Paddle Steamer Waverley's visit to the Solent and Thames in 1995
by Martin Longhurst
After her last Clyde sailing Waverley was off service at Anderston Quay until 23.45 on 29 August when she set sail for the South. Excellent progress was made with Corsewell Point, near the entrance to Loch Ryan, passed at 06.00 on 30th. Sea conditions were so good that it was possible for the after deck shelter and other areas to be painted without the risk of spray spoiling the result. She reached the Lizard in Cornwall at 04.50 on 31st and by 13.00 she was tied up at Weymouth.
The first sailing was on 1 September to view fireworks at Bournemouth. As this pier lies in Class III waters it was necessary to obtain a special exemption to the normal limits on the Passenger Certificate to allow the sailing to continue until 22.30, well after the normal one hour after sunset. After landing her passengers, Waverley positioned to Southampton ready to pick up her regular weekly cycle.
The first sailing left Southampton for Portsmouth, Sandown and Round the Isle of Wight in the midst of an enormous cloud burst which left many passengers soaked. However, the Wessex Branch regulars were soon at work selling raffle tickets and Joan Jennings was offering Waverley Times around the decks. When Waverley berthed at Town Quay that evening, the work of the engineering team was still far from over, however. The starboard Caterpillar generator in the Engine Room was suspect and a standby portable generator in a large bright orange box had to be installed on the starboard sponson and then wired into the ship's system. Work was completed in the early hours so enabling the sailing programme to continue.
All went as scheduled until Wednesday 6 September when worsening weather curtailed the cruise from Swanage to Bournemouth and Yarmouth for a Solent cruise. After the second Yarmouth call Waverley continued to Southampton Town Quay for buses home. She had been due to lie at Swanage overnight but it was just as well she did not as the sea was so rough that many beach huts were smashed to matchwood.
About 40 hardy souls turned up the following morning at Portsmouth Harbour Station despite the appalling weather forecast. There seemed no prospect of leaving the Solent but there was hope of a cruise around its sheltered waters. However, Captain David Neill decided there were not enough aboard to make even this limited outing worthwhile but he did offer those present the opportunity to sail back to Town Quay, Southampton with a coach ride home. Although short, this trip was not without its excitement as, while turning across the seas in Spithead, your intrepid reporter received a soaking despite sitting in the warm comfort of the Dining Saloon by courtesy of a slightly ajar fanlight. However, Jim Sleigh, Waverley's MOOSE (Medical Officer/Officers' Steward/Electrician) came to my aid with a towel! It was good to see George Train, one of the Society's founder members and an early Director of WSN, on board again. He had just sailed from Greenock to Southampton with the QE2 and we had a good view of her alongside there. The strength of wind made berthing at Town Quay very tricky with the sponson placed on the corner while the mooring ropes were passed. Fortunately fine weather returned and the remainder of the Solent season continued uninterrupted.
Sunday's sailing was generally from Southampton to Yarmouth, Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth and return. This programme was varied on Sunday 9th September with the ship returning from Bournemouth to Weymouth rather than Southampton to position her for a National Trust public charter the following day. This took the ship just passed Portland Bill Lighthouse before heading east to Yarmouth keeping close into the bays of the Dorset coast so as to take maximum advantage of the shelter they offered.
Turning in Portsmouth Harbour is always a problem for Waverley as her turning circle is a few yards
greater than the distance between the Station Pier and Camper & Nicholsons' Yard in Gosport! With an ebb tide and a northerly wind to carry her bow towards the sea she can manage it in one movement provided a yacht or other small boat does not get in the way. But a southerly wind and a flood tide can create an impossible situation with the bow being pushed off the desired course towards some very solid dolphins. Then it's three blasts on the whistle, much barking from the Captain's dog Tip and back across the harbour for another go with the wind and tide pushing the bow the wrong way all the while. However, persistence usually pays off and eventually she comes round and the harbour entrance appears ahead.
Thursday's trip was again the popular Portsmouth, Isle of Wight, Bournemouth and Swanage to Lulworth Cove excursion. However, a revised route was introduced this year with Yarmouth replacing Sandown as the Isle of Wight call. This change has the double benefits of reduced steaming time and increased reliability. Sandown Pier is much more exposed than Yarmouth's and is also in Class III waters which meant that the evening call had to be made by sunset to allow time to regain sheltered waters. This limitation was critical as any delay earlier in the day would make this impossible and necessitate diversion to Ryde Pier with the attendant cost of train fares back to Sandown. In 1994 this was all too often the case. The rebuilding of Yarmouth Pier Head has allowed Waverley full use of this once restricted port and the opportunity was taken to recast this year's timetable.
