The Tall Ships Event - the full story

words and pictures by Mike MacKenzie

Dateline 29 July 1999 22:39

This week we have had some real summer weather for a change.  For example, Monday, 26 July 1999, was the first Ailsa Craig day of the season; we had a fair number on board and the weather was superb with excellent visibility all day.  Captain Steve Michel took us closer to the coast than most passengers had been before and we rounded Ailsa Craig anti-clockwise, which was also a novelty for most of us.  Captain Graeme Gellatly had returned to WAVERLEY on Tuesday, following his spell of duty on BALMORAL in South Wales.  Our thanks to Steve Michel and Steve Colledge for giving us their own individual blend of Clyde cruising tactics while Graeme has been away. Tuesday to Tarbert and Loch Fyne and Wednesday to Campbeltown and Sanda also had fair loadings and fine weather. It has also been a pleasure for us on a number of days in recent weeks to see family members of officers, deck crew and catering staff among the passengers.

Thursday, 29 July 1999, was the first of the special 5-day Tall Ships sailings. The weather started cloudy with a light breeze and poor visibility but the cloud gradually thinned and most of the afternoon was quite hot, though visibility remained just a little hazy.  We took about 360 passengers from Ayr, a few from Millport, after Largs we had about 560 and by the time we left Rothesay we had 612 on board.  The reports had told us that combinations of calm and stormy conditions had delayed some of the Tall Ships, so as we set off to find them we had no idea what to expect.


We met ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLT (Germany, Barque, 1906, 54.1m), under motor power off Great Cumbrae about 13.45, then further down the estuary RONA II (UK, Ketch, 1991, 20.6m), also motoring and towing ESPRIT (Germany, Schooner, 1995, 19.9m), then JOHN LAING (UK, Ketch, 1987, 21.0m) under sail, TREE OF LIFE (USA, Schooner, 1991, 14.9m) under sail, URANIA (Netherlands, Ketch, 1928, 22.0m) and BELLE POULE (France, Schooner, 1932, 30,5m), each with a little sail but probably motoring as well.  Beyond Pillar Rock Lighthouse on the E. coast of Holy Isle, the official finishing line for this leg, we met CHRISTIAN RADICH (Norway, Fully Rigged Ship, 1937, 62.8m) and STATSRAAD LEHMKUHL (Norway, Barque, 1914, 84.7m), both looking magnificent in full sail and tacking bravely towards the finish line but seeming to be scarcely moving in the very light breeze.  For each vessel there was the usual waving and whistle blowing and lots of photography.


Altogether an excellent introduction to what we shall see in Greenock in the next few days.  And then we had to run back for Rothesay, Millport and Largs as we were late and there was an evening cruise still to come.

Dateline 30 July 1999 22:25

Thursday evening's cruise conveyed just over three hundred from Largs to Glasgow (most for coach return to Largs), viewing many Tall Ships in the Greenock area, some standing off in various locations to await clearance to occupy their designated berths in what must have been a mammoth logistics exercise for the organisers.  The Clyde-built Barque GLENLEE (1896), the subject of a current cosmetic preservation project, was reported as looking particularly impressive.  Although the departure from Largs had been about 45 minutes later than intended, the arrival in Glasgow was only about 15 minutes late, canting being left until the following morning.


Friday was a hot day, with perhaps a little cloud aroung tea-time.  Morning departure from Glasgow was delayed nearly an hour while the ship's Engineers repaired a mechanical fault, but then with just over seven hundred passengers we were headed for Greenock to call at our temporary berth at Victoria Harbour as the normal berth at Custom House Quay is required for Tall Ships.

The whole area was a forest of masts and in addition to vessels which we encountered yesterday we were able to see CUAUHTEMOC (Mexico, Barque, 1982, 78.6m), EENDRACHT (Netherlands, Schooner, 1989, 55.5m), GEORG STAGE (Denmark, Fully Rigged Ship, 1934, 42.1m), JENS KROGH (Denmark, Ketch, 1899, 18.6m), KRUZENSHTERN (Russia, Barque, 1912, 104.2m), the largest vessel we shall see, MALCOLM MILLER (UK, Schooner, 1968, 41.1m), OOSTERSCHELDE (Netherlands, Schooner, 1918, 40.5m), PALINURO (Italy, Barquentine, 1934, 58.8m), SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL (UK, Schooner, 1966, 41.1m), SORLANDET (Norway, Fully Rigged Ship, 1927, 56.7m), SWAN (UK, Ketch, 1900, 20.4m).

Some passengers disembarked at Greenock and we took a few on board before heading for Dunoon where large numbers had time ashore, the subsequent call at Rothesay being declared for boarding only, due to the late running.  Back to Dunoon for pick-up, then likewise at Kilkreggan and so back to Greenock, again to leave some to be picked up during the evening's cruise.  Back to Glasgow carrying about 780 passengers with as much speed as the restrictions in the river will allow and arriving about 30 minutes behind the schedule.

Still to come was the evening cruise to return passengers to Greenock, Kilkreggan, Dunoon and Rothesay and to bring back some from Greenock to Glasgow.

These five special days must have taken a great deal of planning effort and certainly involve long hours for our hard-working crews.

