The January gloom was lifted for 90 minutes at the first CRSC meeting of 2018. ‘PS Maid of the Loch O.A.P.’ was the title of a joint presentation by Robert Cleary and John Beveridge, and the 82 lucky souls in the audience were given a nostalgic and uplifting treat. Report by Stuart Craig.
Robert served as purser on the Loch Lomond steamer from 1973 to her final tying-up in August 1981. He had previously served aboard the Clyde ‘Maids’ but — judging by his beautifully illustrated talk — Cleary clearly came into his own aboard Britain’s last freshwater paddler.
He offered an in-depth account of the work of a purser: selling tickets, making up crew wages (only to watch them being handed over to anxious wives on the pier), banking cash, arranging for three sittings of lunch and making sure those wanting off at Inversnaid were appropriately directed. One interesting point that Robert raised was that Loch Lomond lacked, and still lacks, a “focal-point destination”, unlike, say, Lake Windermere. Thus the ‘Maid’ rarely carried her 1,000 complement.
Robert gave us a few funny stories along our journey — like the Daily Record Fashion Show held aboard, with scantily clad models sitting on the sponsons in pouring rain; or the sailing given on a very foggy day when none of the passengers noticed that the ship had circumnavigated Inchmurrin twice.
1975 saw a change of manager in charge of excursions for CalMac and a new funnel colour for the ship (red and black). This improved things and passenger numbers rose 20%. However, times were a changing and even the input of Stathclyde Regional Council cash in 1976 failed to stimulate the managerial expertise required to market sailings and cater for customer service. Despite rebuilding work at Rowardennan, Inversnaid and Luss piers, Maid of the Loch’s paddles stopped turning at the end of the 1981 season.
Robert’s presentation illustrated his enjoyment and enthusiasm for his time aboard.
Next up was John Beveridge, who gave us the story of Maid of the Loch from lay up in 1981 to the present day — and beyond. Firstly he explained the OAP suffix in the title of the presentation. He took it to mean ‘Operational Again Please’ and that is exactly what John is all about – after all, he is Chairman of the Trust that now owns her, The Loch Lomond Steamship Company.
We were shown pictures of the awful condition of the ship when taken over by the Trust in 1995 after a cascade of indifferent owners: rusting engines, knee-deep water in the lower bar, and grass and ferns growing in the dining saloon. The work that has been completed to reverse all this over the last 15 years is astonishing, and John went into the detail of it all in a clear and concise manner which had his audience enthralled.
Acknowledging the leadership of the late Colin Paterson, and indeed all the volunteers involved in her restoration, John took us through the restoration of the onshore winch house and slipway, and the renewal of all passenger areas and decking. Brass and copper fittings had been stolen from the ship, including some items that had been removed by oxy-acetylene!
However the engine remains in situ and is apparently in good condition. The Builder’s Plate was returned after a public appeal but the ship still needs a shopping-list of equipment before she can paddle again: a radar, internet mast, disabled toilet, a lift, a fast-rescue craft, oh, and a boiler, please.
The Trust is tantalisingly close now to raising the funds necessary to allow the promised Heritage Lottery Fund cash to be handed over. With someone like John at the helm, we can realistically look forward to his portent that “2019 will be a big year for Maid of the Loch”. The ‘Maid’ came alive for a while last night. Let’s hope she steams away from her Balloch resting place for real in the near future.
This was a fascinating presentation by two passionate steamer enthusiasts. Their individual input and styles complemented each other perfectly. Well done chaps.
The vote of thanks was given by Richard Orr, himself a former steamer purser.
At the beginning of the evening tributes were given by Ken Mills and Iain Morgan to the late Dick Smith and Colin McNab, both whom passed away recently. Both had served the CRSC well over the years.
To contribute to Maid of the Loch’s restoration, click on Loch Lomond Steamship Company.
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