How Eric brought ‘King George’ back to life

By general consent CRSC’s first online presentation was a triumph — thanks partly to good technical execution and the pleasurable experience of a ‘virtual’ cruise, but mainly because of the quality of Eric Schofield’s slides and the nostalgia they evoked, starting with King George V embarking passengers at Oban’s North Pier

CRSC sailed into new waters on 13 January 2021 with Eric Schofield’s superb Zoom presentation. Having to re-think how to continue delivering illustrated talks to its members and guests, the Club embraced the necessary technology, and our first-ever ‘virtual’ presentation materialised out of the ether onto the laptop and iPad screens of the 100 who had logged-in to share the experience. Stuart Craig gives his view on the evening.

The ‘King George’ at Iona, seen from one of the red ferryboats

Our president, Andy Anderson, kicked-off the proceedings in his usual ruminating style; joking (hopefully) that despite the neat shirt, tie and jacket, he was wearing his pyjama-bottoms on the half of him that we fortunately couldn’t see. He gave us a brief biography of Eric: the posts he has held for the club – six in total from 1963 to date, including president in the 1971-72 season and Honorary Secretary since 1993. And to cap it all, Eric was giving his talk on his birthday! I cannot give away his age. Suffice to say he no longer counts the candles on his cake but instead calculates the wattage.

Eric is a seasoned contributor to CRSC presentations and as such showed no nerves, despite this being a ‘live broadcast’ around the steamer world. Under the title ‘Come cruising aboard RMS King George V’ he invited us to ‘imagine we were sailing aboard’ as we were taken on a trip on the 1926 MacBrayne turbine.

We set off from Oban, cruised up Loch Linnhe to Fort William and back, and then round Mull to Staffa and Iona. The steamer came to life in front of our eyes as she re-lived these historic, popular routes. Those watching who had taken these trips for real lapped up the nostalgia, while those of us too young to have sailed on KGV exercised our imaginations.

Anyone watching who hadn’t previously appreciated Eric’s photographic skill was left in no doubt that our man is one of the best photographers around. And one immediate advantage of this new ‘virtual’ medium is the ability to zoom into the photographs to seek the fine detail that Eric so meticulously pointed out. His photographs were, frankly, stunning. I particularly loved the on-deck images, which made me feel like I was ‘sailing aboard’.

At Staffa

How ship decks have changed! Such shots are sadly so often missing from steamer collections. My favourite picture, however, was a shot taken from above Tobermory Bay with our ship passing MacBraynes’ Loch Carron. Can I get a copy, Eric? I didn’t mention your age! Also, the image of two crew members clambering along the belting trying to free a delinquent rope had me gasping at their grasping.

It wasn’t all virtual sailing. Eric gave us an illustrated history lesson along the way. No castle was left unturned as we cruised up the Sound of Mull.

His well-researched account of ‘bloody’ battles and skirmishes and ‘bloody’ bays gave character to his talk – although I think he should moderate his language!

Glancing frequently at the numbers taking part in the evening’s procedures, I noticed that 100 ladies and gentlemen were taking part. Half-way through, this dropped to 99 — probably because someone realised our timing coincided with Coronation Street. But a hundred!

This shows that this kind of technology has to be embraced and is a truly excellent way of being part of the CRSC meeting experience, especially for those previously unable to join meetings, for geographic or other reasons. They can now become involved.

The ferryboat at Appin

We had a gentleman from Indiana, and another from Los Angeles. We even had a chap from Shawlands – oops sorry, that was our president! Another advantage (I couldn’t have been the only one to recognise this) was being able to put faces to names as I glanced through the images of those who had logged in. I could also have a good look at their sitting-room wallpaper and check that nobody had fallen asleep – not one!

Once Eric’s cruise was over, an informal chat broke out between our members. Andy kept this going very well: half an hour after Eric finished, 59 were still logged in.

So thank you Eric for such a beautiful virtual virtual sail. Thank you also Andy, and Robin Copland who helped make the presentation come alive, or should I say ‘live’. It’s my turn next month – I’ve got a bit of a job on my hands to emulate this….

The title of Stuart Craig’s illustrated talk on Wednesday 10 February is ‘My Top Ten Favourite Steamers’. The relevant Zoom codes will be published on this website nearer the time. All welcome!

