From the Purser's Office - July 2012

Tony Gamblin's Notes from on board

Pictures by Dave Bassett and Martin Longhurst

Balmoral departed Avonmouth on the last day of June bound for the South Coast of England. After an extremely uncomfortable passage along the north Cornish coast she eventually rounded Land’s End late the following morning and tied up in Swanage that evening- where she remained until the following evening as Monday was a scheduled off-service day. She spent the night at Ryde Pier before moving over to Portsmouth to embark almost 500 passengers for a special cruise to view all seven P & O liners (Ventura, Arcadia, Aurora, Oriana, Azura, Adonia and Oceana) in Southampton together to mark the 175th anniversary of the company. Despite the damp and murky conditions a fine view of the ships was had as Balmoral made two trips past them up and down Southampton Water. A further 300 people then took  an evening cruise for a grandstand view of the liners setting off in line, with the Princess Royal in her role as Master of the Corporation of Trinity House reviewing the fleet from THV Patricia anchored nearby. A fly-past by the Red Arrows was cancelled, presumably due to the low cloud and limited visibility.



The AIS plot of Balmoral’s course on 3 July showing the seven P&O liners sailing away to the south east.


The weather was little better the next day with the result that Balmoral’s cruise from Worthing to Yarmouth IOW and Swanage was poorly supported. Passengers were returned to Portsmouth and after taking on fresh water the ship sailed to Ramsgate to begin her annual programme of cruises on the Thames. She anchored off Deal early the next morning and entered the Kentish port around lunchtime. At last it was a clear, warm and sunny day for a cruise to London and Balmoral made her first calls at the newly restored Town Pier at Gravesend. This is to be her main base on the London River and the advantages became clear on the following off-service day. Calls at Tilbury landing stage will now no longer take place, though P.S. Waverley will probably continue to use it occasionally.


On Saturday 7th July the ship cruised from London to Whitstable via Woolwich, Gravesend and Southend in generally dull and cool conditions while on the Sunday she operated in reverse from Southend to the Pool of London. By this time the rain had returned, though nothing like on the scale of that experienced during the previous night. More rain resulted in low numbers turning out for Monday’s trip from Gravesend to Ipswich though it did brighten up in the afternoon, as it did for the return voyage to London the next day- though there was a spectacular downpour on going through Tower Bridge!! On Wednesday there was a wild squall while the ship was at Southend with a terrific downpour with hailstones while at Clacton: only 12 passengers presented themselves at Southend compared to just 20 the day before.




Steaming away from Tower Pier on 7 July (DB)




The new pontoon at Gravesend Town Pier (ML)




The new generator at the stern (now painted brown) to be moved to the Engine Room for 2013 (ML)




At Whitstable Harbour (DB)




Leaving Town Pier for London (ML)




The Pier from the land side – the entrance is through the Restaurant (ML)




Entering the Upper Pool at the end of 7 July’s cruise (DB)




The London skyline on 19 July (DB)


By Thursday 12th July conditions had improved considerably and over 300 people were carried from Great Yarmouth and Southwold to London-though heavy, steady rain set in for the afternoon and evening. It remained bright and sunny the next day for a cruise from London to Ipswich, but it was not to last:  there was a terrific downpour early on the Saturday morning and it continued to rain steadily throughout the day as the ship returned back up the London River, only improving in the evening. Bright and sunny weather prevailed on the Sunday and good numbers turned out for a trip from Margate, Whitstable, Southend and Gravesend to the Pool of London: the “dampener” this day was not the weather but the fact that Southend passengers had to wait 2 1/2 hours for their coach return as they were severely let down by the contracted coach company.


With a Force 8 gale warning in place, Monday 16th July’s cruise to Ramsgate and the White Cliffs of Dover was cancelled. The ship anchored off Deal that evening in the hope of operating the annual trip from Rye to London the next day but she was forced to turn near Dungeness the next morning en route to the Sussex port as sea conditions ruled out a sailing with passengers. The ship returned to Gravesend where she remained until 19th July, Wednesday being a scheduled off-service day. For once it remained sunny with just a few spots of rain for Thursday’s trip Up-River to the Pool of London, unusually under the command of Capt. Andy O’ Brian. On completion of this cruise she set out light-ship to Southampton, arriving early on the Friday morning. She was berthed very close to the ‘other’ Balmoral and a possibly unique photo-opportunity presented itself that evening as the Fred Olsen liner sailed past en route for the Baltic Cities and Norway!  Saturday’s sailing was a charter around the Isle of Wight. This was to view the J-Class yachts taking part in a re-enactment of the 1851 One Hundred Sovereigns Race: the sun shone and though there was something of a lack of wind (apparently yachties like this!) a good time was had by all.


With excellent weather forecast to continue throughout the following week it was a great disappointment to learn that Capt. O’ Brian had to return directly to P.S. Waverley through lack of a Master - with Capt. Clark off sick and numerous alternatives having been explored without success. The knock-on effect upon Balmoral was considerable. Sunday’s cruise (to Worthing and the Sussex Coast) was cancelled; on Monday (a scheduled off-service day) the vessel sailed to Weymouth under the command of relief Master Capt. Lowe ready for Tuesday’s sailing from West Bay (Bridport) to the Isle of Wight coast - though the Yarmouth calls were missed for operational reasons, as was the whole of Wednesday’s schedule. The ship spent Tuesday night in Swanage before moving to Southampton for bunkers and to ready herself for a cruise from Portsmouth and Yarmouth to Bournemouth, Swanage and off Lulworth Cove, by which time Capt. O’Brian had returned to his command.




Balmoral turns off Lulworth Cove on 26 July


On Friday 27th July Balmoral sailed from Portsmouth and Yarmouth around the Isle of Wight - though passenger numbers were disappointingly low, especially as the settled warm and sunny weather persisted. After an overnight stop in Yarmouth, IOW the ship made her way to Weymouth where she was to take part in a fortnight of special trips during the Olympic period under the “Bayside Excursions” banner.


Webmaster’s Note: Owing to personnel changes within WEL, Tony is transferring to PS Waverley so this will probably be his last Balmoral report for 2012.

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