Apocryphal or not

The wooden roundels were first fitted to Saint Columba’s bows during her postwar reconditioning in 1947. This photograph shows the port-side roundel in the correct position

Iain MacArthur recalls a fateful incident in 1958, when the MacBrayne flagship Saint Columba emerged from overhaul with something not quite right about her appearance.

One fine day almost 60 years ago, as I wandered about the smaller harbours in Greenock, I espied the three-funnelled Saint Columba lying at a riverside quay. The veteran turbine steamer had just emerged from the East India Harbour where Lamonts had completed her annual overhaul, smothering her with fresh paint which in places covered a multitude of sins.

On closer inspection it was apparent that one of the two small wooden roundels on the bows, the starboard one, had been reaffixed upside down. The crossed MacBrayne and Royal Mail pennants were now pointing water-wards, a sure sign of impending bad luck.

After taking some photographic evidence of the inverted roundel I spoke to the local MacBrayne staff, and soon the offending insignia was returned to its upright position.

But the damage had been done; the water spirits or the Kelpies were not assuaged, for five months later our beloved ‘wee Queen Mary’ was withdrawn permanently from service and later scrapped at Port Glasgow.

Iain MacArthur was founder editor of the CRSC magazine Clyde Steamers in 1965, and author of The Caledonian Steam Packet Co Ltd, the illustrated history of the company published by CRSC in 1971. A limited number of copies of this hugely admired hardback have recently come to light, and anyone interested in buying one at £30 per copy should email info@crsc.org.uk

Saint Columba in Lamont’s dry dock on 12 April 1958 — minus her port-side roundel. Copyright W.A.C. Smith

Iain MacArthur’s photograph of Saint Columba’s starboard-side roundel (above right) was taken after her drydocking: it had been re-attached upside down. Thanks to his intervention, the mistake was corrected.

Saint Columba (centre) in the East India Harbour in 1958, flanked by King George V and Lochinvar. Copyright Iain MacArthur

Saint Columba in Lamont’s dry dock, Greenock, in the spring of 1958. Note the lead paintwork on her three funnels — an undercoating applied before the traditional MacBrayne colours of red and black top were restored. Copyright Iain MacArthur

Saint Columba at Greenock in 1958 with Lochfyne, which undertook the Ardrishaig mail service in winter and succeeded her fleetmate all-year-round from September 1958 until September 1969, when she too was withdrawn. Copyright Iain MacArthur

A paper napkin from Saint Columba’s last day in service, showing the motif of crossed MacBrayne and Royal Mail pennants that also appeared on the wooden roundels. Copyright Iain MacArthur

Never to be forgotten: Saint Columba in the summer of 1958, approaching Dunoon on her return journey from Ardrishaig. Copyright CRSC J.T.A. Brown Collection

Swansong: Saint Columba makes a graceful sight at Dunoon in her final season. Copyright CRSC J.T.A. Brown Collection