Two Ships Day
Report by Martin Longhurst
Wednesday 17 June 2009 was billed as Two Ships Day and indeed it lived up to its name. We decided to make our excursion into a round trip from Clevedon, so our first leg was by First X7 bus to Hotwells, the district of Bristol where Cumberland Basin is situated. Soon after arriving we heard a message to say Balmoral was about to leave her winter berth at Princeís Quay. Then the warbling alarm started on the swing bridge to the east of the Basin and the familiar WSN house flag could be seen over the rooftops as the steamer approached round the bend.
Aboard was a civic party lead by the Lord Mayor of Bristol and the Burgomaster of Calais. A Balmoral Diamond Jubilee cake was cut at the reception. The Bal paused in the Basin, assisted by the small tug Bristolian, while the first bridge was re-opened to road traffic and the next bridge opened to vessels. Finally, she was able to proceed into the lock where she came alongside to board here passengers. Such was the demand for tickets that only pre-booked passengers could join the ship, both here and at Portishead.
Balmoral was well presented for her first voyage of the season which was a testament to the efforts of her crew to get her ready after her winter refit. Departure was delayed by a few minutes waiting for sufficient water but soon Captain Davis took the steamer out of the lock and down the River Avon, accompanied, as required by the harbour authorities, by Bristolian. Nigel Coombes gave a well informed commentary during our river passage. Once we had rounded the Horseshoe Bend, the launch of a new book about Balmoral to commemorate her first 60 years took place in the Forward Lounge. One of Bristolís MPs, Doug Naysmith officiated and the three authors, Iain Quinn, Alastair Deayton and Pat Murrell were on hand to sign copies. A Diamond Jubilee mug is also available from the Shipís Shop.
Soon Balmoral passed under the M5 viaduct and was soon leaving the River Avon and entering the Severn Estuary between the twin ports of Avonmouth and Portbury. The steamer turned to port and soon was heading for her first call at Portishead. Here WELís Operations Manager, Ian McMillan, was in attendance to take the lines. Unfortunately the forecast passage of a band of rain from the west came to pass at this stage and the next three or four hours were rather spoilt by the persistent rain and a strong wind.
The short hop to Clevedon followed with the steamer arriving at the top of the tide. Here Balmoral took on her full complement of passengers for the crossing to Wales and the rendezvous with the Waverley. By now the late start plus the large numbers joining the ship had put her somewhat behind time. So it was that we first encountered the Waverley some way off Penarth after she had dropped off her passengers there. Whistle blasts were exchanged as the ships passed each other.
While Balmoral had been coming west, Waverley had been bringing more passengers up channel from Swansea and Porthcawl and disembarked them at Penarth to await the Balmoral. The motor vessel came alongside Penarth Pier herself and nearly all her passengers left the steamer to change to the Waverley. This took some time to accomplish and then the passengers from the west joined her before she cast off to sail round the Holms. Waverley then berthed and loaded almost 600 for the trip back to England. Meanwhile Balmoral could be observed in the distance circumnavigating Steep Holm and Flat Holm.
Waverley headed off for the Holms herself and the two ships passed once more, again blowing their respective horn and whistle. While the paddler was rounding Steep Holm the weather closed in again and view of the cliffs all but disappeared. Then she headed east for Clevedon direct where a veritable fleet of coaches was waiting to return Bristol and Portishead passengers to their starting points. Naturally the rain clouds cleared and the sun came out as the steamer nearer her final destination.
Meanwhile Balmoral headed for Swansea and ultimately Garlieston, whence she was due to sail to The Isle of Man the following Friday.
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