On Easter Day, Waverley left her base as the sun broke through the cloud and the sun became progressively more prevalent as she headed downriver past the familiar sights, such as HMS St Albans, fitting out at Yarrow’s Shipyard. Sunny though it was, it was not warm , the stiff northerly breeze having a distinct bite. The actor and comedian Roy Barraclough joined the steamer at Glasgow for a full day sailing and seemed to enjoy his experience.
Waverley called at Greenock and Helensburgh then crossed the mouth of the Gareloch to make her second visit of the year to Kilcreggan after which she headed into Loch Long.
The air was crystal clear but the northerly course in the loch accentuated the windchill and passengers were appreciative of the constant waft of warm air emanating from the new hatch in front of the purser’s office. It is likely to become an even more popular area to congregate and talk on cold days.
Waverley turned to port when she reached the mouth of Loch Goil and headed a short distance into the Loch affording her complement a good view of the beautiful scenery. Turning off Carrick Castle, Waverley retraced her wake to the entrance of the loch where she turned to port to continue a short distance up Loch Long. There was considerable interest on deck for this section of the cruise as two large ocean ships were berthed at terminals on the east shore of the loch.
The first vessel that Waverley passed was a large BP tanker called British Harrier, which was berthed at the oil terminal at Finnart. This terminal was built in the 1950s to facilitate the import of crude oil from the Persian Gulf. Loch Long is a sheltered, fjord like waterway of great depth. The sharply shelving sides of the loch make it possible for the largest supertankers in the world to berth at the short pier. In the late 1970s, vessels in excess of 350,000 tonnes berthed at Finnart – by comparison British Harrier was quite small.
When built, the terminal was intended as an import terminal for the vast BP oil refinery at Grangemouth on the Forth – a pipeline runs west to east across the central belt of Scotland to join Finnart to Grangemouth. The discovery of oil in the North Sea resulted in the Grangemouth refinery taking most of its feed from that source over the past 20 years and during that period Finnart has been partly ‘mothballed’. More recently BP has modified the pipeline to enable the export of Grangemouth products through Finnart. British Harrier is the first BP owned ship to visit Finnart in 30 years. In attendance with British Harrier was the fire fighting Clyde tug Flying Phantom in her new light blue livery. The tug is the last survivor of the fleet of the Clyde Shipping Company, which can trace its origins back to 1814. The Company’s tugs were famous for their ‘Flying’ nomenclature style and the distinctive black, brown and orange livery.
After passing British Harrier, Waverley continued further up the deep, narrow loch to allow passengers a good close view of the huge RFA Fort Victoria, berthed at the RNAD terminal just north of Finnart. This quay is used to transfer ballistic missiles from the vast, cavernous silos that are cut into the mountains between Loch Long and Loch Lomond. In those hills resides a huge arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Vessels of the RFA have visited this quay for many years to transfer Polaris, Poseidon and now Trident missiles from the caverns to the ICBM submarine fleet based at Faslane in the Gareloch. Fort Victoria is one of the largest RFA vessels ever built and the ability to berth her so close to the loch side is proof of the steep sides and depth of this loch.
Turning abeam of Fort Victoria, Waverley headed back down the loch past the massive floating dock and high security armaments base at Coulport , round the Rosneath Peninsula and through the Rhu Narrows for a rare visit to the Gareloch. This loch was the virtual preserve of the North British Railway’s Craigendoran based fleet of paddle steamers, of which Waverley is the last survivor. Waverley’s return to the haunts of the venerable Lucy Ashton was the first return of the old LNER livery to the loch in fifty three years. She proceeded along the loch until she was adjacent to the site of the former Metal Industries shipbreaking yard at Faslane. Many famous ships – liners, battleships and aircraft carriers had ended their days in that bay just a mile or so south of Garelochhead.
Probably the most famous ship to be demolished at Faslane was the very beautiful Cunard liner Aquitania that was scrapped there in the early fifties – only twenty miles away from the place of her creation, the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank. The shipbreaking yard at Faslane was itself demolished in the 1970s to make way for the vast naval base that is home to the majority of the British submarine fleet. Tucked in on the edge of the enormous high security base is the little boatyard of Timbacraft of Shandon, which has for many years serviced the smaller members of CalMac’s Clyde and West Highland fleets. From Waverley‘s deck we could see Clyde Marine Motoring’s little passenger ferry Kenilworth, hauled up from the water for overhaul and one of Calmac’s fleet of small bow loading car ferries. It was on the shores of the Gareloch in this vicinity that once stood the vast Shandon House, home of Robert Napier, widely regarded as the ‘Father of Clyde Shipbuilding’ Robert Napier designed the four paddle steamers that formed the nucleus of Samuel Cunard’s emerging fleet of transatlantic mail steamers in the 1840s and introduced Cunard to the Glasgow shipping magnate Sir George Burns who, with partner Donald MacIver, put up most of the money to get the famous Cunard line started. Napier trained many men in his yard that were to go on to found their own companies on the banks of the river – names like Denny, Thomson, Elder and many more learned their trade under the influence of Robert Napier.
As we steamed back down the Gareloch one could only imagine those years in the 1930s when scores of idle British ships were laid up in rows in its sheltered waters and reflect how much the scenic lochside has changed from a beautiful backwater disturbed only occasionally by the flapping of a North British paddle boat through the depressed ranks of silent ships of the hungry thirties, the busy emergency port of World War II, the early days of the submarine base with its well known mother-ship, HMS Maidstone, and the overpowering and somewhat sinister presence of the current Trident base. Maybe some day the Gareloch will return to its natural state. Let’s hope that Waverley is still flapping around at that time.
This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.