Photographs on the CRSC website are protected by copyright law. Do not reproduce them on Facebook, Pinterest or any other public platform.

Leaving behind the MacBrayne cargo boats Loch Carron and Loch Ard, King George V departs Queens Dock, Glasgow, for her summer season at Oban

Eric has a habit of finding angles that no one else has thought of: in the spring of 1971 he managed to get between King George V (left) and Duchess of Hamilton in the East India Harbour, Greenock

Heading across the Firth of Lorn towards the Sound of Mull in 1972, King George V has Loch Seaforth, the Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Fingal and Lismore lighthouse in her sights. In his commentary, Eric recalled how ‘the Lighthouse Board ships back then were extremely graceful in appearance and always immaculate, despite being real working boats often serving in very rough seas in rock strewn areas with little in the way of shelter. Occasionally they were blest by some altogether more pleasant conditions — as here, attending to the 26-metre-high tower dating from 1833, designed by Robert Stevenson, perhaps one of the most photographed lighthouses on Scotland’s west coast’

‘Sailing up the Sound we would meet up with the Inner Isles mailboat of the time: here is a 1970 shot of Claymore, with the seemingly ever present Milanda bread container on her foredeck. Dating from 1955, Claymore had, to my eye, a very attractive profile, looking more like a mini cruise liner than the all-year round hard-working passenger and cargo ship serving on MacBraynes’ most arduous route’

‘A regular scene at Tobermory as King George V glides into the pier, often meeting up with Loch Carron, the cargo boat normally having to vacate the pier for a short while to let the turbine berth. I chose this view from 1973 as it gives a good impression of the popularity that the Staffa and Iona cruise engendered. The smallish knot of passengers on the pier, unseen below the parapet, must have wondered if there would be room aboard for them, but of course, some of the crowd already on the steamer would be disembarking here at Tobermory’

‘Even though passengers were denied a landing, Staffa was for many the highlight of the excursion’

‘This view shows just how dramatic and forceful those seemingly innocuous waves could be as they piled up on the rocky shoreline of the island’ — just one of many scenic views Eric showed, conjuring the landscape and topography of the route followed by King George V

Ferryboats at the Iona slipway: ‘Coming ashore on the last ferry run meant that as you landed, those passengers who had gone ashore in the first ferry run were already returning to King George V

‘Watched over by Captain John Gray on the bridge, clearly anxious to get underway as quickly as possible, the crew were well practised in completing the transfer of passengers from ferryboat to steamer as speedily as possible. Often as you were preparing to climb up from the ferry, strong hands under your armpits would winch you up, feet treading air for a few seconds, until you were deposited on the inside deck of the steamer’

‘Internal facilities on King George V, whilst basic, always seemed a cut above the other steamers, the ‘Ladies Retiring Room’ sign harking back to a more opulent period in the ship’s long life’

King George V at Fort William: a view taken c1972, after Highland Omnibuses had taken over bus and coach operations from MacBraynes and the former Rothesay-based cruiser Maid of Bute was operating short excursions in upper Loch Linnhe

The Zoom presentation brought together members and friends from a wide range of places, including California, Ohio, Indiana, Aberdeen, Uig, Stornoway, an Ayrshire farm, the Isle of Wight and many English cities. The format gave participants a chance to put names to faces and vice versa. At the end of the talk everyone sang a rousing ‘Happy Birthday to You’ for Eric. Many ‘stayed behind’ to offer their personal congratulations and engage in discussion.

The audience for Eric’s talk included such ‘Waverley-ites’ as Douglas McGowan, Deryk Docherty, Derek Peters, Paul Semple and Cameron Marshall

It was good to see so many members from beyond Scotland, for whom meetings in Glasgow are usually out of the question: they included Peter Stafford, Graeme Roy, James Gallaher, Martyn Mackrill and Graham Lappin

The number of attendees is shown at the centre bottom of the page: here it says 98, but for most of the meeting it was 100

This group includes Barbara and Fraser MacHaffie from Marietta, Ohio. Everyone broke into spontaneous applause at the end of the meeting, which was moderated by CRSC president Andy Anderson

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Published on 14 January 2021