Waverley Goes South 2014

Words and pictures by Martin Longhurst


Waverley finished her Clyde season under sunny skies carrying capacity crowds.  However, the weather promptly broke as soon as the paddler was due to sail to Liverpool. The residue of Hurricane Bertha put paid to the first day's cruise with the steamer unable to leave the Clyde. It had been a sell-out trip but nothing could be done to provide an alternative.  Fortunately the wind abated sufficiently to allow Waverley to steam through night to undertake the second Mersey cruise on Wednesday 27 August 2014.  The steamer left Liverpool a few minutes late on course to Llandudno and Anglesey.  David Haddleton was on board and he reported “Well we got to Llandudno with 564 from Liverpool. However we have not opened the Pier!   We got close but the decision was made that the swell was too great to berth and transfer passengers safely. So we left a crowd disappointed on the pier.   Two points of interest though, following a talk I gave to my local Probus Club a couple of years ago, they organised a trip for the sailing, but could not fill a coach. The coach company marketed the spare seats and ended up filling a total of four coaches!   A passenger approached us at one point with a question and it transpired she was fulfilling a long desire to sail on Waverley as her cousin was lost when her predecessor sank at Dunkerque. She has some papers relating to the incident copies of which she has promised to send to me for the archives.”


After dropping her passengers at Liverpool's Cruise Terminal, the paddler headed for the Bristol Channel where she was due to leave Minehead at 0900 on the Thursday. Again the weather intervened and Waverley became storm bound in Colwyn Bay, missing the first two day's sailings on the Channel. The crew spent their time at anchor wisely, with all areas of the ship being washed down, despite a shortage of water.   Once again she steamed through the night, arriving off Clevedon in time for the third sail.


This was the annual Lundy church service cruise from Clevedon and Penarth to Ilfracombe and Lundy. This was fully booked from the up Channel piers and by the time we got under way, the sea was perfectly calm. Some time was spent alongside Penarth Pier replenishing the water tanks for the first time in four days. This factor and the high numbers meant that time was lost on the outward leg and time ashore had to be cut down by 30 minutes to meet the daylight requirements of the Passenger Certificate. 


Monday was an off service day in Avonmouth Docks. The weather now entered a settled period and all the remaining Bristol Channel sailings were given without alteration. However, visibility was limited on some days, with the Severn Bridges looming out of the mist on the Wednesday.  Things improved for the weekend with the Clevedon and Penarth to Minehead and Porlock Bay cruise going ahead with good numbers. Sunday's sail included an option for a ride on the West Somerset Railway for Penarth passengers, who disembarked at Clevedon and re-joined the ship at Minehead. The remaining passengers enjoyed the sail to Ilfracombe and had the option of time ashore or a short Atlantic Coast cruise to Bull Point.


After locking into Avonmouth for bunkers overnight, Waverley headed for Land's End and Weymouth. She enjoyed a smooth passage on this leg, arriving in very good time for her first South Coast cruise.


Waverley's inaugural South Coast trip left Weymouth at 17.30 on Wednesday 10 September 2014 for an evening circle cruise. The Thursday saw the first full day which took the paddler from Weymouth to Swanage, Bournemouth and Yarmouth for a cruise Round the Island. The Weymouth passengers were coached home from Swanage while the steamer headed for Southampton ready for the next day's trip.  This was the regular Friday sail to Portsmouth, Yarmouth and a Needles cruise.


Saturday saw the paddler repeat this course but this time sailing round the Isle of Wight while Sunday took her from Southampton to Yarmouth, Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth. A special hydrographic survey had been carried around Bournemouth Pier and this showed that the planned second call there, which would have been on a falling tide, could not go ahead. Consequently, only booked passengers could be picked up (as only three coaches could be booked) and nobody could go ashore if they wanted to return by steamer. At Weymouth, the Pleasure Pier is no longer usable so the paddler now has to berth in the Security Area used by Condor Ferries.  On this occasion the catamaran was not due to depart until 15.00, so, unusually, an inshore course was taken on the outward leg to Weymouth. After an hour ashore while passengers found their through a triathlon course, the steamer headed straight for St Albans Head. After the Swanage call, course was set for The Needles direct using The Needles Channel to enter the Solent.


