The final day of Waverley‘s Easter programme was blessed with the best weather. Before she left the quay it was announced that her advertised sailing through the Kyles of Bute would not be possible due to the obstruction caused by the redeployment of buoys in the Narrows. This did not put anyone off but regular passengers were anxious for confirmation that the channel would be restored to Waverley’s itinerary as soon as possible.
A new viewing point from which to photograph Waverley on her passage down river is the riverside walkway of the vast Braehead shopping complex, built on the site of the power station of the same name.
The more traditional photo point on the sandy beach at Erskine remains as popular as ever.
I photographed her at both before heading for Helensburgh where she was a fine sight as she made her cautious approach – the shallow waters around Helensburgh when combined with an offshore breeze calls for a firm hand on the wheel and expert judgement from the master. Needless to say, that is what we got.
The passenger transfer complete ahead of the advertised departure time, Purser Jim McFadzean embarked on a spot of impromptu publicity, distributing timetables to the sightseers on the pier. Underway, Waverley headed south to Largs, which was very busy and give her a sizeable pickup on the first visit of 2001. She doubled back to Rothesay, then headed down to Millport, which must win the prize for the biggest turnout of people to welcome the new look Waverley back home.
Leaving Millport, her deck crowded, Waverley traversed the main channel, rounded Garroch Head and headed up the west coast of Bute, through the Sound of Inchmarnock and over the top of the ‘drunkard’s isle’ – where the good folk of Bute used to dump their miscreants until they dried out or at least sobered up. It is quite a sobering place, Inchmarnock, and we could well imagine why there have not been many cruises round it in the past.
As if rushing to get away, Waverley’s radar linked ‘speedometer’ told us the vessel was tramping along at 16.5 knots with about 500 passengers aboard – impressive enough but there was more to come.
Her powerful machinery performing as well as I have ever seen, Waverley arrived back at Rothesay and Millport well up to time and the Cumbrae capital exceeded its own impressive showing on the first call of the day having mustered its pipe band on the pier for the second call. Arriving at Largs from the south, Captain Gellatly decided that the stiffening north westerly made it unwise to berth Waverley on the front face of Largs pier. Past experience has shown that it is difficult to get Waverley to lift off the pier when departing in a NW wind and an alternative berth on the south knuckle of the pier provides for a safer departure although alignment and approach to that berth requires considerable skill. This necessitated a big sweep of the bay and single gangway disembarkation so Waverley left Largs, stern first into the breeze about 23 minutes late. To make up some of the lost time on the passage to Helensburgh, Waverley’s mighty engine was shown some extra steam and certainly made the most of it. As she rounded Cloch Point, I counted the revs several times with results of 54 rpm, 55 rpm and maybe just a touch above. It was the first time in my near 40 years of sailing on the ship that I’d seen it reciprocate almost as fast as it had done on the trial trip in June 1947 and it was all the more impressive as it seemed almost effortless with none of the rotational bangs that we had become used to. In the late sixties and early seventies, when the engine struggled to hold itself together at speeds above 38 rpm, I used to wonder what it would be like at top speed – I could not have dreamed that I would find out 30 years later. As a result of this effort Waverley arrived back at Helensburgh only a few minutes late. I disembarked satisfied with a successful weekend and the sight of Rankin & Blackmore’s Engine No 520 running as well as ever it has, fresh in my memory.
This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.