To The Capital

After her first arrival at London on Friday 24 September 2004, the Waverley undertook the annual Evening Charter for the London & Home Counties Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.   Organised once again by Roddy McKee, the event raised over 3,000 for Society funds.

Next day Captain Kit Lee took command of the Waverley. The timetabled sailing was from Tower Pier to Clacton. Approaching Tilbury it became apparent that there was no berth available for the steamer. The Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, is now moored at the ferry berth on a long-term basis.

So the paddler was obliged to berth within the security zone of the International Cruise Terminal during the entire Thames season. On this occasion, two Royal Navy mine hunter vessels, HMS Grimsby and HMS Bangor were alongside as part of an exercise. The captain of HMS Grimsby kindly agreed to move his vessel off the pontoon to allow us to pick up our passengers. All this delayed our progress and the paddler set off for Southend at 56 r.p.m. to make up some time.

The arrival at the Pier was rather abrupt, with the main engine going was Full Ahead to Dead Slow. This led to an excess of steam with the safety valves lifting in spectacular style for many seconds, before first one valve reseated and then the other. This is a very rare occurrence - indeed it was the first time I had seen it happen in several hundred voyages!

The timetable had been cast on the basis that the ship would be alongside Clacton Pier at low tide. Consequently it was essential to pass through the shallow Swin Channel before it fell too much and hence the need to make up time. This was achieved and the paddler tied up on schedule. Unfortunately light rain fell all the way from Southend to Clacton, but it stopped as we stepped ashore.

We were joined by many one-way passengers from Clacton and Southend on the return leg. Unfortunately the restricted visibility stopped us seeing the spectacular Essex coastline. Meanwhile, word came through from Scotland that the Balmoral was carrying a full load from Largs to Millport on the traditional end-of-season Illuminations Cruise. .The Waverley spent the night at Tower Pier before another bright and early start on the Sunday. As there is now a large demand from coach operators for one-way tickets from London to Southend, the opportunity was taken to take 300 on what would otherwise have been a positioning sailing prior to the day's main business of a round trip from Southend to the Upper Pool.

Following the intermediate call at Tilbury, the steamer was very nearly up to her limit. The bright sun had brought out the crowds following the previous dull day! Tug Revenge performed her turning duties as on the paddler's other calls at London.

The following week's sailings all went ahead as planned with Waverley visiting Margate, Whitstable, Southend, Clacton, Harwich and London.

Saturday 2 October saw the steamer at Tower Pier filling with passengers for Southend and Whitstable. The down river sailing was very pleasant and Chief Engineer Ken Henderson used an extra notch to ensure an on-time arrival at Southend. On this occasion speed was reduced more gradually on the approach to the Pier and there was no repetition of blowing off.

Good time was made for the Kent port but unfortunately the Harbour Master had another ship to deal with. Waverley had to slow and then steam in a big circle while the Union Topaz approached and entered the Harbour. She was to berth further in on the eastern side and would not have been able to pass the paddler in the narrow Harbour. Consequently, docking was 30 minutes late but the limited tidal window meant that Captain Lee could only retard departure by 15 minutes. Leaving Whitstable there were only 3 spare places on board as many had joined for the evening cruise up the "Twinkling Thames." Arrival back at Tower Pier was, however, achieved on time.

Sunday was to be the Thames Towers day but a southerly gale was forecast, which would make the trip out to the Shivering Sands and Knock John Forts uncomfortable, at least. After calls at Tilbury and Southend, we steamed east and rounded the Red Sands Fort before heading back for a substitute cruise up the River Medway. After passing Sheerness and Thamesport, the steamer turned just downstream of Kingsnorth Power Station. On the return leg an evening cruise was offered again, but today with the added attraction of the sector to Tilbury by steamer instead of coach.

Meanwhile on the South Coast, the Balmoral was unexpectedly in action once again, having been chartered from Southampton to view the start of the Round the World Yacht Race.

The weather continued to intervene during the following week, with a stiff south-westerly breeze blowing. On Tuesday's sailing it was feared that the landings at Clacton would be impossible on the single cruise from Tilbury and Southend. Contingency plans were formulated to divert to Harwich, where the ship was due to spend the night in any case. In addition, Captain Colledge contacted Southwold Pier to establish the conditions there prior to the following day's sailing from the Suffolk port and was informed there was a 2 metre swell running. In the event, both calls at Clacton were possible, although the paddler did range about while alongside.

The afternoon cruise from Clacton took us to the River Blackwater, turning just upstream from Tollesbury. Commentator Roger Bolton told us this as the first trip up the river by a steam-powered passenger vessel since the Medway Queen in 1963. Meanwhile, the Balmoral anchored in Penarth Roads to wait for the evening tide to return to winter lay-up in Bristol's Floating Harbour. As we sat in our coach to return to Tilbury, we saw the Waverley leave Clacton Pier and turn north-east for Harwich.

Unfortunately the decision had to be taken not to attempt the landing at Southwold and 12 coaches were booked to carry the passengers to join the paddler at Halfpenny Pier, Harwich. The remainder of the week's sailing programme went ahead as planned with encouraging results.

Good news came through on Friday that Kathleen O'Neill, WEL's General Manager, had given birth to her first child, Lucy. Congratulations to her and her husband, Eric Callaghan, who works for the Waverley organisation!

Saturday 9 October saw the steamer giving a one-way sail from Harwich, Clacton and Tilbury to Tower Pier, with coach returns. She had spent the previous night alongside Halfpenny Pier allowing her crew the opportunity to sample the delights of the Essex port. There was a brisk north-easterly breeze, which encouraged some lively conditions and gave excellent visibility of the Essex coast.   Although wind and driving rain had been forecast, the day was very pleasant with a lot of sun!   Arrival at Tower Pier was on time.

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