After weeks of unseasonably warm weather it had to come to an end eventually. On Maundy Thursday the country was swept by snow storms, flooding and strong winds. Not exactly the ideal weather for a paddle steamer cruise. However, Good Friday dawned dry and sunny in Glasgow although patches of snow lay on the streets and on Waverleys decks. Just before 10am a small, hardy crowd boarded the paddler for the first sail of 1998, the traditional sail Doon the Watter to Rothesay. On board there were few noticeable changes from the Winter refit, unsurprising given the impending re-build. There were a few new crew members, mainly in the catering department and a few faces from the motor vessel Balmoral. Most significantly this was to be the first day in command for Captain Graeme Gellatley who obtained his full Masters ticket during the preceding Winter. Graeme played a key role as First Officer in 1997 having returned from a spell with Caledonian MacBrayne and received much praise for his handling of the paddler during that year. His first weekend in command was to be a testing one with a combination of low tides and North/North-West winds making some piers particularly tricky. Second in command was Captain Bill Payne more commonly seen as Captain on the MV Balmoral. Captain Payne joined the company in 1997 and took command of the Balmoral. During the weekend he was seen learning the skills of paddle steamer handling taking a number of the easier piers.
At 10am on the dot the paddler slipped her moorings and proceeded down the river that has been her home for over 50 years. The river has changed a great deal since then but there is still much to see. Since last year the new Braehead shopping development has taken shape, although, there is as yet no sign of the intended steamer berth. Above the shipyard buildings of Yarrows and Kvearner Energy (John Brown Engineering) there were occasional glimpses of the snow covered Old Kilpatrick hills. Few on board could remember an occasion with so much snow on an Easter sail. Needless to say despite a warming sun the wind from the hills kept many people from the decks. At Kveaner Energy the platform Bleo Holm continues to dominate the skyline as the new superstructure takes shape. The first call was to be at Kilcreggen whose pier celebrated its centenary in 1997. Now the only pier on the Clyde to retain pier signals, once used to decide races between rival steamers. As the steamer entered the Firth of Clyde the scenery opened up with the snow clad Arrocher Alps to the north and Arran Mountains to the South. By now it was clear technical problems were being experienced in the engineroom resulting in a reduction in speed. An electrical fault on one of the boiler burners left the engineers scratching their heads. On the approach to Rothesay a now unusual visitor to the Clyde the former CalMac car ferry Claymore met us. Now owned by the Argyll and Antrim Steam Packet, Claymore had returned briefly on charter to Calmac to cover a busy period on the Wemyss Bay Rothesay service. We were to see the ship heading off for Campbeltown to re-open the seasonal service to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland. There, was time ashore at Rothesay for fish suppers before the return to Glasgow which was reached about an hour late. Fortunately the technical problem had been rectified before the longer sail on the Saturday.
On Saturday the destination was Tignnabruaich in the Kyles of Bute. Unfortunately temperatures had not improved so it was a select crowd of enthusiasts and members of the public aboard. At Tighnabruaich Big Sheila was on hand to take the ropes before the passengers headed ashore. Susys Tea Room was popular but those who required stronger refreshments were disappointed as the Tighnabruaich Hotel had closed down.
The sail on Easter Sunday proved much more popular with over 300 passengers for the cruise to Douglas Pier in Loch Goil. Sadly Naval manoeuvres meant that Douglas Pier was not available for what would have been only the second call by Waverley. A cruise to Loch Goil and the Holy Loch was substituted with half an hour ashore at Dunoon. That evening an unusual occurrence took place whilst the paddler turned at Glasgow. Captain Steve Michel, former Master of Balmoral and relief on Waverley was at Anderston Quay to collect his daughter who had been working in the dining saloon. As Waverley turned at Glasgow there were three qualified skippers on the bridge, with, unusually Captain Michel at the wheel.
On Monday the Waverley made a now rare visit to Loch Striven. Since the oil crisis in the 1970s Loch Striven has been home to a number of tankers. Now there is one left and that too is due to leave in the next few weeks. There was much interest from the travelling public as we circled the tanker. At Rothesay another unique event was taking place. The former Skye ferry, Loch Dunvegan, owned by Calmac was making its first calls at Rothesay and providing a relief passenger service to Wemyss Bay. At Largs that evening the freshening winds provided a good test of Captain Gellatleys skills.
The first shakedown weekend could be regarded as moderately successful especially given the weather. The crew now has 2 weeks to complete the refit before the main season starts in earnest.
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