Words and pictures by Martin Longhurst


On a bright Friday morning (25 May 2018), Waverley started her sailings for the year with a spin from Glasgow, Greenock and Dunoon to Loch Long, turning off the mouth of Loch Goil. 


Two other steam ships encountered at Glasgow were Queen Mary and VIC32


It was a good start to the season, following the completion during the previous week of the replacement of the paddler’s rudder stock, the component that attaches the rudder to her hull.  The next day, 29 May, saw


Tighnabruaich as her destination.  We partook of ice cream at Susie’s Tea Room during the time ashore there.


New colour scheme and wind direction indicator

Another meet with VIC32

The new Glen Sannox under construction at Port Glasgow

Zuiderdam alongside at Greenock


Sunday saw the steamer head for Lochranza. Although the weather was still fine, there was a brisk easterly breeze which made our landing at the North Arran pier impossible, with the wind funnelled down the glen.  Rothesay was the goal on Monday, the short-day schedule being chosen to give the crew a good break before the following day’s 13 plus hour sailing to Oban.  Just over 200 were on board the steamer as she rounded the Mull of Kintyre in perfect conditions.


A much smaller complement joined Waverley as she continued her journey northwards.  Jenny and I had opted to drive following the travails in previous years, so we joined the paddler at Armadale for the short trip to Inverie for an hour ashore. 


On our way north we were held up while a convoy of wind turbine blades passed by

Waverley approaching Armadale

Alongside at the extremely remote Inverie Pier

The regular ferry MV Western Isles arrived from Mallaig

MV Lord of the Isles departing from Armadale while MV Loch Fyne arrives

Waverley going astern before heading for Kyle of Lochalsh


Following this sail, we drove to Kyle of Lochalsh while the steamer serenely followed us north.


Waverley hidden by a cargo of timber about to be loaded


After spending the night alongside at the small Highland town, Waverley passed under the Syke Bridge on course for Portree.  The paddler continued northwards before turning north-westwards to call at Gairloch, whence a non-landing cruise to Loch Torridon was given.  The turnouts from Kyle and Portree were disappointing but there was a respectable number from Gairloch. Friday took the steamer back to Portree for a circumnavigation of the Isle of Raasay, also offered from Raasay’s new pier. 


Departing for Armadale and Oban


After her return to Kyle, Waverley set out on her repositioning voyage to Armadale and Oban with between 20 and 30 enjoying a beautiful cruise.  The steamer made a fine sight sailing into Oban Bay to tie up at the North Pier.


Saturday 2 June 2018 dawned misty and grey.  Unfortunately, the still conditions did not help disperse the fog – in fact, it thickened as the 10.00 sailing time approached.  Waverley has to go astern across Oban Bay to leave the port, so it is essential to be able to see the Isle of Kerrera when departing. 


Looking west across Oban Bay –

note Kerrera obscured by fog

We had to wait 50 minutes for sufficient visibility.  The timetable was to take us to Armadale and Inverie.  It was reasonably clear while we transited the Sound of Mull but shortly after passing Tobermory, we ran into a fog bank which reduced our visibility to a few hundred feet.  Captain O’Brian contacted other ships in the area and established the only clear area was the Sound of Mull.  The previous delay and the current enforced reduction in speed meant it was now impossible to reach Armadale and return to Oban in the day, so we turned back about one mile west of the Ardnamurchan Light.   Fortunately, it was possible to arrange to call at Tobermory Pier to give us two hours ashore at the Mull town. 


MV Loch Linnhe at Tobermory

Waverley moored at Tobermory Pier


Waverley salutes MV Isle of Lewis heading from Oban to Barra


Waverley arrived back at Oban just after 20.00 after a quick spin down the Firth of Lorn to cruise the western coast of Kerrera.


Although the mist returned on Sunday, the later departure time of 12.30 allowed time for it to lift before the steamer undertook her ‘Four Lochs and a Whirlpool’ cruise.   The tides dictated that the Gulf of Corryvreckan was visited first and the passage was through undisturbed waters.   Lochs Crinan, Craignish and Melfort followed with the fourth “honorary loch”, the Sound of Shuna concluding the quartet.  The return to Oban was via the Sound of Kerrera.


CalMac’s new Kerrera ferry MV Carvoria

Entering Oban Bay from the Sound of Kerrera


The mist was still a problem on the Monday.  When the MV Isle of Mull entered the harbour about 08.15, all we could see was her waterline!  She crept in very slowly and seemed to stop before vanishing completely.  Later the mist eased, and we could confirm she was at her berth.  Fortunately, visibility was acceptable by Waverley’s departure time of 10.00.  So the steamer was able to leave on time and head out to follow the coast of Mull in a south-westerly direction.   This is a very impressive and remote place, the cliffs gradually tapering down to the western tip.  Here we ran into another fog bank.  Slowly, and with much sounding of the whistle, we turned north and soon we could see Iona as we cleared the fog.  Course was then set for Staffa, Captain O’Brian slowing the ship so we could enjoy the Fingal’s Cave and the basalt columns. 


The unmistakable Isle of Staffa


Then round to port to head north-west to the Isle of Coll.  An hour ashore was offered or a coastal cruise to view Gunna Sound, which separates the isles of Coll and Tiree. 


Arinagour Pier, Isle of Coll.  Note Swiss flag flown to honour some visitors


A splendid passage back followed, with Oban reached in good time.  Tuesday saw Waverley return to her home base at Glasgow.



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