Final Bristol Channel Weekend
Report by Martin Longhurst
Having taken bunkers at Whitstable, Waverley set sail from Whitstable with Captain Luke Davis in command. Captain Steve Colledge had taken the steamer throughout the South Coast and Thames season as he was in possession of the relevant pilotage exemption certificates, but now he was off for a well earned spell of leave. The passage to the Bristol Channel was accomplished non-stop and the paddler anchored off Clevedon on Wednesday morning prior to locking into Avonmouth for bunkers and stores. She went out to anchor on Thursday evening so as to be ready to take up service on Friday morning.
The weather was grey with some rain as Waverley steamed from Clevedon and Penarth to Minehead and a Porlock Bay cruise. Despite the poor conditions, the day was a success. Overnight, the paddler anchored in Penarth Roads and experienced some high winds which disturbed the Captain's slumbers! Fortunately these were short lived and did not disrupt Saturday's trip. This started at Penarth and took about 120 people across to Clevedon for a West Somerset Railway trip. Others stayed on board for the steamer voyage on to Ilfracombe for two hours ashore.
Standing on Clevedon Pier, the steamer appeared out of the mist as the low sun caught her cream painted upper hull. A small party, led by PSPS member Didier Zuchat, from the Lake Geneva paddle steamer fraternity boarded for a weekend of sea-going paddling.
Appearing through the mist
On the final approach to Clevedon Pier
The pier head towers above Waverley at low water
Purser Jim McFadzean relaxes in the sun
After we left the Somerset resort, the sun came out and
stayed out until it set behind Porlock Hill in the evening! Gradually the mist
thinned but it never cleared completely. On the return leg Waverley called at
Minehead to pick up the steam railway passengers before heading for Wales and
finally back to Clevedon.
After a night at anchor in Walton Bay, the steamer was alongside Clevedon Pier at 07.30 ready for her long day cruise to the mystic isle that is Lundy. Over 200 joined before the ship headed for Penarth for another healthy pick up. Again the visibility was restricted but the temperature had dropped overnight.
Ilfracombe's Town Crier welcomes the paddler -
his "oyez! oyez!" brought a reply from Jim over the PA "oh no! oh no!"
Good time was made to Ilfracombe, where the ship berthed at the low water quay, much to the disgust of two immature cormorants. A lot of people left the ship for five hours ashore at the Devon port who were replaced by a lesser number of hardy souls keen to visit Lundy. We were soon heading west and lost sight of land shortly after passing Bull Point.
Lundy's pier with the South Light above
Eventually Lundy loomed out of the mist. There was a brisk north-easterly breeze blowing and a noticeable swell was running. Captain Davis made a cautious approach to the new pier and the bow line was landed at the first attempt. There was more difficulty landing the stern line and transferring it to the appropriate bollard, but this was eventually accomplished and a forward waist rope put in place. However, the steamer would lie easily at the pier, and conditions were expected to worsen as the tide rose. Captain Davis was worried that once he had landed his passengers he might not be able to remain alongside to pick them up. Therefore he took the only decision possible and gave a substitute cruise round Lundy. It is believed that this is the first time Waverley has given this cruise for about 10 years. Running down the west coast of the island the steamer rose the Atlantic swells like a proud princess.
Lundy's North Light viewed from the north
South Light from the south
Naturally the wind changed to southerly, which would probably have allowed us to berth safely, shortly afterwards. Unfortunately this was accompanied by a little rain but it did get warmer. Landfall was made at Ilfracombe at the second attempt. The first run in had left the steamer too far from the Pier to land her lines, so she had to back out for a another run in. After her passenger exchange Waverley set course east to Penarth and Clevedon for the last time in 2005. She again spent the night at anchor in Walton Bay, ready for her finale to Milford Haven.
On the return passage the winning tickets in the Balmoral Restoration Fund Grand Draw were pulled out of the bag (held by organiser Alec Lewis) by Doug Naismith, MP for Bristol North East. About £7,500 was raised.
This was not to be, however, as reported sea conditions off Milford were too rough for Waverley to take passengers. So the intending passengers at Clevedon had the experience of watching her paddle off into the grey mist across an ironically flat calm sea. About 100 miles further west, away for sheltering coasts, a steep swell was running putting a passenger voyage out of the question. So the last sea-going paddler steamer in the world headed for her winter berth in Glasgow, still having to call at Milford Haven to top up her bunkers.
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