Good numbers joined at Yarmouth on September 14th and 21st and the calls were made without difficulty confirming that the new route was indeed an improvement. Firing on the Lulworth Range was in full spate on both these dates. On 14th time did not allow westward progress beyond St Alban's Head, but on 21st Captain Neill continued to Lulworth Cove around the Danger Zone. This meant the Cove was approached from the south rather than the customary east allowing him to nose Waverley's bow into its mouth, much to the astonishment of the crowds on the beach. Then it was full astern followed rapidly by full ahead and calls on the public address for passengers to balance the ship so that best speed could be achieved to clear the firing range within the time agreed with the Safety Officer - "If you don't move we shall be shot out of the water!" Having started the homeward passage in fine style, every effort was made to make up the time lost by the extended passage to Lulworth. Passing Cowes I heard some very rapid paddle beats and went below to see the engine. Second Engineer Kenny Henderson was on watch and told me he counted 49 r.p.m. while I was mesmerised by the writhing and sparkling brass and steel. Apparently we were passing through some shallow water which had the effect of raising the ship slightly thereby easing the load on the paddles and allowing the engine to speed up. As Kenny said this the engine slowed - we were back in deep water!
Tuesday 26th September saw the final Solent sailing. Unfortunately there had been a swell running for the last couple of days and it had become clear that the planned start at Worthing Pier, notorious for its swell even in good conditions, would not be possible. So it was that Philip and Toni Cade and Iain Quinn set out by land to usher intending passengers on to hastily chartered coaches to join the ship at Portsmouth. The wisdom of the decision to divert was apparent as it took some time, and the use of the anchor, to come alongside even within the harbour's sheltered confines. However, conditions improved and the remainder of the cruise to Yarmouth and Swanage was given without further difficulty, Waverley smoothly riding the continuing swell. On the return leg to Portsmouth the Wessex Branch announced that £5,109 had been raised for the Restoration and Preservation Fund by their raffles during the short September season, an excellent result.
Next morning , after lying overnight at the Station Pier, Waverley set out for the Thames. The first stage was a cruise to Folkestone calling at Worthing and Eastbourne, with various coach return options including a ride on the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway. Fortunately the weather was improving all the time and the calls at the two Sussex piers were made without difficulty and we were lucky enough to have a distant view of the French coast. Waverley anchored off the Kent coast prior to taking a second one day single sailing, this time to Tilbury via the Upper Pool of London, with a call at Margate. Passing Dover we had a grandstand view of the cross-Channel ferry traffic, with Stena Fantasia, Pride of Burgundy and Pride of Calais passing across our bow. Later, at Ramsgate the inbound Jetfoil, Prinses Stephanie, sliced through the water while the Oostende Line's flagship, Prins Filip, approached at conventional speed. The turn in the Thames between Tower and London Bridges marked Waverley's reunion with the tug Warrior, her regular partner over the last few years.
Friday 29th saw an ingenious sailing from Tilbury, first down river to Whitstable, then to Tower Pier with coach returns laid on. The evening saw the London Branch's Annual Charter which was the most successful for some years with 546 aboard. It was also remarkable as this was the first sailing Alan McCann, the Thames Waterman who has organised Waverley's tugs for the last 18 years (and Balmoral's berthing party at Blackpool), had been able to take. This is mainly because, when available, he is on Tower Pier to take Waverley's ropes.
A round trip from Tower Pier to Whitstable was on the timetable for the next day. Kingswear Castle made her way to Whitstable as well, coming through the Swale to rendezvous with her larger consort. Passengers were exchanged, and a good number took advantage of a short sea cruise on KC, during which the operation of the folding funnel was demonstrated to Douglas McGowan. Whitstable Harbour was full of vessels with the paddlers squeezing in at the outer end of the eastern quay. The Sunday saw the Thames Towers cruise given from Tower Pier, combined with a return evening cruise from Tilbury, so as to position the steamer for her off service day at Gravesend. An innovation on this cruise was a short lecture given by Frank Turner of Gravesend in the Jeanie Deans Lounge on the construction and history of the Towers, or Forts, as they should be called.
A special treat had been organised for Waverley's crew on their day off - a paddle steamer cruise! They made their way to Strood for a cruise down the Medway while Waverley rested at Gravesend Chatham and Dover Pier (the former Gravesend West Station). I understand the crew found the experience spiritually uplifting. Tuesday's cruise was basically a repeat of Sunday's, except that the residents of Southend had the opportunity for an evening cruise. The return sailing from London was delayed as a man was threatening to jump from Tower Bridge. He eventually did so, but fortunately was able to swim to the bank and be rescued.
