On the Spot: Graeme Roy

Graeme Roy at Oban, bound for the Hebrides: ‘The enduring hot topic is to have enough modern ferries to provide a reliable service for island communities. The pressure is mounting’

Growing up in landlocked Bellshill isn’t an ideal starting point from which to become a steamer buff, but Graeme Roy’s family were traditional mid 1960s Glasgow Fair Fortnight Clyde Coast holidaymakers. Graeme’s interest in the actual  steamers is a game of two halves: the period up to the age of 14 and then from the age of 50 onwards. In between those times, a career in oil and chemicals, a mid 1980s relocation to London and a passion for flying took over. So, while holidays on the Clyde coast or the Western Isles remained a regular feature, the ships largely represented a means to an end. This is a source of some regret now, as he tries to piece together which ships he actually travelled on in that 30-year period!

Graeme gives credit to CRSC for rekindling his interest and stirring his memories, as well as for encouraging him and his wife to take their first CRSC excursion — the Five Ferries Tour back in 2015.  Since then, return trips to Bellshill to visit his 90-year old mother have usually been carefully timed to coincide with a CRSC meeting, or at least to enable him (and often his Mum!) to travel a new route or board a new vessel.

‘Most mornings I’d walk to the Post Office at Ardbeg and spend some pocket money on one of Mr Darling’s famous black and white photos of Clyde steamers’: Talisman in Rothesay Bay in 1965

What is your earliest memory of sailing on a Clyde Steamer?

As a boy aged about seven in the mid 1960s — climbing what seemed a near-vertical heaving wooden gangplank at Wemyss Bay and being pulled on board by strong men in dark blue sweaters emblazoned with CSP. I’m ashamed to say I can’t recall the actual steamer, but I do remember my Dad having to make this dangerous transition from shore to ship while carrying our cases: we had no car in those days.

What was the last sailing you took?

On the 2nd of June last year I did a solo round-trip between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay which included taking the bus to Rhubodach; then by Loch Dunvegan to Colintraive; lunch in the Colintraive hotel, and back. The trip was notable for the fact that I was the sole passenger on the return sailing from Colintraive AND on the bus back to Rothesay. Satisfyingly, it was MV Bute on the way out and MV Argyle on the way back.

Somehow you feel cheated if you have to take the same ship twice in one day. During the same visit I took an often overlooked sailing from Gourock to Kilcreggan on board Chieftain. Again I was the only passenger; both ways!!

Holidays: Gay Queen at Rothesay. Copyright Iain Dewar

Holidays: Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran, where would you choose?

I was reared on annual family holidays in Rothesay. My parents took a house on the seafront out toward Port Bannatyne. It had a large upstairs picture window with a ‘kissing chair’ from which I could watch the bay, including all the frigates, destroyers and submarines which anchored in the evenings. Most mornings I’d walk to the Post Office at Ardbeg and spend some pocket money one of Mr Darling’s famous black and white photos of Clyde steamers, of which I still have over 30 in an album.

 What is your favourite steamer or ferry?

In today’s fleet, I’m drawn to the proportions of Clansman and was pleased to be on board for a winter’s day round trip to Coll and Tiree a few years ago. I recall the crewman looking unimpressed when I asked to set foot on each island during the brief stops. In yesteryear, and if I’m allowed to go ‘off piste’, can I mention the tiny red-and-white Gay Queen which took cruises from Rothesay Bay to exciting places such as the Holy Loch to see the US Navy submarines and their giant support ships. On board, I was introduced to the delights of Wagon Wheel biscuits. They are still available but are about half the original size.

Which was Waverley’s best livery?

I may be on my own here, but the blue and white hull, with yellow funnels topped by black, adorned with the red lions. Sorry, but it’s how I remember her.

Favourite ‘Maid’: ‘Back then I had no idea where Skelmorlie was as a place!’

If young enough, what was your favourite ‘streaker’, or if older, your favourite ‘Maid’?