Monday was an off-service day except the steamer positioned to Poole during the afternoon. This was in preparation for Tuesday's special cruise from Poole, Swanage and Bournemouth for Yarmouth and a Round the Island cruise. The berth at Poole Quay is awkward as the approach channel is at right angles to the quay wall and consequently some skillful ship handling is needed.  However, with sufficient space available, the manoeuvre was successfully accomplished on both Monday and Tuesday.  Leaving the berth was achieved by the Harbour Commissioners' work boat, Rough Ryder, pushing the bow round over 90 degrees. Good numbers were carried throughout the day and hopefully the port will be served again in future years.


After dropping her final passengers at Swanage, the steamer proceeded light ship to Weymouth. Her Wednesday cruise was due to take Waverley from Weymouth to Swanage, Bournemouth and Ryde for a Portsmouth Harbour cruise. Unfortunately a stiff easterly breeze blew up overnight and this precluded the calls at Swanage, Bournemouth and Ryde.  However, as the steamer was due to start from Portsmouth on the Thursday, it was decided to offer the Swanage passengers a trip to Southampton with a coach return. About 70 took advantage of this offer.


The weather was generally kinder on the Thursday, apart from a violent thunderstorm on departure from Portsmouth. Once this cleared away we enjoyed a good sail to Yarmouth, Bournemouth and Swanage for a cruise to Lulworth Cove. Firing was taking place during the westward leg of the voyage, meaning we had to stay three and a half miles from the coast, but it was suspended after we turned so we could enjoy a close in voyage back along the spectacular Jurassic Coast.  The pattern of sailings then repeated itself on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with each cruise carried out to schedule with good loads.


Again Monday was spent off service before Waverley steamed to Swanage to start her Tuesday cruise which took her to Bournemouth, Yarmouth and then Round the Island. Fog in the Western Solent delayed the steamer leading to late running all day and the omission of the second Bournemouth call. She then positioned to Weymouth for her Wednesday cruise. Unfortunately this did not go according to plan as technical problems reduced the vessel's speed and the Bournemouth call had again to be omitted on the return voyage, with passengers coached home once more. At this time of the year, sunset is too early to allow the full timetable to be completed if late running occurs.


Unfortunately the repairs needed to restore the burners to health meant that Thursday's cruise had to be cancelled entirely with the steamer remaining alongside Swanage Pier all day. With rectification complete, she departed for Whitstable, sailing through the night, to drop anchor off the North Kent coast prior to berthing at Whitstable to start her Thames season.


After taking bunkers at Whitstable on Friday 26 September 2014, Waverley sailed off for Southend and Tower Pier with coach return. On arrival at Tower, there was a quick turn-round before the PSPS Evening Cruise charter.  This was successful and proceeded downriver as far as Barking Creek flood barrier.  


An early start the next day saw the paddler heading from Tower to Gravesend, Southend and Clacton. The ship was pretty full all day and the weather and sea conditions were very favourable. An evening cruise was offered from Clacton with coach return.  The waters of the Thames were so still that the reflections of the riverside lights were straight lines!


Sunday took the steamer from Tower to Gravesend and Southend for a Forts cruise.  Again this was an extremely popular sailing with various group bookings on several legs of the voyage. Outward from Southend the steamer passed about a mile away from Red Sands Fort but rounded the Shivering Sands Towers quite closely. On the return to Southend, Waverley diverted off the main channel to give a close view of the Red Sands Fort.


Monday was off-service at Gravesend before the steamer headed off to Southend and Clacton for a River Blackwater cruise, during which she passed by the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge. Having dropped off her passengers at Clacton Pier for their coach returns, Waverley then spent the night at anchor off the Tendring coast.


Wednesday saw the paddler sail from Clacton upriver to Tower Pier, calling at Southend, with both ports' passengers being coached home from the City as planned. The paddler was now positioned for her Thursday sail to Gravesend and Southend for a Medway cruise.  This sail was well supported for a mid-week trip from each pier.  His Worship the Mayor of Southend-on-Sea joined the steamer for an afternoon cruise, hosted by George Taylor, the WEL Operations Director.


The Medway cruise proceeded some way east before turning south to pass close by the wreck of the Richard Montgomery before we picked up our Medway Pilot just off Sheerness. The paddler steamed slowly upstream passing Sheerness Docks, the mouth of the Swale and the gas terminal.  She turned at No 12 buoy just west of the Thamesport container terminal. Good views were had of the Red Sands Towers and, more distantly, of the Shivering Sands Towers on the return passage to Southend Pier. The upriver leg was completed on time before Waverley returned to Gravesend with just a handful of evening circle cruise passengers remaining on board.