Wednesday 4th saw a strong southerly wind accompany the Chatham to London sailing. This led to Waverley's first call at the inside berth at Southend since 1978. However, the old folk on the Pier were not put off and joined the ship in good numbers. Thursday saw a move to Suffolk with a single trip with coach return from Southend to Ipswich combined with return cruises from Clacton and Walton to Ispwich and from Ipswich to Clacton and Walton. By this devious but remunerative means, Waverley was positioned from Southend to Ipswich. Our afternoon departure from Ipswich was delayed as the Russian tanker Vela 1 sailed just before us and proceeded down the River Orwell rather sedately. Nevertheless, Captain Neill gave us an extended cruise up the River Stour, turning a mile beyond Parkestone Quay, by the moored tanker Ionian Eagle. As we passed the Harwich ferry berths Scandinavian Seaways' Hamburg was preparing to depart and she saluted us with three long, sonorous blasts on her discordant sirens, which elicited a reply our on steam whistle. After her second call at Clacton, Waverley was opened up to regain time by Ipswich. This time 50 revs was obtained without apparent difficulty with just the characteristic 'power knock' on the Low Pressure side to be heard in the engine room alleyways.
Thursday night was spent alongside at Cliffe Quay, Ipswich. Friday morning's departure for London was delayed some 20 minutes by shipping movements, two inbound ships having to clear the buoyed channel and reach their berths. The weather forecast was very unpromising but conditions were not as bad as predicted. Nevertheless the call at Walton had to be cancelled and the 99 passengers bussed to Clacton, where they joined the already substantial number on the Pier. There was a swell running, but berthing looked a possibility. The ideal spot was across the narrow end of the landing stage and heaving lines were put ashore on the first attempt. However, the wind and tide carried Waverley away from the Pier more quickly than the mooring ropes could be pulled ashore and eventually the inevitable happened and the stern man had to let go of the end of his rope to save dragging the mooring party into the sea. Of course Waverley was now out of position to attempt a repeat approach, but after considerable manoeuvring an approach on the main berth was made and the ship moored. However, she was now broadside to the swell and Captain Neill reluctantly decided that the movement was too great to allow embarkation and the call had to be abandoned. The remainder of the cruise was concluded without further incident and surprisingly, considering the forecasts, in fair weather.
Saturday saw a cruise of epic duration, from 09.00 to 00.40 on Sunday, from London to Clacton and back, via the north end of the Gunville Sands, and then to Tilbury. Following the problems the previous day, the sea had returned to a flat calm and berthing at Clacton posed no problem. The evening stage of the sailing was promoted as a Show Boat cruise and over 300 joined at Southend and more than 100 at Tilbury, a sell out. Although undoubtedly a financial success, your reporter felt that the press of numbers meant that many passengers were not able to enjoy Waverley at her best. This may also have been because I was working as a steward, following the departure of two crew members to RMS St Helena.
The Paddle Steamer Parade cruise on the 8th October was blessed with perfect weather and this also attracted heavy loadings. The Thames Barrier was undertaking a full test in the morning which meant that the cruise started from Tilbury, with a coach connection from Tower Pier. I did not see much of this cruise, but can say that large quantities of roast beef and fish and chips were consumed! The Kingswear Castle looked packed as well and the usual pleasantries of cheering ship and whistle blasts of varying patterns and tones and funnel tilting were exchanged. The final cruise was due to start Waverley on her voyage to the Bristol Channel, being a single trip from Tower Pier to Folkestone, with coach return, on Monday 9 October. The London Branch raffle team, led by Ken Adams and Tim Wardley, raised about £2,500 during the Thames sailings.
In conclusion, I must express our appreciation of the efforts of all of Waverley's crew to make our days aboard a pleasure worth experiencing again. This is no mean feat as they have to put up with long hours, quarters that leave a lot to be desired and with the passengers. As always particular tribute must be paid to Captain David Neill who not only has to navigate the ship but also has many other responsibilities across the whole range of the Company's activities. His is the authoritative Scots 'voice which must be obeyed' you hear on the public address. Jim McFadzean, the purser of seven year's standing, gives us the safety announcement and tells us, in the nicest possible way, when to get off. Most of the descriptive commentary comes from Society members familiar with local landmarks or steamer history. On the South coast these duties were shared by Philip 'Ailsa' Cade, Chris Warren, Derek Gawn and Iain Quinn. Tim Wardley and Jeremy Gold performed on the Thames cruises. I must say that they all must be remarkably thick skinned as they have to endure endless criticism from the regulars when they get something wrong. Thanks are also due to Iain Quinn for his help in the preparation of this article.
Copyright Martin Longhurst 1995
Return to Waverley Writings