Auld Laing Syne: Recalling fabrication yard

UNDERWAY: Work on a module at the Laings Graythorpe yard back in the 1970s.
UNDERWAY: Work on a module at the Laings Graythorpe yard back in the 1970s.

WITH reference to the photograph of Laing’s yard (pictured right), I worked there on dimensional control as a contractor with a Newcastle company, Tynedraft Design.

My job was to line up the members of the jacket, rig legs, for welding.

It had to be accurate to one-eighth of an inch as it was massive.

The jacket took up the full length of the dock.

The photo was taken around 1974 and shows the building of a floatation raft.

This carried the rig, Graythorp One – also known as BP Forties Alpha, 120 miles off Aberdeen.

The raft, see brown tule on right-hand side of the right side crane, is 30ft in diameter.

The two cranes are American Hoist revolver cranes, on rails, with 200 tons lifting capacity.

The rig was the first one built in the UK and, at 906ft, was the tallest ever built when stood up.

It was built on its side on the raft.

The base was 325ft x 375ft, made of steel to BS4360 grade 55D, and you could see it for miles.

The idea was to tow it out to BP Forties field, line it up over the oil wells, then flood the raft at the base – in seconds!

This dropped the jacket to 45 degrees, then repeat until it got to 75 degrees onto the sea bed.

The raft was exploded away and towed back to Graythorp.

The mechanism once failed on dry test due to a wiring fault.

So they brought in Gerry Seimens, who worked with NASA on Apollo rockets.

He found it in minutes!

The rig still works well today.

I was a young lad of 28 and got to Laing’s by two trains and a bus, starting off at 5.45am to get there for 8am.

I often had to walk from Seaton station in pouring rain to the yard.

Finishing at 5pm, I didn’t get home sometimes until 8pm, exhausted.

My wage was £90 per week.

Laing’s taught me a lot, and I left due to the unbearable travel and no breaks.

I changed my job and ended up on it at sea.

The contractors at Laing’s were Brown & Root (USA).

I do recall some other contractors from Bryant Engineering.

Safety was not as good as it is today, people running along cross bracing at heights on round sections.

I know there was one fatality at the yard during its existence. The yard closed for one day.

Laing’s was the first UK company to build, at the time, the world’s biggest steel structure.

When the rig (jacket) was named by the nurse at Laing’s, the public were invited in to celebrate.

The wine was Mouton Cadet.

It’s thanks to Laing’s that my career really took off into management and design.

Now retired, I live in Hartlepool.

But I will always have precious memories of Laing’s, where I worked on the UK’s first oil platform built with a great, skilled crew.

Stan Wears,

South Parade,