Waverley’s first visit to the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland took place in April 1981 and in the twenty years since that visit the ship has carried out tours of the area on all but three years (199?, 199? and 2000). These tours have ranged in length from 2 to 10 days and Waverley has visited many of the principal ferry ports in the on the west mainland coast and the Inner and Outer Hebrides and some piers that no longer see large passenger vessels – Raasay, Portree, Dunvegan, Fort William and Tobermory. Calls at the Outer Hebridean ports were the first by a paddler for many decades: Waverley’s first visit to Stornoway in 1989 was the first since MacBrayne’s Gael over 60 years earlier and the visit to Castlebay and Lochboisdale in 1990 was probably the first by a paddler in a century or more.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of her first visit and to show the rebuilt paddler to her many friends in the area Captain Gellatly planned a 5 day tour of the southern Inner Hebrides around the early May bank holiday weekend. In the early days of Waverley’s Hebridean wanderings the norm was to sail from Ayr near the mouth of the Firth of Clyde to the Hebridean gateway of Oban with a call at Port Ellen on the south coast of Islay. Since 1995 the sailings have been operated from Waverley’s headquarters at Glasgow Anderston Quay. This allows a spectacular tour of the entire navigable length of the River and Firth of Clyde and the Southern Hebrides and that has increased the popularity of the sailing. Previously regarded as a positioning run carrying some passengers, the sailing must now be regarded as one of the most prominent coastal day excursions in Europe. It was evident as passengers assembled on Glasgow Anderston Quay before 0700 on Friday 4th May that the 2001 sailing was going to be one of the most popular ever. Waverley slipped away from her base just after 0700 despite the fact that she would not return home for almost 2 months she refrained from signalling her departure on her whistle due to the early hour. Proceeding down the river the paddler’s passengers enjoyed the bright sunshine and fresh temperatures that have become very characteristic of the sailing. On deck they inspected the passing scene – the new Glasgow Science Centre and viewing Tower which will open as a major new visitor attraction in a few weeks, the newly restored three masted barque Glenlee, built on the Clyde 105 years ago, the location of A & J Inglis shipyard where Waverley was built in 1947, the new Royal Navy Tanker Wave Ruler at the Govan shipyard and the frigate St Albans at the Scotstoun yard.
One hundred minutes sailing time from Glasgow Waverley was passing Greenock Ocean Terminal where two large container vessels were berthed with a third approaching from Cloch Point. As Waverley rounded the latter passengers could see Western Ferries new vessel Sound of Scarba over at Hunter’s Quay on her first day in commercial service. Those passengers that were regular travellers on the sailing were beginning to believe that it was charmed in some way as the weather was proving to be up to its normal high standard and after a brief call at Largs Captain Gellatly took the ship through the Tan channel between the islands of Great and Little Cumbrae, around Garroch Head, the southernmost tip of the Isle of Bute and across to the northern shore of the Island of Arran, affording stunning views of Glen Sannox and the Arran mountains, crowned, as ever, by stately Goatfell. In such clear weather a sail down the Kilbrannan Sound passing the once familiar villages of Lochranza, Catacol, Machrie and Carradale, where Waverley made an unforgettable visit under the command of Captain Steve Mishel in 1992, was a joy and ones memory could drift back to those glorious sailings in this area on the magnificent Caledonian Steam Packet turbine steamer Duchess of Hamilton.
After a quick visit to Campbeltown, where Waverley’s compliment for the sailing rose to nearly 400 – an all time record the sailing , the paddler continued round the far famed Mull of Kintyre to the accompaniment of Sir Paul McCartney’s equally famous musical celebration of his local ‘home’. There was no ‘mist rolling in from the sea’ on that occasion and Waverley’s passengers were presented with a magnificent vista from the headlands of Galloway to the shores of Antrim, the silhouette of Rathlin to the Mull of Oa on Islay, the rounded peaks of the Paps of Jura and the low lying profiles of Kintyre and God’s Island (Gigha) where the paddlers fleetmate Balmoral, had called a year earlier. Westering home, Waverley made for Islay’s southern ferry port, naved after Ellen, the wife of a former laird, where she arrived in slightly hazy sunshine slightly before her scheduled arrival time.
During the brief call passengers took the opportunity to photography the ship on the first visit to Port Ellen in her original livery and to visit the new memorial to the former Islay mailboat Lochiel, recently broken up after many years service as a restaurant ship in Bristol, which has been created in a small park on the shore. With three blasts on the whistle Waverley went swiftly astern from the pier into Kilnaughton Bay and out of the rock strewn bay, marked by the distinctive Carraig Fhada lighthouse. She traced her familiar course through the Sound of Jura, Insh and Kerrera to Oban where she berthed at the North Pier as the gentle sounds of the Clarsach, the Gaelic harp, wafted from the ships speakers.
The end of a perfect, long day, a bit weary from the effects of fresh air, Waverley’s fortunate passengers of that day departed with memories long to be remembered and cherished none less than the spectacular sunset over the Sound of Mull.
Those that stayed in Oban awoke next morning to a bright highland sunshine and a clarity of air and richness of colour that accentuated the glory of the paddler’s traditional livery which has help restore the original beauty of the ship. Many photographs were taken from Oban’s busy esplanade that morning and a few examples are shown here.
This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.