WAVERLEY - A REPORT ON THE 1997 SEASON


Courage, skill and perseverance - qualities displayed by people in our organisation to transcend exceptional difficulties during our 1997 season which was brought to a triumphant close by Balmoral as she escorted the Royal Yacht Britannia on October 26. Waverley's season ended the previous Sunday, as, slightly battered, but running beautifully, she blew the traditional three blasts of farewell at Penarth and steamed 'home' as the proud winner of the 1997 Scottish Tourism Supreme Award for the 'Best Waterfront Attraction' a fitting end to her Golden Jubilee Year. Our award-winning paddle steamer arrived at Greenock for her annual dry-docking on October 23.

As I write this on October 27, total passenger journeys are 233,289 and it appears that final financial results will show a fall in turnover of some 10% compared to the record result of 1996. There will also certainly be a substantial increase in the costs of manning the bridges with suitable skilled and qualified masters and much increased pilotage costs. This result will not surprise those who have paid close study to the difficulties of 1997. Two factors, above all others have affected this year's results. The effect on the human spirit - which usually plays the major part in the success of any organisation - and the enormous re-building projects at the key piers of Penarth and Clevedon caused long delays to the final completion of the timetable. The Bristol Channel timetable had to be planned at a time when we did not know who would be in command of the ship and other areas for Balmoral had to allow for the master and pilotage certificates that would be available. This timetable could not possibly earn the same revenue as 1996.

May produced mixed results, but Balmoral made a great start to her season with very successful cruises from Whitehaven (sold out), Garlieston and Liverpool. June was also a month of contrasts - the joy and celebrations of Waverley's Golden Jubilee Cruises tinged with sadness caused by the absence of Captain David Neill. Meanwhile, Balmoral was operating a slightly longer Thames programme than would have been planned commercially during the wettest June weather recorded for some 300 years.

The Bristol Channel usually provides our highest 'area income' - just ahead of Scotland. This was certainly not the case in 1997 with a restricted timetable and a significant number of potential passengers believing the piers at Penarth or Clevedon were closed owing to the appearance they presented of construction sites - which they were. The Bristol Channel also suffered from a much poorer weather pattern than the Clyde, both during Waverley's spring visit and the main summer season. No less than 5 days were completely cancelled from Balmoral's peak-earning August timetable and a number of calls at Clevedon had to be abandoned owing to the wind direction and the condition of the pier while under re-construction. So much depends on which days are cancelled as to the effect it has on revenue; if you lose a Tuesday in late September it may not cost very much, lose a peak earning day in August and it can wipe some 10,000, or more, off the total revenue. The triumph in the Bristol Channel, in 1997, is that, apart from cancellations caused by weather, all timetabled sailings have been successfully operated. Every timetabled pier call has been made despite the delays and constant planning and monitoring caused by the re-building of the two main piers. The timetable was right - it has to be so!

A snapshot view of the 'July' and 'August' Clyde summer season shows that, despite media coverage that would certainly not encourage passengers aboard, record revenue was achieved. Although the weather was a little less good than 1996, only 1 day was cancelled. It should be noted that this was the first season for many years that the advertising and marketing was wholly created and directly controlled by ourselves; the services of an advertising agent were dispensed with.

The September and October results for Waverley achieved the highest ever revenue in the Solent, this despite the sad death of the Princess of Wales which caused the loss of substantial revenue at the start of the programme. On the Thames, virtually capacity passenger loadings on three days and a good result despite high winds causing some cancellations. A splendid Autumn Holiday weekend on the Clyde for Balmoral and Waverley's last weekend in the Bristol Channel attracted large crowds with the last trip of the season to Ilfracombe on the Saturday being enjoyed in weather that would have done credit to July. Balmoral, brought out of hibernation to escort the Royal Yacht Britannia on her farewell sailing from Cardiff, was sold out in advance. A tremendous contribution from the unpaid volunteers who supported the small number of paid staff provided for her passengers a day described by one of our customers as 'an unforgettable day'.

In the Board Room, the year saw the departure of Douglas McGowan after some two years as Chairman of Waverley Excursions Limited. We are grateful to Alan McDonald for being willing to fill the role temporarily, to allow us to concentrate on running the 1997 season. However, this means that three different people have served as Chairman of the operating company in just 3 years and this is not a way to ensure continuity of policy and confidence. We urgently need someone who can put Waverley as their first business priority, be visible, and continually active in understanding, and communicating with the many people and organisations that we have to work with.

The 1997 season is a triumph of human endeavour over difficulties. A triumph for all the younger men who have taken responsibility on the bridges and in the engine rooms. A triumph for the experienced people who have led or supported them, our staff ashore and afloat, our volunteers, our hard working fund-raisers. Only those who do not understand what has been achieved will criticise. So many of you can be very proud of the part you have played and those from younger generations can look forward with confidence to the ever greater role that you can fulfil in the future.

Terry Sylvester

Chairman, Waverley Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.

27 October 1997

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