Two Steamers in One Day!

The October Bristol Channel Sailings 2000

Words by Martin Longhurst Images by Brian Whitmore

Waverley's last Thames sailing was due to take place on Tuesday 10 October 2000, being a one-way trip from Tilbury, Southend and Whitstable to Folkestone with coach return. This was intended to be the first stage of the paddler's positioning voyage to the Bristol Channel. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas and the weather forecast predicted severe winds along the whole of the English Channel for several days. Captain Gellatly was forced to remain alongside at Tilbury waiting for a moderation in the weather. In view of the severity of the forecast weather, it was decided to start preparing Waverley's fleet-mate, the M.V. Balmoral, which was laid-up at her winter berth in Bristol, for a possible return to service.

The first scheduled sailing on the Bristol Channel was timetabled for Friday. The positioning voyage should take about 36 hours in good conditions, so at this stage it was still possible for the paddler to arrive on time.

By Thursday morning conditions were beginning to moderate and Captain Gellatly decided to make a start. By now, it had been decided to cancel Friday's sailing. Good progress was made down the Thames Estuary and round the North Foreland. But rounding the South Foreland, Waverley encountered the conditions likely to prevail for the remainder of the voyage. They were significantly worse than expected and reluctantly she had to turn back for Tilbury. At this time the large car ferry PO&SL Canterbury was seen sheltering in St Margaret's Bay as she waited for her turn to berth at Dover.

It was now impossible for the paddler to keep her Bristol Channel commitments on Saturday and alternative arrangements would have to be put in place. Key members of Balmoral's crew were recalled and plans made to transport certain crew members, and some essential stores, from Waverley to Balmoral by road on Friday. Balmoral sailed down the River Avon on Friday evening ready to take up Waverley's schedule at Weston on the Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, Waverley set sail again and by 17.00 hrs was passing Dover. A call was made at Swanage during the night to pick up a vital spare part. On the Bristol Channel, Balmoral, under the command of Captain Steve Colledge, carried out the timetabled sailings to minimise disappointment. By about 13.00 hrs on Saturday the paddler entered Falmouth to take fuel. Although this did not take very long, the opportunity was taken to spend some hours at the Cornish port to allow more time for conditions to moderate. At around 23.00 hrs, the steamer rounded Land's End and soon took advantage of the flood tide to sweep up the Bristol Channel, anchoring off Penarth by 08.30 hrs on Sunday. Later she went alongside the Pier briefly to take water.

Sunday's timetable commenced with a departure from Newport Blaina Wharf at 09.15 hrs. Passing down the River Usk, another former Isle of Wight ferry, M.V. Southsea, could be see moored in Newport Docks. Balmoral took this sailing across to Clevedon, on the English side, and back to Penarth Pier in Wales.

Here the two excursion vessels met. As Balmoral approached from the east, Waverley steamed out to meet her. To start with the motor ship overtook the paddler, leaving her to starboard.

Then Waverley put on steam and surged by with a high bow wave, much to the delight of many passengers.

On arrival at Penarth all passengers and transferring crew disembarked from Balmoral on to the Pier. Volunteer PSPS members carried many boxes of stores and equipment with them.

Captain Ted Davis now took command of the motor ship and took her away from the Pier. Within a couple of minutes Waverley had taken her place and the reverse process could begin.

With everyone safely on board, Waverley put on steam and headed off for her Exmoor Coast cruise. Soon we drew alongside the Balmoral, which had been standing off awaiting our departure. White smoke appeared from her funnel as Full Ahead was rung and the two ships sailed side by side to Lavernock Point. With a long blast on her siren, Balmoral slowed and turned back to anchor in Penarth Roads, waiting for a suitable tide to return to Bristol.

The climax of Waverley's cruise was a visit to Ilfracombe to view the partially demolished pier, due to be replaced by next summer. Then it was back to Penarth with excellent visibility and good views of both shores. An evening cruise was offered from Penarth and an excellent number took advantage of this offering. This took us across to Clevedon and then to Newport with over 400 on board, back to Clevedon and finally to Penarth.

The passage up the River Usk in darkness is quite dramatic as the river twists and turns and passes beneath the illuminated Transporter Bridge. The anchor was dropped to swing the paddler, taking advantage of the last of the flood tide to push her stern round. Then into the berth at Blaina Wharf. In view of redevelopment proposals, this may be the last call at this location in Newport.

Waverley sped across to England, with a spectacular 54 rpm being noted. On the final leg, with the benefit of the ebb tide, she steamed from Clevedon to Penarth in 48 minutes, at 56 rpm. Thus arrival at Penarth was only 25 minutes late after leaving Newport 55 minutes late (due to earlier delays and other shipping movements) and despite further loss of time due to slow steaming in the Usk.

The timetable for Monday's cruise was amended, as Waverley was booked to enter dry-dock at Swansea. Instead of sailing to Milford Haven, it was intended to sail west until it was time to return east to Swansea. This would have given the 250 passengers an extra hour's sail and an hour less on the coach return. Unfortunately, weather conditions deteriorated once more and Waverley was unable to proceed further to the west than Mumbles Head, to the west of Swansea Bay. To compensate for the disappointment passengers were given a cruising voucher for 2001.

The dry-dock at Swansea is now operated by George Prior Engineering and it was decided to take Waverley's guarantee dry-docking at this stage and to commission the MCA Survey of the hull for her 2001 Passenger Certificates.

Normally, the Monday of the Bristol Channel weekend marks the end of Waverley's activities for the year. In 2000 this is not the case as a short series of Christmas Celebration Party Cruises are to be operated out of Glasgow in December.

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