The Last Sails of the Century

by Martin Longhurst

Waverley had an excellent passage from Folkestone to Avonmouth, arriving on Thursday 14 October 1999.

The first public sailing was scheduled to start from Bristol on the Friday. Unfortunately, it was still not possible for the paddler to go to Bristol, so passengers had to be coached to join the ship at Clevedon. The weather was very dull with some fine drizzle at times while the steamer sailed round the Holm Islands. Passengers were also picked up from Penarth. This was followed by an evening Show Boat cruise from Penarth and Clevedon.

During the day on Saturday there was a private charter from Clevedon under the bridges which meant that the only public sailing would be in the evening. There were only a limited numbers on board, again in very dreary conditions.

The weather on Sunday was bright and sunny, but with a keen and strengthening easterly wind. There was a little difficulty getting alongside at Clevedon, and this, combined with a good exchange of passengers, led to a late departure. In the brilliantly sunny conditions the steamer headed up-river past Portishead Pier, Portbury Docks and Avonmouth Docks.

Soon we were passing under the Second Severn Bridge, still looking brand new. Owing to a shortage of time, we turned before passing under the first bridge. After a second call at Clevedon there were 392 on board, with the morning passengers returning to Penarth and the afternoon crowd from Clevedon. After the second call at Penarth, the paddler followed the Welsh coast to Nash Point, the southern most tip of the Principality.

Then it was back to the Holm Islands, the ship describing a figure of eight between the islands. The final call at Clevedon was just after sunset with the paddler giving three long farewell blasts on her whistle on departure. She steamed off into the gathering gloom to take her remaining passengers back to Penarth.

Comment had been passed about the poor forecast for Monday, when Waverley was due to make her final sail from Penarth and Porthcawl to Milford Haven. In the event, the paddler had been unable to remain at her intended anchorage at Penarth on Sunday evening and had shifted to Clevedon, which was more sheltered from the easterly wind.

Captain Gellatly was determined that the scheduled last sailing should take place in some form and in the morning it was decided to transfer the Penarth passengers to Clevedon by coach for an up-river cruise. So it was that three coach loads, plus quite a few others in their own cars, boarded at the Somerset port, with departure shortly after 11 a.m.. The forecast was such that the planned trip to Milford Haven was not possible, and so a repeat trip under the bridges was substituted. On this trip there was time to pass under both new and old bridges before turning some way upstream of the latter.

After reversing course were with the wind and it almost seemed warm as we headed down the estuary. We rounded Steepholm to the south before turning north to make a close pass along Flat Holm's south side. Now back into the wind, Waverley started making her way back to Clevedon.

The final passenger number for the season was 140,978, nearly 10% up on last year. During the afternoon Commercial Manager Ellie Newlands held a meeting on board with many of her key staff, from the Barry and Glasgow offices and the ship's crew, to consider developments for next season.

Back alongside the Pier at about half past four, "Finished With Engines" was rung. People were hanging back not wanting to leave the old lady for the final time this year. Then Purser Jim McFadzean called out "You can't all be last!" and we reluctantly had to walk down the gang plank. As water was being taken, which is a slow process at Clevedon, we had to leave the Pier without seeing the paddler sail away. The immediate plan was for her to proceed to Avonmouth Docks for two days' de-storing and then to await instructions. Until the evaluation of tenders has been completed and a contract signed with the successful shipyard, no announcement of her ultimate destination can be made.

This may have been Waverley's last sail this century, but it is not the final paddle steamer cruise in the United Kingdom this century as the Kingswear Castle has two further public trips on October 30 and 3l. Click here for details.

Return to Waverley Writings