CRSC’s new president opened the winter programme at Jurys Inn, Glasgow, with a humorous and richly illustrated talk in which he reminisced about his days as a student purser and compared ‘then and now’.
It is not often that CRSC meetings begin with a picture of a sailing ship. But that’s precisely what Iain Morgan, inaugurating his two-year term as president, did on Wednesday 12 October 2016, when he outlined his ‘rolling in the isles’ theme. One of Iain’s first experiences of the west coast of Scotland, while still at school, had been a two-week trip on the sail training ship Malcolm Miller. His opening illustration was an on-board shot of her under sail in 1966, heeling over as she cut through the waves at speed.
But for the next five years it was the Caledonian Steam Packet Company that dominated Iain’s non-academic life — as assistant (later junior) purser on a string of iconic CSP ships, starting with the ‘Maids’ (1967) and Duchess of Hamilton (1968-9), followed by Iona (1970-1) and Maid of the Loch (1972). Times have changed, as Iain explained: those were the days of a cash economy, when ships were invariably followed by seagulls, when student pursers were “expected to take our pay in food”.
He started on the Gourock ‘Maid’ — a roster embracing ‘Café cruises’ up Loch Striven and the Gareloch, and afternoon excursions to Dunagoil Bay — the latter often cut short so that “I was never quite sure where it was”. Wednesdays sometimes involved tender duties, offering the 17-year old purser a chance to explore the interior of an ocean liner anchored at the Tail of the Bank. Saturdays on the Gourock-Dunoon run were a bit boring — except for the day Cowal broke down mid Firth and Maid of Argyll came to the rescue.
Towards the end of the 1967 summer Iain sailed on Duchess of Hamilton’s up-river trip to attend the launch at Clydebank of Queen Elizabeth 2 (which, as he reminded us, was known simply as Q4 until launch day), so he was pleased to be posted to the CSP turbine in June the following year. Within a week of joining her he was again ‘rolling in the isles’: on one of her Campbeltown excursions the ship encountered such heavy weather that crockery was smashed in the dining saloon and passengers were seasick, with some opting to return from the Kintyre port by bus. But heading back to Lochranza with a following wind, Duchess of Hamilton “flew up Kilbrannan Sound”.
By this stage in his talk Iain’s skill as a raconteur was becoming evident. He regretted not keeping a diary of his pursering days, but he did record that the ship had “only” 954 passengers out of Gourock on Greenock Fair Saturday in 1969, compared to 1,435 the previous year. More than 500 joined at Fairlie, and 700 were aboard for the first July sailing to Inveraray — too many for the waiting buses on the Loch Eck Tour, so that some trippers were denied that option for the return journey.
On another visit to Inveraray the ‘Hamilton’ was fog-bound “so that everyone went on the Loch Eck Tour whether they wanted it or not”. On Fridays, when the ‘Hamilton’ went to Ayr, the afternoon cruise round Holy Isle was cancelled more often than not, but Iain had an atmospheric photograph to remind us of the ship’s one-off trip via Ailsa Craig to Stranraer in 1969. His weekly pay was a paltry £4-8s-8d — he showed us his wage slip to prove it.
In 1970 he traded the variety of the turbine roster for the better pay of a junior purser’s job on the new Iona — confined to Gourock-Dunoon, 10 return journeys a day, the boredom relieved only by spare-time work on his university dissertation (subject: traffic flows on the Clyde, drawing on CSP statistics). He remembers the legendary Gourock traffic manager Eddie Baker as “a well-meaning man with a megaphone, creating chaos out of an orderly queue”.
Iain was occasionally seconded to the CSP’s 50-passenger HM2-011 hovercraft — “good fun for a day or two”, as long as the “bus conductor’s ticket machine” was functioning properly. When it didn’t, Iain spent so much time issuing hand-written excess fare notes that he had to ask the skipper to slow down. Result: the “competitive advantage” of the speedy hovercraft was lost. Iain also spent a Saturday on Countess of Breadalbane — unusually on the Arrochar run. They arrived to find the pier closed: someone had to jump ashore to take the ropes and unlock the gate.
For 1972, “a lonely summer”, Iain was despatched to Loch Lomond as purser of Maid of the Loch. This provided more variety than Iona — trips to the head of the loch, Showboat cruises on Wednesday evenings — but deprived him of the company of other steamers and pursers.
No ‘rolling in the isles’ either: a couple of Iain’s photos, taken from the bridge, showed a blissfully placid loch surface, on which the ship’s gently undulating wake created the only variation.
Even so, the job was no roll-over. Iain recalled one incident involving a mature-looking girl who claimed a child’s ticket (in the days when the age limit was 14 and under) only to be seen drinking alcohol in the bar during the voyage. On being told she couldn’t have it both ways, she blithely announced she had no money left. The outsmarted purser was obliged to file a Travel Irregularity Report (as one did): “No money to pay”.
Tickets were, in fact, a recurring theme of Iain’s talk, with one illustration showing two tickets for the same destination but with different spellings. Another brought reminders of Duchess of Hamilton’s return Campbeltown-Ayr sailing early in the season, when the ship’s complement was made up almost entirely of Kintyre farmers going to Ayr Show.
Summing up, Iain declared that “we all look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles” — an observation that transformed the light-hearted tone of the evening into one of pensive nostalgia.
The CSP had snared him at an impressionable age, he said, and fond memories of those days — the ships, the crews, the experiences of youth — had accompanied him ever since.
The meeting was chaired by CRSC vice-president Rob Beale, and Ian McCrorie gave the vote of thanks. A packed audience — standing room only — responded with resounding applause. The Club was especially pleased to welcome Iain’s wife Shiona and their two sons, Simon and Robin.
CRSC’s next meeting is on Wednesday 9 November, when Richard Orr will share his ‘Memories of a Marchioness’.
‘THEN AND NOW’ — IAIN MORGAN’S CONTRASTS ON THE CLYDE