Stuart Craig shares his thoughts on a cruise that extolled the virtues of ‘sailing together’. Beneath his report and a selection of photographs, you will find a summary by Paul Semple, WEL general manager, of Waverley’s season so far, followed by four short videos taken on the Ardrishaig cruise by CRSC president Robin Copland.
The Good Book states that “the rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights”, writes Stuart Craig. And as our great comic actor Rikki Fulton subsequently parodied “…..and that was our summer!” It certainly seemed like that this July. On Sunday 30 July, as the steamer fraternity and friends gathered at the head of Largs pier, awaiting the arrival of our favourite paddler, it seemed as though it had been raining that long.
The day had been advertised as a ‘CRSC Nominated Excursion’. A sizeable crowd shuffled aboard under a dreich fug, and off we set, heading down the east side of Great Cumbrae. But as the bow turned into the stiff westerly breeze and swung past Millport, the clouds were wrung dry and gradually parted, and the 400 souls aboard Waverley realised they were in for a grand day.
Passing Garroch Head the sea looked lively, but the old ship was steady as she turned her bow to the north-west, towards the entrance to Loch Fyne – Scotland’s longest sea loch. I sat up on deck to watch our progress. This is such a unique experience nowadays: to sit on the decks of a steamer as she powers her way through the sea at almost 15 knots, past the stunning scenery that the Clyde estuary provides. Around us rafts of manx shearwaters drifted by and beady-eyed gannets plunged into the sea at acute angles, seemingly oblivious to the passing ship.
Aboard Waverley there was a great mix of excursionists. Apart from the usual CRSC suspects, there were lots of families and dozens of tourists. As we arrived at Tarbert pier, I was approached by a French lady who asked me which island this was. Her geography was understandably vague, but she was clearly enjoying her cruise.
The sun was now in its glory as Waverley continued to our destination – Ardrishaig. This was her first call there this season, and evidently a sensible one, for it allowed an afternoon excursion from Tarbert, which around 40 people took advantage of. At Ardrishaig a small crowd was awaiting our arrival with cameras poised: Waverley is such a magnet for so many.
The ship now took a breather for an hour, allowing her complement to wander ashore for photographs, a coffee at the enterprising catering van, or a short stroll along the banks of the Crinan Canal. Here the crew of an American yacht must have felt extremely self-conscious as a crowd of 30 steamer experts watched them negotiate a couple of locks.
Back onboard, CRSC members were invited to visit the bridge (a rare privilege), where Captain Dominic McCall and his officers made us all welcome. The brass wheel, Chadburn telegraphs and binnacle looked so out of place next to radar and navigation screens – or was it the other way round?
On the way back from Tarbert the most exciting part of the voyage (for me) was going between Eilean Aoidhe and Skate Island. Such was the tide that the steamer could squeeze through the narrow channel at full pelt. After heading round Ardlamont Point and past Tighnabruaich, we negotiated the even narrower channel of the Kyles of Bute. Up on deck, heads leaned over the side to watch the rocks on either side slip past, while in the dining saloon dozens of meals were being served by a busy catering crew.
A makeshift CRSC shop was also set up in the after-deck shelter, selling PC’s and steamer photos. This provided additional interest and allowed individual collections to be augmented.
As we steamed down the East Kyle youngsters aboard were encouraged to call at the Purser’s Office to sign up for the ‘Young Paddlers’ scheme. This new marketing idea from Waverley Excursions Ltd was proving very popular, helping to germinate an interest in younger passengers.
I suggested to my friends aboard that perhaps I was not too old to sign up. They suggested that I could only ask, but would likely be more successful if I wasn’t carrying a bottle of beer in my hand.
Back at Largs most passengers disembarked. The ship would continue on to her final destination of Greenock, while Glasgow passengers were to be taken back to the city by coach.
This was a great day out. I loved it, and judging from the faces of everyone around I wasn’t the only one. In my humble opinion the old ship is in excellent hands, at all levels, and has never looked better. I’m sure she is having a great summer on the Clyde (despite the changeable weather) and let’s hope that continues for the rest of her paddling season. Her future needs to be secure – for I want another cruise like this soon.
Thanks to Paul Semple for giving CRSC members and friends a ‘block booking’ fare discount, Captain Dominic McCall for welcoming us onto the bridge, Andrew Comrie for facilitating our onboard enjoyment, and Neil Guthrie for organising CRSC’s involvement in the excursion.
Paul Semple, general manager of Waverley Excursions Ltd (and a CRSC member), has given us this exclusive summary of the season so far:
Here are four video clips, filmed by Robin Copland on the CRSC excursion, that capture the flavour of the sailing experience on Waverley. Click on the square icon, bottom right of each video, to get a full-screen image.
1 Arrival at Ardrishaig (30 secs)
2 Starboard-side wash, viewed from the aft sponson on the main deck (18 secs)
3 Waverley’s engines (10 secs)
4 Returning through the Narrows (55 secs)
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Published on 3 August 2023