Waverley on the Thames '98

Monday September 28 was due to be an off service day before the final two days on the South Coast and Thursday's positioning cruise from Eastbourne to London. However, the long range forecast had not changed and was threatening gales all week. The decision was therefore taken to run before the impending storm and Waverley sailed from Southampton to Tilbury forthwith. Tuesday's and Wednesday's cruises were cancelled altogether but strenuous efforts were made to avoid totally disappointing the folk of Eastbourne and Folkestone. Purser Jim McFadzean was dispatched to Eastbourne to usher passengers on to coaches waiting to take them to Tilbury for a down river cruise. Meanwhile Jeremy Gold (former Chairman of PSPS) attended to those at Folkestone who were also transported to Tilbury to join the paddler as she proceeded upstream. Both sets of passengers were then treated to a return trip to the Pool of London.

Friday's evening PSPS charter from Tower Pier carried almost 600 and was judged a success. On Saturday October 3 Waverley gave the regular 'Round the Forts' cruise. Conditions were poor with much rain and a cold wind. Things improved for Sunday's rendezvous with the only other operational paddle steamer in Great Britain, P.S. Kingswear Castle, although there were still some showers. Monday was again an off service day.

A northerly wind on Tuesday put paid to the planned call at Margate, with passengers being bussed to Whitstable, where the steamer took up her scheduled trip to London. The weather forecasters intervened again on Wednesday when the planned Southend - Clacton - Walton - Ipswich - Walton - Clacton - Ipswich jaunt was truncated to a short cruise on the River Orwell out of Ipswich. Passengers standing on Southend Pier in a flat calm, watching Waverley steam past serenely, were stunned to be told by phone from the Barry office that there was too much swell to call there! Clacton and Walton passengers were bussed to Ipswich. Eventually, it was established that forecast conditions further out to sea were the real culprit. In the event that forecast was not fulfilled.

However, the steamer was now in position to give Thursday's heavily booked one way trip to London. A large party from the Royal Hospital School from Holbrook, near Ipswich joined the trip which took place in conditions probably worse than forecast. There was drizzle for much of the day and a heavy swell from the north prevented passengers joining at Clacton, although we were able to come alongside just long enough to pick up the Pilot. Clacton and Walton passengers were again treated to a coach ride, this time to Southend where they joined ship in the midst of heavy, driving rain. In addition, the strong northerly wind coupled with the high spring tide meant that the Thames Flood Barrier was closed in earnest from 1100 to 1830. This meant that Waverley's intended schedule of turning in the Pool of London and returning to Tilbury for 1930 could not be carried out. Consequently, the coach return was rearranged to leave from Tower Pier as soon as Waverley could get there. Despite all these problems the vast majority of passengers still enjoyed their day out.

Friday saw a temporary end to weather problems. An up river round trip excursion from Southend to the Tower was followed by a one way Showboat cruise back to London. On the final leg a passenger was taken ill and had to be landed by Paramedics at Tilbury. This caused an hour's delay.

Saturday saw the end of Captain Gellatly's duty for the 1998 season, with Chief Officer Steve Colledge taking command. The new Chief Officer was Paul Richards who is well known to regular passengers over the past few years as he has progressed through the ranks starting, as many other paddle steamer captains have done, as a Steward. The day was fine, despite the forecast, and the Tower Pier - Tilbury - Southend - Clacton went ahead as planned, although adverse tides led to a hour late return to London. The similar trip on Sunday 11 October to Whitstable took place largely in sunshine although a rainy day had been promised. Fuel was taken during the time ashore at the Kent port, and there was no repetition of the previous day's delay. Monday saw a repeat of the 'Round the Forts' cruise from Tower Pier together with the end of the (relatively) good weather.

Tuesday was the final cruise of the Thames season from Tilbury and Southend to Folkestone and Eastbourne. The forecast wind direction and force meant that it was unlikely that an Eastbourne call would be possible so plans were again laid to rearrange the coach return to start at Folkestone instead. In the event, conditions deteriorated more rapidly and passengers were relieved that this decision had been taken. As we steamed passed Dover Harbour the SeaFrance Cezanne made a dramatic exit while her sister ship SeaFrance Nord Pas De Calais waited to enter the Eastern Entrance. One of the remaining HoverSpeed SRN4 hovercraft departed for Calais through the Western Entrance.

So the South Coast and Thames season ended as it started with the weather making its influence felt. I can't remember a period of such continual disruption to sailings - is it the effect of global warming or just a normal cycle of the British climate?

Martin Longhurst

13 October 1998

Return to Waverley's 1998 Season