MV Balmoral’s last chance?

Balmoral heads down the River Clyde on the first sailing of her 2016 September weekend visit. Copyright CRSC

The charity that runs MV Balmoral needs to raise £200,000 by February 17 if the ship is to sail in 2017.

MV Balmoral Fund Ltd has sent out an SOS seeking an urgent injection of cash to secure the coming season. “It may appear that ‘Wolf’ has been called many times previously,” Fund Trustee Paul Doubler writes in an email to the Fund’s many supporters, “but really this time he is at the door.”

Doubler said that, given the hole in its finances, the Fund had considered mothballing Balmoral. But so much had been achieved since the vessel was ‘saved’ two years ago that “we must continue in our attempt to sail this summer… For the ship to be made ready with dry docking and other maintenance issues, plus the vital business planning, crewing, marketing and selling of the ship, time is running out. February 17 must be the final cut-off point.”

The appeal continues: “Every avenue is being explored…and possible support from other areas is being followed. If this will be enough or in time is not known.”

Balmoral at Largs on 23 September 2016, with Loch Shira. Copyright CRSC

The Fund is clearly struggling to find enough to pay last season’s debts and get the ship ready to sail by May. The 2016 season was considered a public relations success, with a happy atmosphere on board and extremely positive feedback from those who sailed on her on the Bristol Channel, North Wales coast and Firth of Clyde. Ayrshire-born Captain David Howie was credited with handling the ship extremely well. But revenue suffered from cancellations related to poor weather and technical issues.

MV Balmoral Fund Ltd, which works in partnership with the ship’s operator, White Funnel Ltd, says it understands those who feel reluctant to donate further, given the obvious uncertainty. It is therefore inviting pledges of cash, that will only be called in when (and if) sufficient is reached to launch the 2017 programme. The Fund is also seeking loans, which would help cash flow and be repaid as soon as substantial proceeds become available from the estate of a recently deceased supporter, John James of Bath.

Lifetime Season Sailing Tickets are also being offered for £3,000, to be repaid in full if the ship does not sail in 2017.

“The alternative to sailing in 2017 would need very careful consideration and our objectives would be much harder to achieve without continuity,” the Fund bluntly concludes.

Some enthusiasts with long memories reckon that last year’s ‘bad luck with the weather’ is actually the normal pattern for Balmoral, which was built in 1949 for the Southampton-Isle of Wight passenger and car ferry service. They question whether the classic motor ship — lacking Waverley’s iconic status — will ever make enough money to cover her costs, something it is understood she did not always manage even under the fold of the Waverley organisation (which rescued her from oblivion in the 1980s), resulting in her withdrawal at the end of the 2012 season. Even if the £200,000 target is achieved in the next three weeks and the vessel returns to service, she will almost certainly need a summer of warm weather to generate sufficient revenue.

The vessel’s core supporters believe the goodwill generated in 2016 justifies this last-ditch appeal for funds, and are asking people to donate one more time. If the money is not forthcoming, the future for Balmoral — and for English coastal cruising — looks bleak.

To support Balmoral now, the Fund invites you to press the mydonate button at the top right-hand corner of its website.

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Interview: Captain David Howie

Balmoral on the Clyde – ‘a good experience’

Balmoral heads through the Kyles of Bute on 25 September 2016, with Captain David Howie in command. Copyright CRSC

Storm clouds or golden sunset? Balmoral heads for Largs on 26 September 2016, before returning south to the Bristol Channel. Copyright CRSC