As the Clyde prepares to welcome Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth this weekend, Rob Beale reflects on the history of interaction between ocean-going ships and local vessels at the Tail of the Bank.
It is not often that Waverley is upstaged in home waters, but there is no doubt who is ‘centre stage’ at the Tail of the Bank on this occasion. The date is Wednesday 28 July 2010, the time 6pm. The majestic Cunard cruise liner Queen Victoria, in her fourth year of service, is making her way gently towards the open sea, having cast off from Greenock’s Ocean Terminal just 15 minutes beforehand (see photo below right). At 90,000 gross tons she may be the smallest of the Cunard ‘Queens’ but she dominates the scene. All other craft, as well as Kilcreggan pier (distant far right), are dwarfed by her presence.
Also in the photo, taken from Western Ferries’ terminal at McInroy’s Point (right foreground), are Ali Cat on her service run from Dunoon to Gourock, looking rather plain in her all-white livery, and the CalMac ferry Jupiter, making a detour to view the impressive visitor. This was Jupiter’s last summer in service: she was to be sold for breaking in 2011 — the same year that her sister ship, Juno, was finally scrapped at Rosneath after four years of increasingly dilapidated layup on the Gareloch.
Queen Victoria and her bigger Cunard stablemate Queen Elizabeth, which returns to Greenock on Sunday, are just the latest in a long tradition of ocean-going visitors to the Tail of the Bank — some of them, like the original Clydebank-built Cunarders Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, having begun their lives here, and many others having called en route from Liverpool to transatlantic destinations, among the best remembered being the Canadian Pacific ‘Empresses’ in the 1950s and 1960s.
The scene here is reminiscent of that era. For much of the 20th century Clyde paddlers, and latterly the ‘Maids’, would tender to cruise ships and liners at the Tail of the Bank. As far back as the 19th century, tendering to ships at anchor was a business in itself for local shipowners, with the first purpose-built paddle tender, Flying Foam, being launched in 1865. Owned by the Clyde Shipping Company, she was joined over the next few years by Dispatch (1870) and Conquerer (1871). During two world wars Clyde steamers were heavily utilised to carry service personnel to and from naval vessels anchored offshore. Most tender boats operated from Princes Pier, Greenock. Until the 1960s it was a landmark for hundreds of thousands of Scottish émigrés, who saw it as their last step on native soil en route to a new life in Canada and the United States.
After regular steamer calls at Princes Pier ceased in 1952, the tender boats were the only passenger trade there until 1968-9, when Princes Pier was demolished and the Greenock harbour front was redeveloped to incorporate a deep-water container terminal and a berth for visiting liners, known as Ocean Terminal.
After a prolonged dip in ocean-going callers from the 1970s to the 1990s, the Tail of the Bank has seen a steady growth in cruise ship traffic over the past decade or so. Cruise liners will make a total of 50 visits to Greenock in 2017, ranging in size from the 10,400-ton Ocean Majesty (August 9) to the 139,000-ton MSC Preziosa and the 141,000-ton Regal Princess, which make single visits on August 28 and September 13 respectively. The most frequent visitor is the 113,000-ton Caribbean Princess, which is scheduled for no fewer than 12 calls at Greenock this year. The only Cunarder due to visit is the 91,000-ton Queen Elizabeth — this coming Sunday 9 July from 8am to 4pm. Cameras at the ready?
POSTSCRIPT: Hamish Bowie was again in the right place at the right time on 9 July 2017 to capture the departure of Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth from the Clyde, watched by Loch Shira and Waverley in murky late afternoon conditions:
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