South Coast - Part 6
Report by Martin Longhurst
The sailing on Tuesday 15 September 2009 went ahead as planned with Waverley positioning from Southampton to take up her timetable at Swanage. Normally, she would have finished the day by sailing light to Weymouth, but there was no berth available so she remained at Swanage overnight.
Despite arriving at the appointed time, the berth was still not free so the paddler had to sail in circles to kill time. Eventually she got alongside too late to take fuel before departure time, so the day’s sail got off to a late start. As she steamed east, the strength of the wind increased. The call at Swanage was made but it was too rough to attempt Bournemouth. In the end, Yarmouth was also bypassed and the steamer sailed direct to Southampton, with all passengers coached home.
Thursday started off grey as Waverley embarked her passengers at Portsmouth – back now at the Harbour Station Pier berth. Soon, however, the sun came out and remained so for the rest of the day. After the Yarmouth pick-up we headed for Bournemouth but there was still quite a swell running after the previous day’s high winds and the call at Bournemouth had to be abandoned. The remainder of the cruise went ahead as planned, with the steamer clearing the Lulworth Range Safety Zone, three and a half miles out to sea, on the return leg. Returning to Yarmouth, Captain O’Brian took the steamer down the southern channel to The Needles. Just as we turned to go north round The Needles, HMS Mersey passed us heading south.
Friday’s sail went ahead as planned, although traffic congestion in Southampton (four liners in today!) delayed some passengers. Rebuilding works were still in progress at Portsmouth Harbour Station Pier but the steamer was able to berth at the planned time of 11.40. However, on the Saturday, Wightlink allocated Waverley a slot at 12.10 which meant the steamer was 40 minutes late leaving the Hampshire port. The inbound course had been modified, taking the paddler near Cowes on her way from Southampton. Despite the delay, there was a good number on board and nearly 300 more joined at Yarmouth for the anti-clockwise sail ‘Round the Island.’
Approaching The Needles we passed SS Shieldhall and exchanged whistle salutes with her. She was sailing round the Island in the opposite direction and her decks were lined with passengers. The visibility was rather limited around the south of the Island. Proceedings were enlivened by the presence of 14 members of Tiger Top Team who all purchased a Waverley bobble hat, making a significant contribution to funds. The fuel bill was put to one side as the engine was run at 47, then, 48 and then 50 revs in an endeavour to make up time. In the event we docked back at Portsmouth 20 minutes behind schedule, but only 10 minutes after the single berth became available.
The Waverley car park compound was nearly full the following day as the paddler went astern off her berth, leaving P&O’s Arcadia on the opposite side of the quay. It was a fairly uneventful but successful day under blue skies but restricted visibility. Monday was an off-service day with Chief Engineer Gordon Reid planning to make an addition to the belting with a view to prevent it being caught underneath the edge of the pontoon piers at Tilbury and Tower.
Tuesday and Wednesday were again blessed with good weather allowing the paddler to undertake her full programme. This marked the end of the South Coast season proper, as Thursday would see Waverley steam for Dover, calling at the only operational pier in Sussex at Worthing. As Waverley made her entrance to Portsmouth Harbour just after 10.30, Captain O’Brian found the berth still occupied by a FastCat. This gave him nowhere to go but into the north part of the harbour to turn and make another approach. Unfortunately this meant she lost her slot at the pier’s single berth, having to wait until after the next ferry had departed. Finally, we were able to board and soon the steamer was heading off eastward. Before long we could see the thin line of Selsey Bill on the horizon, passing the oil tanker Stena Sirita and Brittany Ferries’ Mont St Michel inbound. Rounding the Bill, Bognor Regis came into view and Ashley Gill, today’s Wessex Branch commentator, reminded us of King George V’s alleged dying remark about the seaside resort – “Bugger Bognor.”
Conditions seemed perfect as we approached Worthing Pier – we could see several hundred intending passengers waiting on its decks. Unfortunately the Worthing jinx struck – despite the flat calm and light winds, the rising tide was causing ground swell which was making the paddler roll significantly, making it dubious whether passengers could be transferred. Then the aft spring parted and Captain O’Brian concluded that the call would not be possible. Sadly, Waverley went astern to clear the Pier and turned east for Dover direct. Purser Jim McFadzean arranged for a coach to take passengers hoping to disembark at Worthing home from Dover.
The time lost at Portsmouth meant we had to steer a straight course between the headlands of Beachey Head and Dungeness. Nevertheless we had excellent views with crystal clear visibility. At one point it was possible to see Beachey Head ahead and the Isle of Wight astern at the same time. Brighton’s two piers, Newhaven Harbour and Seaford slipped by. Then the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachey Head before entering Pevensey Bay and passing Eastbourne and Hastings. Then the sandstone cliffs came into view before Rye Bay and the twin nuclear power stations at Dungeness. Here command was transferred from Captain Andy O’Brian to Captain Ian Clark, who was to take the steamer through her Thames season. This was marked by changing the jack over to the red and white flag of Kent.
We were now on the last leg across St Mary’s Bay to Dover. A spectacular sunset could be observed from the steamer’s port quarter as we steamed past Folkestone. The White Cliffs could be seen beyond Dover Harbour as we slowed to take the pilot. We continued steaming east before turning to enter through the Eastern Entrance and then crossing the Harbour to tie up at Cruise Terminal 2 on the Western Arm. There were three coaches to return passengers to Portsmouth, plus the one for Worthing, while about 20 passengers were staying the night in Dover to continue their grand voyage to London the following day.
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