Sixty years ago today on May 23rd, 1958 HRH The Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the brand new Queen Elizabeth II dry-dock. An event that will go down in the port’s history as one of the turning points for the local ship repair industry. Today, the dock remains one of the largest in the UK.

Jack Silley, then owner of Falmouth Docks, along with his fellow directors had a vision for the port with a super dry-dock capable of docking the largest oil tankers berthing at any existing oil terminals in the United Kingdom. He wanted a dock to handle tankers of 85,000 -100,000 tons deadweight.

The advent of the super tanker saw dockyards across the globe embarking on new dry-dock schemes. In 1953 Mr. H.A.J. Silley and his fellow directors decided that in order for Falmouth to survive and have a bright future in the world ship-repairing industry this dock had to be built.

In August 1956 the biggest civil engineering project the port has ever known began when excavation work for the new Queen Elizabeth dry-dock started in earnest as the dawn of super tanker era hit the British shipping industry.

Mr. Eric Underwood, Civil engineer and general manager of the Falmouth Docks and Engineering Company, masterminded the entire building programme from start to finish.

Negotiations between the dock company and the Town Council resulted in an agreement about the diversion inland of the Castle Drive to permit the dock extension on the landward side and the work was put in hand. It involved blasting and cutting a 150ft slice into the rock on the landward side and dredging and excavating out into what is the dock basin. Altogether approximately 400,000 tons of rock was excavated from the Castle Drive cliff face and 350,000 tons from the dock itself.

The dock is 850 feet long, 136 feet wide between the walls and 130 feet wide at the entrance. The depth of the dock from top to bottom is 51 feet.

The Duke of Edinburgh who formally opened the Queen Elizabeth dock said: “This dry dock is ample proof that the owners are neither old-fashioned, un-enterprising nor stick in the mud. It is quite an achievement purely as a feat of engineering, but as a gesture of confidence in the future is of untold value. This is a great day for Falmouth and for the ship-repairing industry in this area.”

On September 4th, 1958 the 28,598-ton BP tanker British Realm became the first ship to enter the new dry-dock.

Thanks to the immense foresight of the directors the dry-dock was completed before the first of the new generation of 50,000 ton super tankers entered service. Just a year later the BP Tanker British Queen, the biggest tanker built in Britain at the time docked in the Queen Elizabeth dry dock after her builder’s trials on the Clyde. From then on the yard docked many of these large tankers with initially the local papers carrying the headlines “Largest tanker to dock at Falmouth.”

With 80,000 ton dwt tankers expected to use the port after the construction of number 2 dry dock and the County and Duchy wharves docks management decided to invest in new towage assets. Arusha later to be renamed St Mawes was purchased from the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1956. Under the command of Captain E.G. “Ted” Newton a local crew comprising of Falmouth Towage Company hands brought the tug back to Falmouth from Mombasa. The British India Steam Navigation Company ordered the Arusha, named after a Tanzanian town near Mount Kilimanjaro, in 1951, in the wake of the Colonial Office's ill-fated East African Groundnut scheme. Her primary role being the towage of barges up and down the East African coast.