SPRING'S SOUTHERN SAILINGS 1998
by Martin Longhurst
Having sailed from Ayr after her Western Isles exploits, Waverley headed south for warmer climes. Although the seas in her locality were slight, the forecast for rounding Land's End was bad with gales forecast. Shelter was therefore taken in Rosslare Harbour in Eire for a day or so. This gave the crew a chance of some foreign shore leave. Finally, the weather improved and she was able to sail at 0600 on Friday 8 May direct to Southampton where she berthed at the Town Quay at 0800 on Saturday, some two hours before her scheduled departure Round the Isle of Wight. Unfortunately this meant that the sailings planned for the Friday could not take place.
So with some salt still encrusted on her funnels, Waverley let go promptly at 1000 and went astern to turn for her passage out of Southampton Water. The area around Town Quay is quite busy anyway, but on the hour both the fast ferry to Cowes and the car ferry to East Cowes depart. The fast ferry, a Red Jet catamaran or a Shearwater hydrofoil, leaves from the east side of Town Quay and quickly speeds up on its 20 minute passage. The car ferry, now one of three identical double ended Voith-Schneider vessels, sails from a linkspan at the very landward end of the western side of Town Quay. Her course therefore passes through the water where Waverley swings and it is possible for either ship to reach the main channel first. On this occasion Waverley stayed ahead and was surging down Southampton Water. The weather was overcast and misty to start with but quickly improved.
The first call was Portsmouth Harbour Station Pier. As this was Captain Gellatly's first call of the spring season, a pilot was taken for the entry into the Harbour. The exit from the Station Pier is difficult for Waverley as a 180 degree turn has to be accomplished within the confined waters. Conditions scarcely ever permit a turn in one move and normally it is necessary to go astern for some distance to gain the searoom needed to complete the manoeuvre.
Leaving Portsmouth Waverley headed west for Yarmouth rather than east to Sandown as is customary on Round the Island trips. As an experiment, the two spring weekend trips used Yarmouth as the Island starting point. Yarmouth Pier is very awkward to use as there are yacht moorings very close to the pier head to both east and west and the tidal current is very strong. The channel into the harbour is just to the west of the pier and this is used not only by the Wightlink car ferry to Lymington but also by a constant procession of pleasure craft, whose skippers seem quite happy to sail across Waverley's bows as she approaches or leaves the Pier.
On both weekends the Island was circumnavigated clock-wise. The first Saturday there was a light easterly breeze but the sea was calm and visibility was good. The second week was notable for the almost unbroken sunshine and many passengers caught the sun. Unfortunately the loadings were light on both occasions.
After arrival back at Yarmouth, Waverley retraced her steps to Portsmouth and Southampton. On May 9 arrival was 30 minutes early. Fortunately Purser Jim McFadzean knew there were no return passengers expected, so we were able to benefit from an early finish at Southampton. On May 16, conditions were not right for a turn directly off the Station Pier at Portsmouth so Waverley steamed up to the North Corner to take advantage of the greater room for manoeuvre. This afforded grand views of the Fleet - Penzance, Nottingham, Marlborough, Liverpool, Guernsey and Illustrious amongst others. Leaving the Harbour the Channel's newest arrival could be seen approaching inbound from Cherbourg. This was P&O European Ferries 38.5 knot catamaran SuperStar Express. Flying the Malaysian flag (she is on charter from Star Cruises of Malaysia for a reputed daily fee of $24,000!) I can't say she made a grand sight. Much bigger than the original SeaCats, she is painted white with a large P&O on her side. The approaches to Portsmouth are subject to speed limits which meant she was crawling along but she makes her crossing in 2 hours 45 minutes overall.
The Sunday sailing followed the customary pattern from Southampton to Yarmouth, Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth with time ashore at Weymouth. On May 10 the weather was reasonable, but we encountered a "docking shower" at Weymouth. May 17 was - like its predecessor - a day of unbroken sunshine. All the calls were made without difficulty but again loadings were disappointing.
Monday May 11 was a planned day off service and the crew took advantage of the opportunity to improve the ship's appearance. The intended visit to Newhaven overnight on May 12 was cancelled, probably due to the cost of the port fees. This resulted in the cancellation of Tuesday's cruise as no alternative was possible. Waverley therefore remained at Southampton until Wednesday morning and sailed light to Eastbourne to pick up the published schedule at that point. This was a trip to view the QE2 sailing and as such attracted over 500 from Eastbourne and Worthing. The return was by coach from Portsmouth Harbour as tidal limitations prevented evening calls. In the event, the QE2 was late sailing and consequently Waverley's own return was similarly delayed.
On May 14 the newest P&O liner, also billed as the world's biggest liner, the Grand Princess had been due to have her maiden voyage from Southampton. Wavereley Excursions, along with other operators, had planned to run a sailing to view the departure of the new ship. In the event, the Grand Princess was late being finished by her builders in Italy and P&O Cruises were forced to re-schedule the maiden voyage to May 21 when the ship was due to leave Istanbul. Their passengers got full refunds but the operators who had planned their special trips received nothing. Although the weather was fine and warm, and although Waverley sailed at the planned times, the day's load was disappointing. As an alternative attraction our steamer took her passengers to view the liner Victoria alongside at Southampton.
Passengers' impressions of Waverley were without doubt very favourable. There are two new initiatives worthy of note in the Dining Saloon. Firstly, you can now accompany your meal with a glass of wine dispensed from a special cabinet just by the till. And secondly, a delightful range of sweets has been introduced and these are advertised on illustrated menus on every table. Despite the past year having seen more changes in the management of the company than for a very long time, the officers and crew of the Waverley are running the ship superbly. At the same time, the Company's senior engineering officers are ashore planning in detail for next winter's rebuild. The Wessex Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society organised a series of on-board raffles during the short season, and I am pleased to report that over £1,000 was raised towards the cost of the Heritage Rebuild.
And so Waverley sailed off to Kingswear and beyond on May 18 leaving her Solent and Wessex supporters to await her return in September with eager anticipation.