unseen photographs from the Museum’s collection. These include images of early 1800s steam-powered boats through to the seagoing steam, and later diesel, puffers working from the 1870s up until 1994 when the last ‘puffer’ company, which also owned Spartan, Glenlight Shipping Ltd., ceased trading.

David Mann, Director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, said: “We’re delighted to welcome visitors back safely to the Scottish Maritime Museum and open our doors with such a fantastic new experience based around Spartan, which was the first historic vessel in the Museum’s collection when it opened back in 1983.

“As well as making the necessary changes to ensure public safety, including asking visitors to book their visit in advance on our website, we wanted to open with a compelling and exciting offer for visitors of all ages to pack in over coming months.

“With Spartan, our current exhibitions and some diverse and intriguing exhibitions coming up, we hope to attract an increasing number of visitors, ensure we sustain Scotland’s maritime heritage and also support tourism locally, regionally and across the country as a whole.”

Matthew Bellhouse Moran, Curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum, adds: “With the new Spartan experience, we continue to give our visitors engaging and exciting access to our collection of historic vessels and tell the fascinating stories of the inventors, sailors and engineers who made Scottish shipbuilding, engineering and design famous across the world.

“It’s wonderful to see visitors jump onboard and explore Scotland’s iconic and much-loved little puffer boat in a completely new way.”

Spartan has been recognised as a National Historic Ships UK 2020 Regional Flagship in recognition of the Museum’s work continuing to raise the profile of historic vessels during the Covid-19 pandemic through online activities and resources.

Spartan, alongside SY Carola, which is believed to be the world’s oldest seagoing steam yacht, is one of almost 50 of Scotland’s most important historic vessels, maritime artefacts and shipbuilding tools in the Scottish Maritime Museum’s new online collection of 3D models and 360° virtual tours designed to help preserve and increase public access to Scotland’s national maritime heritage collection. The Museum is one of the first of such size in Scotland to embark on a major 3D scanning project to digitalise a whole collection.