Autumn 2013 Aboard the Waverley

Words by Martin Longhurst

Waverley’s voyage south started later than it could have owing to high winds.  Nevertheless she arrived at Weymouth in good time for her inaugural cruise to Southampton via Bournemouth on Friday 6 September 2013.   Good weather accompanied her first Round the Island sailing the following day and her revised Sunday schedule from Southampton to Yarmouth, Bournemouth and Swanage for a non-landing cruise to Lulworth Cove.   This was a new feature for a Sunday as this year the timetable had been adjusted to take into account of the newly restricted depth of water at Bournemouth.  Consequently only one Sunday cruise was due to reach Weymouth and some of the timings on Tuesdays and Thursdays were retarded to get a better fit with the tides.

Monday was an off-service day at Southampton before the weekly cycle commenced on Tuesday at Swanage for a trip to Bournemouth, Yarmouth and Round the Island.  On her return to the Purbeck port, the paddler ran light to Weymouth ready for her Wednesday schedule.  This took her to Swanage, Bournemouth and Ryde for a Portsmouth Harbour cruise.   Weymouth passengers were returned there by coach, while the steamer spent the night alongside at Swanage.   An early light run took her to Portsmouth for her Thursday trip to Yarmouth, Bournemouth and Swanage to view Lulworth Cove.  On this occasion firing was suspended on the return passage for passengers to enjoy close views of the Jurassic Coast.   A short light run to Southampton, to position for the weekend’s sailings, ended the day.

Friday was the normal cruise to Portsmouth and Yarmouth for a Needles cruise, while the cycle started again for a Round the Island sail.  However, there was concern about an approaching depression and although the cruise ended in calm conditions, the forecast high winds arrived overnight.   Unfortunately this meant the outright cancellation of three days’ schedules.   It was planned to resume on Wednesday and Waverley positioned to Weymouth on Tuesday afternoon in lively conditions.   However, the burner gremlins struck, necessitating the fitting of some spare parts which took about two hours.   Reluctantly it was decided to return to Southampton light once repairs had been completed.

The forecast for Thursday was poor but the steamer left Portsmouth with high hopes.   However, it quickly became clear that conditions were deteriorating again and, following consulting a ship out at sea, Captain O’Brian decided to turn back without calling at Yarmouth.   Speed was reduced as the paddler headed back east.   It was very pleasant on deck with the following wind until the forecast rain came.   Rounding Bembridge Ledge it became apparent that open sea was quite rough as the steamer headed for the shelter of Sandown Bay to turn.  She tied up at Portsmouth at 16.00 and the option of a one-way trip to Southampton was offered.

The weather was fine again on Friday and a good load was taken to The Needles.  The weekend’s sailings went ahead as planned, again with good numbers, although visibility was poor.   While steaming eastward on Saturday between St Catherine’s Point and Ventnor, Captain O’Brian spotted a surf boarder giving the international distress signal (i.e. waving with both arms).  While Waverley steamed in a circle, he radioed the Coastguard to raise the alarm.  The immediate response was from a kayaker who started towing the surf board towards a slipway.  Waverley was asked to stand by and after a few minutes a catamaran fishing vessel arrived on the scene and took the exhausted surf boarder on board.  Waverley was then released by the Coastguard and continued with her cruise.  The event was reported on local media and the wind surfer made a donation to Waverley’s funds.

Sunday’s sail to Lulworth was fogged in west of St Alban’s Head, with no sign of the coast at all through the mist.   Visibility was still poor on Tuesday as the paddler steamed light to Swanage.  However, the mist gradually cleared throughout the sailing.   The Weymouth cruise took place as planned but tricky weather returned on Thursday with a strong easterly breeze building up a swell.   This led to the calls at Bournemouth and Swanage being missed.   The decision to do this has to balance a number of factors, with safety being the first concern.   If the steamer rolls when alongside, the gangways can range around with the potential to injure less agile passengers.  Then there is the risk of damage to either ship or pier which can both be expensive to rectify and disruptive to schedule.  Finally, there is the risk of not making the second call leading to expensive alternative arrangements to get passengers home.   This was a major concern on this occasion as the wind was forecast to increase later, although the reality was that it died away.   So everyone on board was treated to the run west to Lulworth.   On the return leg, the coast was left behind at Durleston Head as the steamer struck out for The Needles, giving the chance for about 50 minutes ashore in Yarmouth before the final voyage back to Portsmouth concluded the South Coast season.

Here, Captain Steve Colledge joined the bridge crew before the ship steamed through the night to anchor off Whitstable early on Friday morning.   As Whitstable Harbour is tidal, Waverley was not able to go alongside for bunkers and to load passengers until late afternoon.   Nevertheless, she was able to carry a good crowd on a single trip to Tower Pier at 18.00.

