Western Isles 2010

Report and pictures by Martin Longhurst

Waverley’s 2010 season started in fine style with a five day Western Isles season.   The paddler looked very smart throughout, the newly painted funnels sparkling in the morning sun.

We arrived at Glasgow Science Centre at 06.40 on Friday 28 May 2010 just as two catering delivery vehicles were driving away.  Walking round the corner of the building we were amazed to see a queue of about 400 waiting to board.   Gradually everyone got on board, the weekend passengers stowing their luggage in the forward observation saloon.   Sailing time was 07.00 but it was five minutes later before all intending passengers had joined the ship.   A further short delay ensued as we awaited a sandwich delivery.   Two late passengers arrived breathless at this point – very lucky to get their sail!   Eventually the stewards gave up and the gangway was lowered on deck – naturally at this point the van turned up and the gangway put out again for them to be carried aboard.

Finally we moved off, slowly going astern to cant round the knuckle of the dock entrance.   By 07.20 we were able to go ahead and head down river for Greenock, Campbeltown, Port Ellen and Oban.   Unfortunately when the cant rope was let go from the quay it got trapped in the fendering and had to be left behind, to be recovered from the river later by the dockers.   Once past the Govan shipyard, where HMS Duncan was on the stocks, we went below for a hearty breakfast.   Soon the chill of the morning brought many more to the Dining Saloon.   It was low water and we had to slow so as to pass an inbound ship under the Erskine Bridge.   Greenock was our first call of the day and a further crowd joined here.  

The sun was having more effect now as we cleared the Cloch Light and steered south.   Our passage was to take us between the islands of Bute and Arran and through the Kilbrannan Sound to Campbeltown, where a further 40 or so came aboard.    Waverley was soon rounding the Mull of Kintyre in perfect conditions with clear views of the coast of Northern Ireland stretching across the horizon.   Further round the islands of Islay and Jura appeared, the nearest point being 20 miles away.   There were seven passengers for Port Ellen and this year they were lucky as conditions allowed the planned call to go ahead, albeit about an hour late as the steamer was running at reduced speed.




Left: The Dutch three master Thalassa was moored at Port Ellen

Above: Soon after leaving Port Ellen, we encountered CalMac’s Hebridean Isles and exchanged whistle blasts.  


Approaching the northern tip of Jura, Captain O’Brien announced we would pass through the Gulf of Corryvreckan as this would give us a more favourable tide.   At first we were punching the tide through the passage and this halved our speed.   The waters were confused and eddies could be observed in numerous places.   As we emerged and turned north again, Lord of the Isles was spotted on her evening trip from Colonsay to Oban.   She followed the paddler through the Sound of Kerrera into Oban Bay before making for her berth at the Railway Pier while our steamer swept round to moor at the North Pier.

After the glorious weather on Friday, it was disappointing to wake up the next day to grey skies.   Almost as soon as we boarded Waverley, spots of rain started falling.   With over 600 on board for the trip to Tobermory, Armadale and Inverie, this was a great disappointment.   Every seat was taken inside but some hardy souls were able to stay on deck except in the heavier spells of rain.   Some people decided to change their plans and got off at Tobermory and returned to Oban by bus and ferry.   Again the reduced speed was affecting the steamer’s schedule and Captain O’Brien put back our return time from Armadale to avoid clashing with the Mallaig ferry Coruisk.   This meant passengers could avoid waiting in the rain unnecessarily.   By the time we docked at Inverie it was ‘almost dry’ and it stayed that way for another three hours before drying up completely.


Left: Passengers go ashore at Inverie



Right: Waverley alongside Inverie Pier



25 minutes ashore was allowed at the Knoydart village – home of the remotest pub on the British mainland and only accessible by sea or on foot – and a large number of passengers took the opportunity to stretch their legs strolling through the small village.   Back to Armadale to pick those who had elected to spend time on the Isle of Skye, passing Coruisk shortly after she had left the Skye pier.

