CRSC to Ardrishaig: ‘A great mix of excursionists’

‘This was a great day out’: the excursion on 30th July attracted more than 50 CRSC members, the majority of whom were photographed on Ardrishaig pier — including Club president Robin Copland (in dark specs beneath bridge wing), Douglas McGowan (in blue jacket next to Robin), Captain Dominic McCall (fourth right), WEL general manager Paul Semple (third right) and CRSC treasurer and curator William Tomlinson (second right). The presence of Fiona Stromier (eighth from left at back), daughter of CRSC co-founder George Stromier, gave us a link with the Club’s origins

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.

View from the bridge: Douglas McGowan MBE (left), who did so much to save Waverley for operational preservation, talks to young enthusiast Owen Robertson during CRSC’s July 30 nominated excursion. Click on image to enlarge

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?

Father and son: Club member Allan Comrie (right) with Waverley purser Andrew Comrie at Ardrishaig. Click on image to enlarge

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 at Ardrishaig on 30 July. It was thanks to his initiative that, after a long gap, the paddler was able to resume her calls at the Loch Fyne port in 2021 and 2022. Let us hope Ardrishaig remains a fixture on her summer timetable

Paul Semple, general manager of Waverley Excursions Ltd (and a CRSC member), has given us this exclusive summary of the season so far:

To the end of July the ship operated in passenger service for 65 days and recorded 80,000 passenger journeys. Only one day was cancelled — Friday 9 June, due to strong winds that would have prevented berthing at Ilfracombe and Lundy Island.
For comparison, the complete 2022 season recorded 101,000 passenger journeys, so 80,000 at this point is excellent.
Advance bookings for the South Coast and Thames are very encouraging.
With only three weeks left of the main Clyde season, several highlights remain — round Ailsa Craig this Sunday (fully booked), Ayr and Troon on Monday, Captain’s Choice cruise into upper Loch Fyne on Tuesday, Round Arran on Monday 14th and Ardrishaig again (from Ayr) on the 23rd.
Waverley’s summer season on the Clyde continues until 27 August, and her final sailings of 2023 are from Glasgow on 14 and 15 October. Bookings and information: Waverley Excursions or call 0141 243 2224.


Waverley is such a magnet for so many’: arrival at Ardrishaig on 30 July 2023

The CRSC pennant flew above the bridge during the 30 July nominated excursion to Ardrishaig on Waverley

Longstanding CRSC member Graeme Dunlop, manning the Waverley shop, had to miss the group photo on the pier

Bridge visit (1): Adam, Owen and David Robertson in the wheelhouse, with able seaman Tony Miller (left) at the wheel

Bridge visit (2): Captain Dominic McCall (third left) on the port bridge wing with CRSC members, including Douglas McGowan (right)

CRSC president Robin Copland on deck with past president Iain Morgan

Cruise coordinator Neil Guthrie on Ardrishaig pier with past president Andy Anderson

Heading down Loch Fyne towards Tarbert, with Arran in the far distance — a photograph made possible by CRSC members’ privileged bridge visits

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)

How about joining CRSC? You can do so for just £15 by clicking here — and you’ll receive all the benefits, including our annual Review of west coast ship movements, a 56-page colour magazine, discounts on special cruises, and access to photo-rich ‘members only’ posts. Questions? Email

Published on 3 August 2023