While Steve Colledge was in command, WAVERLEY had the Welsh flag at the Jack Staff, which prompted some letters in The Herald newspaper - in fact giving rise to some additional publicity which cannot have been a bad thing.  No doubt at that time BALMORAL in S. Wales, with Graeme Gellatly in charge, would have been carrying the Saltire on her Jack Staff.  Today, just for a change, WAVERLEY was displaying the European Community flag on her Jack Staff.  I might also have mentioned that, in preparation for these five special Tall Ships days, WAVERLEY was provided with a new ensign and masthead flags and is dressed overall and looking very smart.

Dateline 1 August 1999 23:15

Friday evening’s run to return passengers to Greenock, Kilkreggan, Dunoon and Rothesay and to bring back some from Greenock to Glasgow was completed by about 00.45.  Considering the morning’s delayed departure, the large passenger numbers, the punishing schedule and the long day, this reflected well the heroic efforts of the ship’s company to complete their task.

Saturday was a very hot day with visibility a bit hazy at times in consequence.  We took nearly 460 from Glasgow to Greenock, most of whom disembarked for time ashore.  We then collected from Dunoon and Kilkreggan and by the time we had also picked up some 300 from Helensburgh we had about 800 to take to Greenock.  On shore the site was packed with visitors and it was very hot and sticky and rather noisy.  One of the later arrivals, SWAN FAN MAKKUM (Netherlands, Brigantine, 1993, 49.7m), which we knew from reports filed with THE HERALD newspaper had been becalmed, then battered by storms which shredded some sails and then becalmed again, was parading under sail just off shore and a fine sight.  We then had two one-hour cruises to give customers a view of the Tall Ships from the sea and each attracted nearly 700.  There was then a welcome short break which allowed some tidying up (and emptying of rubbish bins, etc.) before the crowds returned for their homeward journeys to Helensburgh, Kilkreggan and Dunoon.  There was some cloud around tea-time and a few spots of rain but the final run of the day from Greenock to Glasgow was with clear skies and a cool breeze.  Arrival a little late again, but the schedule had been tight in some places and recovery of lost time was difficult.

On Friday and on Saturday, David Edwards was available to assist Jim McFadzean with the Purser duties on these two very busy days.

Sunday was another very hot day with clear skies for the most part.  Glasgow to Greenock to deliver a fair number there for the day, then to Helensburgh to bring over about 760.  After a short break, a one-hour cruise attracted about 770 to view the Tall Ships from the sea.  The Helensburgh passengers were then taken home but our return to Greenock was delayed while shipping movements on the river were suspended during a brilliant display by the Red Arrows.  For the third day running there was a cloudy spell around tea-time, again with a very light shower, but clear skies and a cool breeze afterwards.  We left Greenock about 17.45 to return passengers to Glasgow, arriving about 50 minutes late, most of this delay being on account of having to await the completion of the Red Arrows display.  Still to come was the evening cruise from Glasgow to view the Tall Ships Fireworks Display at Greenock which had an anticipated finish time of 01.00 on Monday - another very long day !

Dateline 4 August 1999 06:53

Sunday evening’s Showboat and Fireworks cruise left Glasgow for Greenock with almost 630 passengers on board.  At Greenock a group disembarked to attend a party on the Clyde-built Barque GLENLEE (1896) while for the remainder there was a short cruise to view the Tall Ships.   WAVERLEY then berthed and those on board were in a superb vantage point for the stunning fireworks display.  Considering that the start time for the fireworks had been put back an hour from the time originally advertised, WAVERLEY’s arrival back in Glasgow only just over 30 minutes late was an excellent effort.  The weather during the evening had been very mild with a few spots of rain although it had rained very hard in Glasgow.

Monday was another very hot day but with rather hazy visibility, some cloud and occasional very slight short showers.  This was the Parade of Sail day which carried the higher price tag and strictly limited numbers on board. The reports from those who took part confirmed that it was an unforgettable experience.  Starting from Glasgow and picking up from Helensburgh and Largs there were about 360 on board for the run up-river to meet the Tall Ships at the start of their 480 nautical mile passage to Lerwick.  The aim for this leg of the event was not to race, but that the ships should sail in company, carrying crew members from other participating vessels, to contribute to international understanding and friendship.  As the Tall Ships were well spaced out at this point it was possible in the case of most of the larger vessels for WAVERLEY to sail alongside each one in turn so that appropriate greetings could be exchanged.  With over 70 Tall Ships involved, the exodus down the river took some time and WAVERLEY was still meeting tail-enders on her return up-river after taking Largs passengers home.  Glasgow passengers were returned home from Helensburgh by coach while WAVERLEY ran back down-river once more to spend the night at Ayr, ready to resume the normal Tuesday cruising schedule in the morning.

Altogether the five special Tall Ships days seem to have been a great success for WAVERLEY and the extra hours and effort put in by all staff has been much appreciated.  In addition to the usual commentary provided on all cruises, Iain Quinn had researched the Tall Ships in advance so that he could identify the vessels and add interesting background notes for each one, also on occasion relaying important information obtained from shore-to-ship communications during the cruises.

On shore the indications are that Greenock is well pleased with the event, whose smooth running has rewarded the careful planning.  Considering the mixed weather to which we had become resigned in the previous weeks, the settled conditions over this period have been a welcome bonus.

It appears that we had the  European Community flag at the Jack Staff in honour of the Tall Ships event.  On Tuesday we are back to the normal cruising programme with the Saltire on display  … and almost unbelievably holding …

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