Friday was spent at Gravesend off-service although Waverley sailed light to Tower Pier during the evening to position for her 0900 departure on Saturday. With no passengers on board, there was no need for a Purser so Tony Gamblin went on ahead to open Tower Bridge for the paddler (as you do)!


The weather gods, who had been smiling benignly for so long, decided that it was time to produce some rain coupled with a southerly wind.  Saturday's trip depended on a successful berthing at Southend during the time the bad weather was forecast, so prudence dictated that an alternative plan was adopted. So 11 buses were put on stand-by at Southend.   The paddler left Tower Pier with a load of one-way passengers and proceeded downstream as far as Leigh-on-Sea before turning back for Gravesend. The weather had been dull up to now but persistent rain set in for the afternoon. Fortunately the sun broke through while the steamer was waiting in the Pool of London for her second bridge lift and it remained shining for the sail back to Gravesend.  Waverley then sailed light ship to Harwich, arriving after midnight.


Sunday started off bright and sunny with very little wind.  Over 500 joined the ship at Harwich, including six coach loads from Ipswich. The steamer was turned off Ha'penny Pier by the harbour launch Harwich Hobby. She then steamed on to Clacton to pick up some passengers before steaming for Tower Pier "Direct."


Monday was spent off service at Gravesend.   The scheduled sailing for Tuesday was from Margate, Whitstable and Southend to Gravesend for a round trip through Tower Bridge.  Unfortunately adverse winds ruled out the first three calls and the passengers were bussed to Gravesend.  The Margate passengers were given a short cruise downstream before an hour ashore while the passengers from the other two ports were on their way.   The upriver section went ahead as planned and then there was a major logistical exercise to get all the passengers on board the correct coach (out of the 14 there) for their journey home.   The bad weather continued leading to the complete cancellation of Thursday’s programme, no sailings having been planned for Wednesday.


However, Friday’s sailings did go ahead with a day time round trip from Southend and Gravesend to The Tower plus a single Show Boat back from Southend to London, departing at 19.30.   Saturday took the steamer from Tower Pier to Southend and Whitstable for time ashore.   Rain had been forecast but it only caught up with Waverley during the spell at Whitstable.


The final Thames sailing was on Sunday 12 October and featured a repeat of the trip on 2 October.  A special feature of this second Medway visit was an informal rendezvous with the preserved diesel tug Touchstone, which is based in the River Medway. She was built in 1962 at Wivenhoe in Essex.  During the day it was noticeable that the wind was picking up from the east and Captain O’Brian announced that the Medway cruise was being curtailed so that the steamer could berth at Southend Pier before the tide changed, to avoid the confused seas created by wind over tide.   The call went well and what turned out to be Waverley’s final passenger sailing of 2014 departed for Gravesend and Tower Pier.   The timetable had included a return leg to Gravesend from Tower but, due to the now very strong easterly winds, the steamer remained in the Pool of London overnight. 


She managed to return to Gravesend on the Monday but could go no further.  Weymouth was reached on Wednesday evening but the next gale was already sweeping in, making further progress inadvisable.  The final Clyde weekend sailings on 18 and 19 October were consequently cancelled completely.


Waverley remained at Weymouth until 25 October, when she steamed to Southampton as this port was more suitable for a lengthy wait.   At the PSPS AGM the same day in Chatham, David Kells (WEL Chairman) stated that there was no intention for the paddler to remain in the South and she would return to Glasgow as soon as circumstances permitted.


The steamer finally departed from Southampton at 13.00 hours on Thursday 20 November under the command of Captain Steve Colledge, Captain O’Brian being on leave when the weather window occurred.  She rounded Land’s End in the early morning of Friday but then hugged the North Cornwall and Devon coast to berth at Ilfracombe at 14.20, leaving again a couple of hours later to anchor in sheltered Woolacombe Bay.  There were then Gale Warnings in force for Sea Areas Lundy & Irish Sea.  The weather abated later as forecast and Waverley started heading north again in the early hours of Saturday.  By 15.00 she was nearly level with Anglesey.  There were no further delays and Waverley finally arrived back at her home berth of Pacific Quay, Glasgow, at 08.00 on Sunday 23 November 2014.


You will find pictures taken on these trips at my Flickr site.


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