The 2010 Purser's Tale - Part 2
Tony Gamblin's Notes from on board
Balmoral arrived in Swansea on the last day of June to prepare for the first of her Bristol Channel seasons. The first day ran as scheduled but on the Friday the 17.30 (low water) call at Clevedon was omitted with an extended Holms Islands and Welsh Heritage Coast cruise offered. That evening the ship was due to make a now rare evening cruise up the Avon to Bristol but soon after entering the River a message was received that the lock gates at Bristol had failed so the Captain and his Pilot were given no option but to turn the ship in the confines of Sea Mills Reach - believed to be a 'first' for a large passenger vessel. The vessel then proceeded back down-river to Portishead whence people were returned homewards by coach. In view of this, the next day's scheduled sailing from Bristol to Ilfracombe also started at Portishead (with a coach connection from Bristol) and passengers were returned here in the evening in lieu of Clevedon due to the increasing wind. The following day's programme was cancelled due to strong winds (the tail-end of the gales that was playing havoc with Waverley in Scotland) and the ship locked in at Avonmouth as she was off-service on the Monday.
On Tuesday 6th July Balmoral was able to make it to Swansea for her sailing over to Ilfracombe, but with more strong winds forecast for later that day the Lundy sector was cancelled and a cruise along the Exmoor coast substituted - the return sailing being brought forward by two hours and the ship sailing light to Penarth after disembarking her passengers at Swansea. This necessitated Swansea passengers being coached to Penarth for the next day's popular '3 Rivers and 5 Bridges' trip - which unfortunately was not as well supported as in the past. The following day's cruise (Clevedon to Minehead and Porlock Bay) operated as scheduled and in good weather conditions.
A highlight of this year's schedule was undoubtedly the trip to Padstow on Friday 9th July. After an early start from Penarth the ship sailed down-Channel to Ilfracombe to pick up more passengers and cruised to Cornwall with over 300 aboard. The tight tidal window allowed less than an hour ashore to enjoy the delights of "Padstein"- though many managed to obtain fish and chips (it had to be done!) before returning for the homeward voyage in superb weather conditions.
The following day was full of drama. The early afternoon call at Clevedon had been cancelled due to very low water and a broadcast navigational warning by Swansea coastguard - but unfortunately the coach bringing the passengers to Penarth missed the ship due to a combination of motorway traffic at a standstill and the seafront closed for the annual Penarth carnival. Balmoral was about to enter Watchet harbour when a yacht - ignoring all instructions from the harbour authorities - crossed right under her bows: the incident was filmed and soon appeared on You Tube, which led to an interview with Captain Davies for the BBC television local news programme 'Points West' (Google 'Balmoral Watchet' to see it all).
Sunday's trip from Clevedon to Lundy was rather special, with a cruise around the island offered after the landing passengers had disembarked - all achieved in classic Bristol Channel weather conditions. The following day's schedule was also rather unusual - a sailing from Newport to Clevedon (for the West Somerset Railway) and Ilfracombe, returning via Minehead and Penarth : again the weather was stunning - we could have been in the Med! This was a complete contrast to the next day's trip from Lydney and Sharpness with nearly 400 passengers being carried in dull and overcast conditions with frequent heavy downpours of rain. The weather remained unsettled for the final day of the first Bristol Channel season, though there were some warm sunny spells between the torrential showers. This trip was another highlight of the programme : a double navigation of the River Parrett being possible due to the early summer daylight hours. Most of the passengers (both local and from further afield) were fascinated by the ever-changing views as the vessel navigated the winding course of the river to and from Bridgwater.
Balmoral was then due to sail to Bridport to begin her South Coast programme, but after dragging her anchor overnight in Penarth Roads and with severe force 9 gales forecast for almost all sea areas, the decision was made to seek shelter at Bristol's Cumberland Basin. Here she remained until mid-day on Saturday 17th July, sailing direct to Newhaven to begin her Thames programme - the whole four days on the Solent sadly having to be cancelled.
It was from this point onwards that things really started to improve. Over 500 passengers were carried to London on 20th July, revenue beating any day of the previous season. Good loadings were also achieved on the sailings to and from Rye in warm, bright and sunny conditions broken only by a few brief heavy downpours. It is worthy of note that the vessel was able to lie alongside at Rye on the Wednesday night.
Some pictures taken by Martin Longhurst during the passage to Rye on 21 July
The new shop counter, now separated from the Forward Lounge
The new upholstery and curtains in the Forward Lounge, financed by the PSPS Bristol Channel Branch
Entering the River Rother
The last mile of the voyage is up the River Rother to Rye Wharf
The view from the Bridge...
...and from the stern
Finally alongside for the night at Rye Wharf
The weather remained excellent for the following days, with almost 1,000 people cruising up London River over the course of the weekend. After a day off service at the London International Cruise Terminal (i.e. Tilbury Landing Stage), Balmoral set out for Southwold on Tuesday 27th July, returning inwards from Great Yarmouth to London on the following day.
The excellent summer weather continued over the next week and was clearly reflected in Balmoral's passenger loadings. After cruising from Tilbury up the River Orwell to Ipswich on Thursday 29th July she carried almost 500 from Ipswich to London on the following day. Even higher loadings were achieved over the weekend, the high passenger turnaround at Southend on the Saturday resulting in the ship running late and finishing her day an hour late at 1.00 a.m. on the Sunday.
Two pictures taken by Geoffrey Vickery on 5 August