Bristol Channel Finale
Report by Martin Longhurst
The westerly wind that had marred Two Ships Day continued to blow for the rest of the week. In fact on that day, Balmoral was not able to carry passengers back to Swansea and instead she headed straight off for the Irish Sea so as to be ready to give her scheduled sailing from Garlieston on the Friday. She had a pretty rough passage to get there but was unable to take passengers to Douglas, Isle of Man, until the wind dropped on the Saturday, when she took 600 in rainy conditions.
Back on the Channel, the Waverley was unable to land at either Ilfracombe on Thursday 18 June 2009 or at Minehead on the Friday, owing to the continuing westerly wind and consequent large swell. On both days coastal cruises were given and on Friday passengers were also coached from Penarth to Clevedon.
The forecast for Saturday was for an improvement. The ambitious timetable started at Penarth with the bulk of passengers opting to get off at the first call at Clevedon to join the waiting coaches to go for a steam train ride on the West Somerset Railway to Minehead. A similar number joined the ship at Clevedon for a direct sail to Ilfracombe. The wind gradually dropped as we steamed west but the swell continued, meaning that speed was reduced to ease the motion of the ship. The outcome was a late arrival at the Devon port. As a Minehead call was to be made on the return voyage, the departure time from Ilfracombe had to be adhered to, so the planned Atlantic Coast cruise had to be cancelled. Some 50 minutes ashore were available instead.
The passage back east was very pleasant with the wind now following us. The visibility was excellent, allowing views of the close at hand English coast and the distant Welsh shore. Captain O’Brian made an excellent approach to the confined Minehead Harbour. There are unyielding stone walls and many small boats to be avoided, requiring a carefully executed manoeuvre. The steam train excursionists rejoined the ship here as well as evening cruise passengers, who would be coached home from the final call at Clevedon. All was ready for departure when a call went out for a doctor. In the event, an ambulance had to be summoned and the casualty and her party landed into the care of the West Country Ambulance Service. This excitement put the steamer 20 minutes late, a margin which was maintained at the remaining ports of Penarth and Clevedon.
This sailing marked the final 2009 calls by the Waverley at Ilfracombe, Minehead, Penarth and Clevedon and appropriate hearty votes of thanks were given to the various pier staffs. There was an “end of term” atmosphere at the Clevedon call, marking as it did the start of the paddler’s journey back to Glasgow. The traditional three long whistle blasts were sounded and much waving took place between the disembarked passengers and the crew as the steamer sailed away into the sunset. Tomorrow she was due to give a non-landing cruise from Milford Haven round the Pembrokeshire islands before heading north to regain her home waters.
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