Despite a less than impressive summer in weather terms and a tourist industry shaken by the high value of Sterling and the misinformation on Foot & Mouth when Waverley completed her Clyde season on 27th August she had carried over 105,000 passenger which is about a 3% increase over the equivalent 1999 figure – her last full Clyde season before rebuild – a commendable performance in the circumstances.
The last two weekends of Waverley’s main Clyde season were very busy with big crowds travelling to the Bute and Cowal Highland Games on the last two Saturdays. With a special sailing from Tighnabruaich on the first occasion Waverley carried over 1000 passengers on the two consecutive Saturdays. Her last Monday sailing round Ailsa Craig produced over 600 passengers and the following Monday (August Bank Holiday some places but not Glasgow) produced over 700 passengers with about 250 off and a similar number on at Brodick on the Isle of Arran and over 500 taking the cruise to Pladda – highest since 1994 on that sailing.
Another highlight was the sailing for the Glasgow Phoenix Choir on Friday evening.
Sundays have tended to be a quiet day in Waverley’s schedule but the last two Sunday’s were well supported – on the second last Sunday over 300 hardy souls braved a horrible onslaught of rain on Waverley’s return sailing up-river to her base at Anderston Quay. Better weather for the final Sunday sailing produced a very commendable total of about 800 passengers over the day.
Storm in the Kyles
In the last week the weather tended to be a bit better than the majority of the season although not on the final Tuesday sailing to Tarbert. Although the weather was very good for the final Monday sailing to the Craig a bad forecast for the following day encouraged Capt Jamieson – assisted by Capt Gellatly who was sailing as Chief Officer – to take Waverley up to Greenock thus preventing being stormbound at Ayr on Tuesday. A shrewd move it turned out to be as the Tuesday produced one of the most foul days on the Firth for many years. Sailing from Ayr or Millport would have been impossible – Waverley came down from Greenock to pick up her schedule at Largs. Even then there was a fair swell running upfirth as she headed over to Rothesay although she seemed to take it very much in her stride – by contrast the car ferry Saturn on a slightly different course was making heavier weather but coping well. After Rothesay, Waverley went through the Kyles – white breaking rollers in the East Kyle are not common but there were a good few about that day. Through the Narrows as we approached Tighnabruaich the scene was amazing – the combination of a very high spring tide and a south to north swell sent significant waves breaking over the deck of the pier and the shore road. The redoutable Angus was on the pier in full highland dress as is his practice for Waverley’s last run of the year to Tarbert but it became obvious that to attempt a call at Tighnabruaich would have presented a significant risk of damage to the ship, the pier or both. Captain Jamieson decided not to do so – a fine judgement as we’ve come to expect of Waverley’s masters. Sadly, Angus was left forlornly gazing out as his favourite ship sailed past. We proceeded south towards Ardlamont and the swell continued to build – again the skipper had to put safety of ship and passengers before thoughts of disappointing those hoping to reach Tarbert or sail from there. Waverley turned before she reached Ardlamont – to have attempted a rounding would have been an unacceptable risk especially as a return sailing may have become impossible. Instead Waverley substituted a cruise in Loch Striven and time ashore at Rothesay which included a visit to the spectacular new tourist office and Discovery Centre in the old Winter Gardens. There, we found an interesting interactive display on Clyde steamer history and two spectacular videos. One has superb colour film of old Clyde favourites such as Duchesses of Argyll and Montrose, the Saint Columba, Queen Mary II and Jeanie Deans. The other is a magnificent record of our own mighty paddler – Waverley – shot during her week on the Clyde in August 2000 – fresh from rebuild. This video is amongst the best that I’ve ever seen of Waverley – showing her at her best with loads of happy passengers enjoying superb sailings in her natural setting. The accompanying music is very fitting despite being American in origin. Only 10 -15 minutes long it may be but this video is one of the best adverts for Waverley I’ve ever seen – apart from the ship herself. Well done to local tourist officer James McMillan, the photographer Gina and the local tourist board for making it – pity it’s not for sale.
A Very Fast Lady
Waverley returned to the shelter of Greenock on Tuesday night but Wednesday dawned much better. Out of position, she went to Largs to embark her Ayr passengers from a coach, taking them to Brodick. She picked up her schedule there but the extra running meant she was about an hour late on her second call at Largs. The engineering department with Ken Henderson in charge rose to the challenge and by the time that Waverley returned to Largs only 5 hours later they had reduced the deficit from an hour to just a few minutes. To do this in a space of only 5 hours is amazing. George Train, a long-standing supporter and traveller on Waverley, was very impressed and reports that Rankin & Blackmore’s mighty Engine No 520 reached 57 revolutions per minute – about the fastest ever – a fast lady, indeed.
As Waverley’s Clyde season draws to an end her returns to her base at Glasgow are more often in darkness.
On her last sailing passengers were able to view the current production at the BAE Systems (Fairfield) shipyard in Govan under night shift illumination.