Saturday 28 September 2013 saw an early start at 09.15 for a return trip to Clacton from Tower Pier – the longest of the Thames sails.   There were calls at Gravesend and Southend en route and a round trip was also offered on the return run from Clacton.   As part of a trend, the weather forecast had been unpromising but it had turned out quite a nice day with reasonable numbers.   Sunday saw the paddler’s first visit to the River Medway for 2013 – indeed it was the first by any paddler this year.   Again there were calls at Gravesend and Southend.  The absence of suitable tugs meant that the steamer was only able to proceed just upstream of Thames Port before turning.   Unusually there was not a single ship at any of the Medway berths!   A ‘Twinkling Thames’ round trip was given from Gravesend to Tower and back in the evening.

Monday was spent off service at Gravesend, whence Waverley sailed to Southend and Clacton for a River Blackwater cruise and coach return.  So she was now positioned for her Wednesday sail upriver from Harwich and Clacton to London, again with coach return.   Back to Gravesend for a day off on Thursday before positioning eastward to Margate to offer an upriver sail on Friday.   Unfortunately a strong southerly breeze blew up during the day which precluded the calls at Whitstable and Southend, although several large coach parties from Southend and Whitstable were redirected to join the steamer at Gravesend.   On arrival at Tower Pier, the passengers were taken home by coaches (either their own or WEL’s) before the participants in the London Branch’s annual charter boarded the paddler.  Against expectation, the result from this cruise was positive, much to the relief of its organiser, Roddy McKee.

Saturday was the unusual one-and-a-half round trips between London and Southend.  The first leg mainly took one-way passengers on a non-stop trip from Tower Pier to Southend.   Having disembarked these passengers, nearly a full load of return passengers boarded at the end of the longest pier in Britain.   Leaving the intermediate call at Gravesend there were only 12 places left unfilled.   In glorious sunny weather, the paddler steamed upstream through Tower Bridge, stemmed the tide for half an hour, and then returned eastward.   Following her arrival back at Southend, Waverley steamed through the night without passengers to Harwich to be ready for the following days trip to London, arriving not long after midnight.

Sunday was the occasion of a rare full tide test of the Thames Barrier.  This prevented the usual weekend offerings of two return trips from Tower Pier on the Saturday and the Sunday.   The solution was to offer an upriver sail not due to pass the Barrier until after its scheduled re-opening at 18.15.  This was due to depart from Harwich at 10.30 and Clacton at 12.15.  However, a delayed coach connection meant the second port was left about 30minutes late.   An hour alongside was scheduled at Gravesend.  This was intended to allow refuelling and the gas oil barge pulled in alongside a few minutes after Waverley at tied up at Gravesend Town Pier.   On the way to Tower Pier, preparations were under way for a private charter by Timothy West and Prunella Scales to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Bright and early on Monday 7 October, Waverley departed Tower Pier for her return trip to Whitstable, calling at Southend.   This trip was well supported for a Monday and allowed the full scheduled time ashore at the Kent port.   The steamer then returned light to Gravesend for a day off service.   Strong winds then blew up leading to the cancellation of the sailings planned for Wednesday and Thursday.   The schedule was resumed on the Friday but accompanied by heavy rain throughout the sailings between Southend and Tower Pier.   Clear weather returned for the Saturday sail to view the Thames Forts from Tower Pier, Gravesend and Southend.   Heavy rain returned on Sunday morning rather spoiling the early part of the trip from Tower Pier.   The rain stopped over the steamer about half an hour past Gravesend although it continued unabated ashore.   The sailing was destined for Southend and the River Medway, which was packed with shipping on this visit.   The Medway cruise also gives an opportunity to view the masts of the wrecked Liberty ship Richard Montgomery and a sail to the extremity of the Medway Approach Channel, at the Medway Buoy.   An evening return cruise was offered from Gravesend, the return at just after 23.00 marking the end of Waverley’s Thames season.

The paddler remained at Gravesend until she could take bunkers early on Monday morning.  She sailed away at about 09.00 making landfall at Weymouth on Monday evening.  Further refuelling took place on Tuesday morning and the steamer was then underway for Glasgow direct, arriving around 19.30 on Thursday.

There was a private charter on Friday evening 18 October before three public sailings were given over the following weekend.  Saturday saw a sail from Glasgow to Greenock, Helensburgh, Kilcreggan and Blairmore for a cruise on Loch Long and Loch Goil.   Heavy showers persisted through the weekend but a good time was has by all.   A booze cruise was given on Saturday evening and on Sunday, the ship steamed to Greenock, Largs, Rothesay and Tighnabruaich.   She made her final arrival at Pacific Quay at 20.00 and the season was over.   Within 24 hours her stewards and deck crew had returned home, leaving the engineers and volunteers to start preparing the steamer for her winter refit.  

You can find some pictures on my Flikr site.

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