I was lucky enough to meet long time operator on the harbour side Mike Pryer, a real veteran of the crane operating world with many years of experience under his belt .
Mike told me that the Fuchs MHL360 which is owned by Torridge District Council, was bought three years ago as a replacement for the ageing Priestman Lion 350 rope controlled grab crane, which he had been operating in the past.
The old Priestman cranes had provided many years of reliable service, but some breakdowns could be costly and as the Priestman company ceased trading a long time ago, spare parts were becoming hard to come by, in some instances having to be sourced from as far away as the Falkland Islands.
Priestman photo from the past, courtesy of Ian Fletcher.
So in November 2008 the decision was taken to invest somewhere in the region of £225,000 on the state of the art piece of German engineering, which was supplied by Fuchs UK dealer, Hydrex.
The machine on the harbour, is primarily used to load clay from the local ball clay pits at Peters Marland. During an interesting chat with Mike and harbour master Roger Hoad, I was told that the port of Bideford regularly handles ships of 90+ metres with draughts of 4.5 metres and that a majority of the clay is being exported to Finland and Spain.
During the Digger Blogs visit, the cargo ship, Mv Baltiyskiy was being loaded with 2,330 tonnes of ball clay, for delivery to Lovisa in Finland. The operation was virtually completed by the time I arrived, but Mike was evenly distributing the clay in the hold prior to the ships departure on the next high tide.
Mike said that although this machine weighs in around 44 tons it was a strange feeling when he first moved onto it from the old tracked Priestman crane, and as most of his work is “over the side” you have to be careful with the machines stability at times.
The Fuchs MHL360 is powered naturally by a German Deutz engine, with an output of 186kw (259hp) and has a reach of 18 metres, this machine is fitted with an 1.4m3 Ardennes clamshell grab.
For Mike, the cab is pure luxury, after years of working in a hot and noisy environment, he is now treated to a noise free, fully air-conditioned workplace.
In addition the cab can be variably adjusted hydraulically, to a height at eye level of 6.1m and moved forward to a maximum of 2.20m to give excellent views into the hold of the ship.
When the boat has been loaded Mike often fills his time by de-silting the river by reaching down with the grab and dropping it back into the water so it disperses, and he also washes down the harbour wall steps with a grab full of water!
Mike has promised to share some of his past crane experiences and photos with us here on the Digger Blog. I for one am really looking forward to that!
A massive thank you to the Harbour master, Roger Hoad and Mike Pryer, for making us welcome during the visit.