Earlier in the day we had inspected her sister ship under construction at Ferguson’s Port Glasgow yard, both vessels being anchor handling tugs for Glasgow based Stirling Offshore’s North Sea fleet.
Waverley passengers also saw the large naval tanker Waver Ruler, fitting out at Govan, HMS St Albans – just back at ‘Yarrows’ from sea trials on the Firth – she is the last Type 23 frigate for the Royal Navy and two of the yet nameless offshore patrol vessels being built at Scotstoun – the first lying just ahead of St Albans at the Elderslie Wall and the second hiding in the covered drydock.They are for the Royal Brunai Navy.
An earlier return on Sunday let passengers see the new Glasgow Science Centre and the Glasgow Tower in the gloaming (just before dusk) but on Monday the 2220 return revealed the Science Centre, the Clyde Auditorium (Glasgow’s answer to Sydney Opera House known colloquially as the Armadillo) and the spectacular industrial masterpiece – the Finnieston Crane – in new night-time guises.
The rapid changes now occurring on the Upper Clyde are set to bring an entirely new look – passengers on Waverley this August took a good look at Meadowside Granary – Europe’s largest brick-built building. It may not be there when Waverley sails ‘doon-the-watter’ next year as its set to be demolished in the near future to make way for ‘Glasgow Harbour’ a multi million pound transformation of the North bank of the river into a San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf – Covent Garden in Partick – development.
Further down another icon of the great days of Clyde Shipbuilding may disappear before Waverley starts another summer season on the Clyde. John Brown’s shipyard at Clydebank – arguably the most famous in the world – and the famous slipway that was the birthplace of such masterpieces as the transatlantic liners City of New York, Lusitania, Aquitania, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, the QE2, the Royal Yacht Britannia and battleships such as the mighty Hood and the ultimate Vanguard seems set to be wiped away. The last of Arrol’s mighty hammerhead cranes, the old engine shops – birthplace of many a powerful turbine engine and the famous slipway itself will be consigned to history to make way for… another shopping and leisure centre with the highly dubious title ‘The Queens’. It could only happen in Britain!
Still some traditional shapes will remain on the Clyde. The restored Clydebuilt ‘tall ship’ – the barque Glenlee – now owned by the Clyde Maritime Trust at Yorkhill.
She has been joined by the traditional launch Frances Mary – originally built at Balloch just under a century ago for the Loch Lomond mailboat service. Returned after many years in the South, Frances Mary is being restored on Yorkhill Quay before entering service offering short sailings from Glenlee.
She joins the former Amsterdam waterbus Pride o’ the Clyde and two ex-WW2 US built amphibious craft (the Glasgow Ducks – one named Clyde McQwacky – or something like that) in bringing a new sense of life to the upper river. Pride o’ the Clyde runs a shuttle service from the Broomielaw (upstream of Waverley’s berth at Glasgow) to the Scottish Maritime Museum berth at Braehead whilst the ‘duck’ offer combined land and river trips from the new Science Centre, entering the river from the boatyard at Renfrew. Incidentally one of the ‘ducks’ suffered a mechanical breakdown in the river recently and had to be ‘rescued’ by the Renfrew ferry – the ferry crews have performed many rescues from the river over the years but claim that this is the first time that they have been called to the aid of a duck!
Waverley’s departure from her native Clyde waters at the end of her main season is always a sad time but we wish her well for good weather in the South and Thames and hope that our friends there enjoy many good sailings on the last real Clyde steamer. We look forward to her return home in late October and the prospect of a short winter season just before Christmas sailing out of Glasgow.
On the last sailing Waverley’s passengers were among the first to witness the collapse of the lantern on Dumbuck Light the principal light tower on the incredible ‘Lang Dyke’ the spectacular man made wall built in mid channel a couple of centuries ago to hold the sand and mud banks off Langbank out of the dredged channel off Dunbarton, the wall was a wonder of its time turning the Clyde from a shallow salmon stream into a ‘Navigation’ – an old use of the word – designating a defined shipping channel – capable of taking the largest liners and battleships of the pre WW2 industrial revolutions.
The day before we had noted the much healthier condition of the lighthouse on the Gantock reef off Dunoon.
Our thanks to Captains Graeme Gellatly, Steve Colledge, Iain Jamieson, Steve Mishel, Kenny Frazer and the other deck officers; Chief Engineers Ken Henderson, Steven Leigh, Andy Steele and Gordon Reid together with firemen Iain McCorkindale, Davie Muir and others in the engine room; Bosun Tommy Reilly, Kyle, David, George and the rest of the deck crew; Catering Manager Craig Peacock, Chief Stewards Paul Semple, Fiona Mishel and the other stewards including Christopher and Neil Rolland and Roni Reilly; to the irreplaceable Chief Purser Jim MacFadzean ably assisted and relieved by Walter Bowie with assistants David Edwards and Scott Adam and last, but by no means least, Sharon Peacock, Kathleen O’Neill and the rest of the office crew – thanks, indeed, for another great summer on the Clyde.
This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.