Some of Waverley’s most enthusiastic supporters were ‘up with the lark’ on the third day of Waverley’s Inner Hebridean adventure for a departure at 0700 on Sunday 6th May 2001 . The morning mist had not yet been burned away as Captain Gellatly rang down ‘slow ahead’ on the bridge telegraph to spring the paddler off the face of the North Pier . With the stern at the correct angle, he rang down ‘half astern’ to take her away from the pier followed by ‘Full Astern’ to get enough way to steer the vessel in a comparatively tight (for Waverley) astern arc course towards Ardantraive Bay on the island of Kerrera, Oban Bay’s magnificent natural breakwater.
I had risen equally early to scale the hill above Oban’s seafront in order to photograph the paddle steamer’s stately morning progress out of Oban Bay by the north channel from the vantage point of Oban’s distinctive McCaig’s Tower (anything but a Folly). When the ship had disappeared behind the headland at Dunollie, a leisurely return to the hotel for a fine highland breakfast was the happy prospect.
Waverley’s progress up Loch Linnhe was in continuously improving conditions as the sun dispelled the morning mist and Alistair Black captured these two fine pictures of the paddler on her first post-rebuild visit to the highland garrison town of Fort William.
Waverley’s regained swiftness following the refurbishment and re-alignment of her magnificent triple expansion steam engine (created by Rankin & Blackmore’s Eagle Foundry in Greenock in 1946-47) ensured that her early birds had almost a full hour at the Lochaber capital.
Departing at 1000 she went astern towards the hamlet of Trislaig (origin of one wing of the writer’s family) on the far shore of the loch as seen in this first view by Tom Dunlop.
The vessel was already well laden as she thundered down the loch, heralding her passage through the narrows of Corran with an long blast on her whistle – the unique visual impact of the steam whistle is captured in this dramatic picture by Tom Dunlop as Waverley approached the Corran ferry. A short time later Waverley had ‘dog-legged’ through the little channel between the islands of Shuna and Lismore to enter that most beautiful stretch of Hebridean sea known as the Lynn of Lorn.
Tom and Julie Dunlop were continuing to follow her progress from the shore and caught this fine view of the paddler as she passed the little port of Appin.
At Oban the magnificent weather was encouraging a massive interest in the day’s sailing to the Four Lochs and the Whirlpool Gulf of Corryvreckan and a huge crowd thronged the North Pier as Waverley arrived in the Bay just after noon.
This picture shows her arriving at the North Pier. With the tide almost at Low Water Spring levels, loading took some time and unfortunately Waverley was filled to the 740-passenger limit of her Class III Passenger Certificate before all of the non-ticket holders were aboard. Waverley hates to leave anyone behind and disappoint prospective passengers but it is essential, for safety of the passengers and ship, that the limits of the passenger certificate are strictly observed. So it is not a bad idea to pre-book tickets from the Waverley Terminal in Glasgow or the local Tourist Information Centre, particularly in periods of prolonged fine weather.
Fully laden Waverley went astern from the pier and crossed Oban Bay to enter the Sound of Kerrera – presenting a glorious sight to those ashore as illustrated in the following sequence by Tom Dunlop.
Sailing south by Easdale and Cullipool Waverley passed through the turbulent channel of the Sound of Luing before rounding the southern tip of the island of Luing and coming north through Shuna Sound, diverting a short way into Loch Melfort, first of the four in her tour, and passing over Loch Shuna, by Craobh Haven and through the once infamous tide race at the Dorus Mhor (the Great Gate). It was here that her illustrious predecessor, the paddle steamer Comet of 1812 (the first ever Clyde steamer and first commercial steamship in Europe) was wrecked during a winter storm in 1820. With her large 2,100 horsepower (1,523kW) engine, the might of the Dorus Mhor presents no threat to Waverley and she steamed through undeterred, turning north again into Loch Craignish, surely one of the most beautiful sea-lochs in Scotland. It is sad that current conditions do not allow for Waverley to follow the course that she had taken on her first visit to the loch in 1984 – all the way up the west shores of Eilean Righ and Island Macaskin to turn off Ardfern near the head of the Loch and back down through the narrow eastern channel between the two islands and the eastern shore of the loch. Those of us privileged to make that passage 17 years ago will never forget it – spectacular scenery – in fact, spectacular enough to feature in an action filled speedboat chase in a James Bond movie. Hopefully Waverley will return some day.
After Craignish Waverley made a brief visit to her final loch – Crinan, turning short of the castle of Duntroon and the pier at the end of the Crinan Canal where she called several times in the decade from 1985 to 1995. Again it would be good to return with Waverley to Crinan pier especially if we found the preserved steam puffer Vic 32, which is based in the nearby basin. On a westerly course Waverley raced through the whirling pools of the Corrie Brechan, tame that day by its winter standards, but she avoided a close inspection of the Garvellachs (Isles of the Sea) as a low bank of mist had shrouded the islands from view. Just after 5 pm Waverley steamed back into Oban, disembarking a host of happy passengers before loading others for her evening cruise up Loch Linnhe to Fort William.
The weather was glorious, the evening sun reflecting on the ship’s fine new funnels, created by Glasgow-based naval architect Dr Bob Marshall, in the image of the original ‘lums’ built by Inglis of Pointhouse (but a good deal less heavy) and perfectly parallel, unlike the smoke stacks installed in the early 1960s which were removed in January 2000 and were last spotted in a yard in Norwich!
The setting sun forced the green hills of Morvern into stunning silhouette as Waverley escaped from Lorne’s Lynn into Loch Linnhe.
Alistair Black was rewarded with this magnificent view of the paddler over the deck of the soon-to-retire Corran Ferry Rosehaugh which had been built way back in 1967 for the run across the narrows of Kessock between the Firths of Beauly and Inverness.
As Waverley cruised up Lochaber’s shore the mighty snow capped bulk of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, emerged from its earlier shouds of mist.
Soon Waverley was back at the Fort where diners in the seafood restaurant were delighted, if a little surprised to see a 693-ton paddle steamer tie up a few feet from their tables!
Steamer enthusiasts were interested to note the brand new car ferry Corran, tied up alongside the diving school pier. The vessel, which will soon replace the previously mentioned Rosehaugh, has a link to Waverley, being built by George Prior Engineering, immediately after the completion of the paddler’s rebuild in 2000. Alongside Corran was the little passenger ship Souter’s Lass, which operates local cruises from Fort William.
Waverley’s Oban passengers were to join two coaches for the return to the Lorne town but not before snatching a final picture of the their favourite ship at Fort William’s tiny pier.
The sailing was over but the return by road to Oban was full of spectacle as the sun sank out to the west in the mystical Tir nan Og, the Land of the Ever Young. At Connel the dying sun turned the sky and sea into an awesome blaze of gold and orange – a magic Hebridean day, full of memories lingered as we succumbed to our slumbers.
This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.