Waverley on the South Coast 2012

Words by Martin Longhurst

Waverley’s brief Bristol Channel season ended with a cruise from Milford Haven on September 9.   She then headed to Lundy Roads to await a suitable opportunity to round Lands End.   In the event, she had to put back to Swansea for some repairs and the chance was taken to top up with fuel and fresh water.   Unfortunately these delays meant that the first two days’ sailings on September 12 and 13 had to be cancelled, although the weather would have been marginal in any case.

On the Friday she had been due to serve Worthing but coaches to Portsmouth were laid on as the sea remained rough.   The cruise had been set to call at Swanage on the way to Lulworth but in the event was confined to the Solent and Sandown Bay, in the lee of the Isle of Wight.

Fortunately the sun shone brightly on Saturday 15 September for the paddler’s first circumnavigation of the Garden Isle with over 600 on board.   The sea remained calm the following day but the skies had turned grey for her first successful Sunday trip to Weymouth for two years.   Sailings continued to timetable throughout the following week and good numbers were carried in the favourable conditions.   This culminated on Saturday 22nd when just under 600 rounded the Isle of Wight, some 200 joining the paddler at Portsmouth Harbour off a special train from the West Midlands.

Then a big storm arrived, wreaking havoc across the country as well as to the steamer’s programme.   No sailings were possible at all on Sunday or Tuesday – Monday was an off service day and a Friends of Waverley Open Day event was held alongside at her Southampton berth.   On Wednesday Captain O’Brian took the paddler away from the Hampshire port and steamed for Swanage.   Unfortunately the sea turned out to be too rough for a passenger sailing from Swanage or Bournemouth.   So the paddler reversed course to Ryde to offer her afternoon cruise round Portsmouth Harbour, which was, unfortunately poorly supported.   The steamer returned to Portsmouth to spend the night alongside the Station Pier, ready for her cruise the next day.

Thursday turned out to be a lovely day and the steamer was able to carry out her full programme, getting as far west as Durdle Door.   On arrival back at Portsmouth, Captain O’Brian passed his command over to Captain Clark, who was due to take the ship for the remainder of her season.   She sailed overnight to Margate to commence her Thames season.  

There were several hundred on board from Margate as the ship sailed for Whitstable where passengers had time ashore while the paddler took fuel.  This was a complicated exercise as passengers are embarked on the western side of the harbour but the fuel tanker could only reach the eastern side so the paddler had to be warped across the harbour twice. Then she steamed on for Gravesend where Captain Clark cut a ribbon to mark Waverley’s arrival at the new pontoon at Town Pier, before she completed her voyage to Tower Pier where she spent the night.

Saturday’s cruise took the steamer from London to Gravesend, Southend and Clacton.  The weather and numbers were good but this year’s timetable only allowed 30 minutes ashore at the Essex resort, hardly enough time to get to the pier gates and return!  As usual, a one way cruise was offered from Clacton to view the Twinkling Thames with a band on board.

On Sunday the steamer was extremely busy with several large parties on board meaning only booked passengers could be taken from Tower and Gravesend.   There was a little more space after Southend as Waverley proceeded south to the River Medway to rendezvous with Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle.  It was 27 years since the first such occasion in 1985.   On the return leg to Southend, Captain Clark took the steamer past the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, still retaining her deadly cargo of ammunition after nearly 70 years.   Another party joined at Southend for the evening, while another 26 lucky people enjoyed the round trip from Gravesend to Tower Pier.

Waverley was off service at Gravesend on Monday 1 October but the following day she departed Town Pier for Southend, Clacton and a River Blackwater cruise.   Numbers on board were very low but this was essentially a positioning run as the next day’s cruise was planned to be from Southwold to London.   Unfortunately, the weather intervened again and the paddler retired to anchor in the River Blackwater for the night.   The plan was for booked passengers to be coached from Southwold to Clacton to join the ship in the partially smooth waters of the Thames Estuary, but conditions the following morning were too rough to allow the paddler to berth at Clacton and she had to retire to Gravesend.

Thursday was an off-service day anyway and Waverley was able to resume her timetable on Friday 5 October with an up river sailing from Margate and Whitstable to Tower Pier.   She was now in place for her weekend’s sailings from London.   Saturday took her to Southend and Whitstable while the lure of the Thames Forts attracted good support on the Sunday.   Monday was another off service day before a near repeat of the previous week with a single trip from Gravesend to Clacton preceding an up-river trip the following day, but this time from Harwich.   She spent Wednesday night at Tower Pier prior to offering a round trip to the River Medway on Thursday.  Again the steamer turned at Bee Ness Jetty before describing a large circle back to Southend Pier.

Waverley was engaged for two charters on Friday 12 October.   At lunch time Gravesham Borough Council had taken the paddler for a two hour trip to mark the official opening of the Town Pier Pontoon.   This was attended by a large number of officials representing the Borough and County Councils, funding bodies, river authorities and pier users.  Later the steamer moved to Tower Pier for the annual PSPS London Branch evening charter.   This trip was not as successful as in the past owing to being well into October and entirely in the dark.

Saturday’s itinerary took Waverley for a non-stop sailing from Tower Pier to Southend (primarily intended for coach parties who generally only want a one-way trip) followed by a non-landing round trip through Tower Bridge also calling at Gravesend.   Overnight the steamer moved to Harwich to position for her final Thames sailing which was up river to Clacton, Southend and Tower Pier with coach return.   An evening circle cruise from Gravesend was also offered.

The sailing instructions then called for Waverley to steam to Whitstable on the next tide to take fuel at the tidal Kent port.   Incidentally, during her Thames visit the paddler had switched to using gas oil to avoid the need to visit Tilbury, which is the only location on the Thames where her normal fuel would have been available.  Her next call was intended to be Weymouth but a gale intervened and the steamer was unable to proceed past the Isle of Wight.   Progress west ceased south of St Catherine’s Head and Captain Clark had to change course back to Ryde Roads to anchor.

It soon became clear that the delay would be substantial and the paddler proceeded to Southampton to await developments.   Although the wind was abating, a swell of 17 feet was reported at Eddystone.   It seemed unlikely that Waverley would be able to return to the Clyde in time for her final weekend so on Thursday most stewards were paid off and they left the ship along with the Purser and shopkeeper.

At 08.40 on Friday October 19 the paddler was finally able to leave Southampton, heading for Glasgow direct where she arrived at 04.30 on Sunday.   This meant she missed her Saturday sail but was able to give her Sunday sail in full.   This took her from Pacific Quay to Greenock, Helensburgh, Dunoon, Rothesay and Tighnabruaich.   It was a sparkling autumn day and good numbers were carried throughout.  

Instead of lying alongside Tighnabruaich Pier, Waverley steamed a short way down the western Kyle.   Passengers were invited to go to the stern to witness Douglas McGowan paying tribute to the late Joe McKendrick before his ashes were scattered.   Single rose blooms, one for each year of Joe’s life, were passed out so that individuals could pay their own tributes to this exceptional enthusiast for Waverley.

On arrival back at Glasgow, WSN Chairman Nick James paid tribute to the dedication of the ship’s Captains and crew members throughout the season and looked forward to seeing all the passengers again in 2013.

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