Stuart Craig introduces his talk, with the front cover of his new book
Alongside the CRSC’s unwavering focus on ships plying Clyde and Hebridean waters, there has always been room for humour and human foibles — and it was this element that came to the fore in Stuart Craig’s talk at Jurys Inn, Glasgow, on 11 March 2015. A highly personalised account of the ferry scene titled ‘Around the Clyde in Twenty Years’, Stuart’s narrative ranged from 1989 to 2009, with an emphasis on unusual events and sailings. The meeting coincided with the publication of his latest book (see below), which has the same theme as his talk. Whether in writing or in speech, the Club’s membership secretary has a gift for revealing the lighter side of time spent on the water, counterbalancing the more obsessive aspects of ‘steamer dreaming’.
Stuart said he had chosen 1989 as his starting point because it was the year in which he began to take an active interest in the steamer scene — a year that marked Glen Sannox’s departure from the CalMac fleet and Suilven’s first spell away from the Stornoway run (exchanging places with Isle of Mull on the Oban-Craignure service). Paying tribute to Ian McCrorie’s role in encouraging his steamer interest, Stuart showed a picture of a ‘Caledonian McCrorie’ funnel — with the CRSC veteran’s face emblazoned where the CalMac lion should be. If that raised a laugh, there were more smiles when Stuart showed himself on Craignure pier releasing Isle of Mull’s stern rope — though the merriment here had a bitter-sweet edge. As Stuart pointed out, if many of the ships have changed since 1989, so have the regulations: no bystander would ever be allowed to touch a ferry rope now.
Stuart recounted how his island hopping trips — useful for the popular DVDs he makes for the Club — had left him with a quandary: do you sail aboard the ship or stay ashore for a good photograph? The dilemma was aptly illustrated by a shot of Iona at Largs on 7 April 1990, the vessel’s first visit there.
Cue for a couple of stories, the first about a friend who had turned up for the ferry at Craignure without a vehicle ticket. Driver to traffic manager: “Do you have room for my car?”. Traffic manager, pointing to the pier building: “You’ll need to see the pier master.” The driver goes inside and waits. Eventually the traffic manager comes in, puts on a peaked cap and says “Now, what can I do for you?” (it’s all in the way Stuart tells it). The second story concerned the 8am service from Dunoon to Gourock in the days when it was taken by a paddle steamer. A commuter is running late and races down the pier, only to find the boat already moving. So he hurls himself from the pier and lands in a heap on the sponson. The purser looks him up and down, and says “You needn’t have bothered. We’re just coming in.”
In 1991, when CalMac still had a cruising programme, there were ample opportunities for ferry-hopping on the Clyde. Stuart recalled “a day to remember” when he and some friends took the train to Gourock, Juno to Dunoon, Waverley to Rothesay, Saturn to Wemyss Bay, bus to Largs, Keppel to Rothesay and Waverley to Glasgow. On 7 September 1991 Pioneer undertook “a stonker of a cruise” to Ardrishaig, while 1992 saw the re-opening of Millport pier in April by Saturn and an evening cruise round Holy Loch piers in June aboard Keppel. Stuart reflected how, as a faithful visitor to Dunoon on Cowal Games Day over many years, he must be the only one of thousands to have stayed all day on the pier. To prove it had been worthwhile, we were rewarded with a magnificent shot of five ships in one picture — Keppel, two Western Ferries vessels and two ‘streakers’ (and yes, Stuart now qualifies as the only person ever to show a picture of a naked man at a CRSC meeting, identifying the individual only as ‘a Club official’). More merriment.
Iona’s belated debut at Tighnabruaich and Wemyss Bay, Clyde Rose (ex Keppel) and Rhum at the east end of Rothesay pier, Balmoral at Lamlash, Kilbrannan in the Crinan Canal, Juno in the Kyles, Waverley at Kilmun next to Sound of Shuna — all these evoked memories of the early and mid 1990s. From later that decade there were graphic shots of the sludge-trail left by Glasgow Corporation vessel Garroch Head, and of Clansman passing between the Cumbraes on charter. Mention of Clansman reminded Stuart, a dentist by profession, of the rumour mills that had circulated about the ship’s name before she was launched. One of the names being touted was Talisman. About this time a CalMac engineer came to Stuart’s clinic for root canal treatment. Stuart said he spent most of the appointment trying unsuccessfully to extract — not the offending tooth but the name of the ship. Moral of the story: “never listen to rumour mills”.
In 2000, “a bumper year”, Stuart sailed on 54 days and notched up a tally of 24 piers. The following year he achieved a personal record, sailing every month of the year and boarding 33 vessels to 19 islands. An “epic” cycling holiday with his son Tony in 2004 took them on Waverley from Glasgow to Lochranza, ‘Loch’ class to Claonaig, Isle of Arran to Port Ellen, Hebridean Isles to Oban and Lord of the Isles to Craignure. Then came 2005 — the year of the “brand new” Bute, a cruise on Shieldhall and the last time he saw three ‘streakers’ at Gourock (this time without the naked body). October 2006 found Waverley and Kenilworth celebrating respectively 60 and 70 years of existence, and the following March marked Stuart’s last trip on Juno — quickly followed by the debuts of Loch Shira, Argyle and Seabus.
Rounding off with some images from 2009, Stuart named Hebridean Isles as his personal favourite. He spoke for many when he said “we miss the steamers, we miss the ‘streakers’, but some of the ferries around today are not that bad — they’re still steamers of a sort”.
In his vote of thanks William Boyd noted that, along with ferry tales and dental jokes, the talk had been sprinkled with evocative images of older steamers (from the collections of John Thomas, John Liddell and Gibbie Anderson). Best of all, William said, Stuart had given us the inspiration to go cruising.
Stuart with an illustration from the John Thomas Collection,
which featured prominently in his presentation
The well-attended meeting was preceded by tributes to Robin Boyd, the Club’s recently deceased honorary president, from Iain Quinn and Billy Tomlinson.
Stuart Craig’s new book,
‘Around the Clyde (and Other Places) in Twenty Years’, is published by Away with the Caries Ltd
and is available to members at a special price of £12 at Club meetings or by sending a cheque (payable to Stuart Craig), together with your details, to the Membership Secretary – address on Committee page
Where possible, please include an e-mail address and/or a phone number