70 years ago to the day, the previous Clyde paddle steamer Waverley had been sunk at 17.46 on 29 May 1940 while evacuating 600 troops from Dunkirk.   The ship was stopped and a simple ceremony was held on deck to mark the moment.   Captain O’Brien introduced Commodore Angus Ross RN who explained how the Waverley – at the time HMS Waverley – had come to be present so far from her home.   He then went on to read from the Official Record of her last day culminating in her sinking after attack by German aircraft.   Finally, a wreath was laid on the sea to commemorate the 180-200 personnel who lost their lives.   During the day two Royal Marine Commandos collected over £1,000 for the Royal Marines Benevolent Fund.




Commodore Ross makes his speech – note the wreath on deck ready to be laid

Photo by Deryk Docherty

The plaque recording HMS Waverley’s war service

Some crew members had special polo shirts


The sun started to come out as we approached Ardnamurchan Lighthouse to re-enter the Sound of Mull.   After the call at Tobermory we were soon back at Oban.


Docking at Oban’s North Pier just after sunset - note the floodlit McCaig’s Folly at the hill top


Keen passengers had an early start on Sunday as a Sunrise Special return sailing to Fort William was given.   About 80 took the trip and most enjoyed a Waverley breakfast on the way up Loch Linnhe.   We had about 25 minutes ashore at the Lochaber town before the main cruise of the day departed at 09.45.  


Alongside at Fort William with Souter’s Lass waiting to return to the pier and the ferry moored nearby

This was the four lochs and a whirlpool sail, calling at Oban both ways.   On the way back to Oban, Captain O’Brien took the paddler down the western side of Lismore, giving us a view of the huge Glen Sanda quarry.    Leaving Oban there was a very good load on as we headed south for Lochs Melfort, Shuna, Craignish and Crinan.   Finally we passed between the islands of Jura and Scarba through the Gulf of Corryvreckan.   The tide was running the other way today and this boosted Waverley’s speed over the ground to 19 knots!  

Approaching Oban we had to slow down to await the departure from North Pier of the small cruise ship Quest.   Lord of the Isles passed us, outbound for Colonsay, with Waverley supporter Margaret Skee waving vigorously from the ship’s open deck.   An evening cruise to Fort William was also offered with coach return.  


The paddler departs from Oban North Pier for Fort William



Lord of the Isles passes Waverley in the Sound of Kerrera



This meant that Monday’s sail to Tiree actually started from Fort William at 07.00.   The good weather continued and outstanding views ware had all day.  


After the Tobermory call, Clansman was spotted inbound from the Outer Isles and more whistle blasts were exchanged.

We headed out to Tiree across a smooth sea and as we neared Coll we could see Lord of the Isles approaching Arinagour Pier on her way back to Oban.

Landfall was made at Scarinish Pier where most passengers got off for a run ashore.   About 50 Tireeneans boarded for a short cruise to the Gunna Sound, which separates Coll from Tiree.   They enjoyed exploring the ship, watching the engines, buying souvenirs and seeing their island from the sea.


Waverley alongside Scarinish Pier, Isle of Tiree – Photo by Geoffrey Vickery

During the return passage there were stunning views of both distant and close islands.   The Paps of Jura could be seen to the south while there were glimpses of Barra and South Uist some 50 miles to the north.   Once east of Coll, a vista of Canna, Rhum, Eigg and Muck opened out, with the Red and Black Cuillins of Skye beyond.   All too soon we entered the Sound of Mull and made our final call of the short season at Tobermory.


Here we again encountered the red hulled cruise ship Expedition anchored for the night – earlier we had spotted her heading north from the direction of Iona.   For the paddler’s final arrival at Oban, we were preceded into Oban Bay by the Isle of Mull, which had left Craignure Pier just before we passed the small village.   Passengers from Fort William were returned by coach.


Spending her last night at Oban’s North Pier

The following day, 1 June, the steamer sailed south, calling at Campbeltown on the way to Largs.   The planned Port Ellen call could not take place as the pier was occupied.   Just over 100 took the coach back to Oban while about 90 stayed with the paddler as steamed to Largs via the Kilbrannan Sound.   The terminal port was switched from Ayr to Largs as shipping movements precluded the steamer from lying alongside overnight at Ayr.


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