Two Steamers Weekend 15/16 May 1999

Words and pictures by Martin Longhurst

Our first trip of the year on Waverley was on Saturday 15 May. We took the first flight from Heathrow to Glasgow and are grateful to Joe McKendrick for a lift to Helensburgh. Driving along the north bank of the Clyde, we were able to see across the River Clyde as the mighty paddler left Custom House Quay at Greenock sharp at 9 a.m. The little motor vessel Talisman left Helensburgh for Kilcreggan and Gourock shortly after we reached the car park.

Waverley made a fine sight approaching Helensburgh Pier in a sweeping turn to port.


Paddles going full astern Waverley comes alongside Helensburgh Pier.


With Captain Gellatly on the Bridge, Waverley is swiftly tied up.

We were soon on board for our cruise to Largs, Brodick and Campbeltown for time ashore. The weather was excellent with clearing skies and much sun later on.

Passengers boarding at Largs.

Numbers on board were satisfactory with 281 taken to Brodick and 289 to Campbeltown. The ship was in excellent condition and made good time all day. During the cruise the Company's new Commercial Director, Ellie Newlands, was on board briefing various local tourism interests on the Waverley's many attractions.

Waverley alongside at Campbeltown while her passengers enjoy an hour ashore. Some passengers elected to stay ashore at Campbeltown so as to join the Balmoral, which was heading south from Oban with 35 on board. She had set course to the west of the Isle of Jura, passing through the Sound of Islay for time ashore at Port Askaig. Her stay there coincided with the arrival of the Isle of Arran from Kennacraig and the passage of the Hebridean Princess through the Sound.

Leaving Campbeltown Waverley retraced her course across the Kilbrannan Sound with distant views of Ailsa Craig and Northern Ireland to starboard.

Soon we passed Pladda Light standing at the southern tip of the Isle of Arran.

Steaming northwards along the east coast of Arran we reached Holy Isle (the peak on the right) which rises from Lamlash Bay. In the background the mountains of North Arran. Top right is the bottom corner of the Bridge.

Leaving Largs, Waverley left the twin wakes of her paddle wheels astern.

All too soon we were back approaching Helensburgh. It was now low tide and a cautious approach was made to the Pier, the ship being berthed across the south-east corner.

Passengers disembarked, Waverley backs away into the deep water.

Soon she will go ahead and turn upstream for her final call on the day at Greenock and the light run to Glasgow.

Sunday 16 May started off overcast and remained so, except for a short spell of sun around Greenock. Today's cruise started from Waverley's home base at Anderston Quay, Glasgow on the north bank of the River Clyde.

Boarding has started as Waverley lies alongside the Quay, bows downstream. In the background, Kingston Bridge on the M8 marks the limit of navigation.

Viewed from astern the slight wash from the paddle wheels indicates that her magnificent engine is being warmed through (turned slowly) prior to the day's sailing.

Going downstream we soon passed the Glenlee in undergoing restoration at nearby Yorkhill Quay as a part of the Scottish Maritime Museum collection.

The previous day had seen the launch of the new HMS Portland (foreground) at Yarrow's yard on the north bank of the Clyde. Waverley slowed to pass the new vessel awaiting fitting out and HMS London (backround right) which had sailed up the River to be present at the launch. HMS Kent completes the trio.

More passengers joined at Greenock and Helensburgh before we sailed into the Firth and on to Largs. Leaving Helensburgh Pier we passed The Second Snark.

Another good crowd boarded at Largs before we sailed on time for our rendezvous with the Balmoral at Millport, Isle of Cumbrae. Rounding the Point, the motor ship came into sight, hove to awaiting our arrival by Little Cumbrae Island.

Waverley swept majestically into Millport Bay and tied up at the Pier. After our passengers had been landed, those remaining on board were asked to correct the ship's list and to keep her on an even keel thereafter to prevent damage.

Balmoral then made her approach and gently tied up alongside, with the Welsh dragon flying at her jack staff.

Soon a gangway had been passed between the ships and Balmoral's passengers were landed across the Waverley. Various ship's stores were passed between the vessels. Andy Westmore, who had been travelling off duty on the Waverley, returned to the Balmoral to take over from Ian McMillan as her Chief Engineer. Ian joined the Waverley to regain Glasgow. Finally, Balmoral embarked her passengers from Millport and then Waverley boarded hers.

Then we were off Round Great Cumbrae.

Balmoral took a slightly longer course leaving Millport Bay allowing Waverley to pass just behind her stern. Balmoral's superior manoeuvrability gave her an early advantage as she was able to turn more sharply to maintain her distance from the shore as the two ships rounded the southern tip of the island. Waverley took a more graceful course, marking a giant arc in the sea with her twin wakes.

Then it was a straight course up the western shore and Waverley was able to increase speed to draw slightly ahead of the Balmoral before reducing revs to keep station. At this point a series of flag signals began to be exchanged the content of which, I am reliably assured, was unprintable.

Tomont End, the northern tip of Cumbrae also gave Balmoral an advantage as she was able to turn more sharply once again. At this point the hand of CalMac came into play as both ships gave way to the Loch Alainn on passage from Cumbrae Slip to Largs. The final stretch south saw a repeat of Waverley's increase in speed so that the two ships came alongside. Iain Quinn on the public address called on Waverley's passengers to cheer her consort. Jon Holyoak, on Balmoral's microphone, returned the compliment.

Then it was all over. Balmoral was due back first and while she turned into Millport Bay, the Waverley sailed through The Tan, between Great and Little Cumbrae Islands, before turning to get into position to take Millport Pier as soon as the Balmoral cleared. As she drew away Waverley saluted her with three long whistle blasts, the steam curling round either side of the for'ard funnel. Balmoral's air horn duly replied as she set back to Brodick and Ayr.

You can read about the two steamers' meeting from Balmoral's perspective in an article by Ashley Gill on the Balmoral Web Site.

All too soon Waverley was back at Largs where we had to leave her to catch our return flight. The paddler set off back up the Firth to Helensburgh, Greenock and Glasgow, the power of her wheels turning the sea white.

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