Maid of Skelmorlie. I’ve no idea why, other than as a boy, you make fickle and emotional judgements, and I recall Maid of Cumbrae was too commonly seen at Rothesay. Back then I had no idea where Skelmorlie was as a place! The ‘streakers’ were around in my relatively ‘barren years’ of the 1980s, so I have no memories of them and, to me, they just looked too functional and lacking romance.

What name would you give the second of the ferries being built at Fergusons just now? You can be imaginative!  

Time for a new Talisman or a new Suilven? My wife and I spent a cosy night in one of Suilven’s sleeping cabins from Stornoway to Ullapool in 1988. It was in the days when Sunday working was forbidden in the Outer Hebrides, so when we turned up at Stornoway pierside in the evening, I was asked to hand over the keys of my beloved Golf GTI and was told that a sailor would drive it onboard for me in the very early hours of the Monday morning. I wasn’t happy, but it turned out ok.

Looking back, what is the perfect example of the Clyde steamer, or car ferry?

That’s a difficult one. From a passenger experience and romance point of view, and if we’re talking Clyde rather than Western Isles, then it probably has to be a paddler like, Jeanie Deans, Waverley or Caledonia. But if we’re talking efficiency and functionality in the modern era of the car and ‘green’ environmental credentials, then I’d say Western Ferries’ current Sound of Seil and Sound of Soay, or Calmac ferries such as Hallaig and Catriona.

At sea with Mum

What would you like to see happen on the Clyde ferry scene over the next few years?

The enduring hot topic is to have enough modern ferries to provide a reliable service for the island communities and tourism. The pressure is mounting.

The best point-to-point route you’ve sailed on?

I have two! First, Oban to Lochboisdale on board Claymore in 1988 with my wife. We left Oban late; there was a Force 7 gale, and in the open sea even the crew members were coming up for fresh air. We arrived in Lochboisdale after 10pm and still had to drive to our remote hunting lodge hotel on North Uist. Arriving at midnight, we banged on the door to no avail. We bedded down in the car but were wakened at 2am by the ominous scrunching of gravel approaching the car, a knock on the window and a voice exclaiming ‘Oh Mr Roy, there has been a terrible mistake!’ To cut a long story short, the owner had left his son in charge, but he had snuck off to spend the night with his girlfriend. You can imagine the atmosphere at breakfast in the morning! Second, to satisfy both of my transport passions, Loganair Twin Otter from Glasgow to Barra beach airport and then returning by Isle of Lewis to Oban the next morning.

Apart from Millport, which pier would you like to see re-open?

Inveraray. I see that the local community needs another £80,000 to reach their £100,000 target to carry out remedial work before re-opening it to the public.

What inspired you to join CRSC?  

The interest in travelling to the Clyde coast and beyond has never disappeared even after 35 years of living outside Scotland. CRSC provides a way to re-connect with my childhood memories and encourages me to make new journeys. And I like the Calendar!

Isle of Lewis at Castlebay — one of Graeme’s happy Hebridean memories

Would you like to see Zoom meetings become a permanent feature of the Club’s year, even once normal meetings are allowed again?

Yes please!! As someone who lives far away, this is one good thing which has resulted from the pandemic. It has made the Club much more accessible and inclusive. The standard of presentations has been very high and also very imaginative. But I will still try to get to two face-to-face meetings per year.

What makes you continue your membership of CRSC?

I’ m very impressed by the way the CRSC is organised; also the fact you have built a relationship with CalMac. There is great depth of knowledge amongst the committee and the members. The quality of the online articles and the hardcopy publications is excellent. The atmosphere is friendly even for someone like me who is relatively distant. Great value for money too.

What could the Club do better?

I can already see good efforts to include younger people. Keep diversifying the membership and ask those people what they want more of, to ensure they stay.

Also, future-proof the CRSC Committee succession. I’m a Trustee of Historic Croydon Airport and I know that when you lose a few stalwarts, big holes can emerge!

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‘If we’re talking efficiency and functionality, then I’d cite Western Ferries’ Sound of Soay

On the Kilchoan ferry, with Lord of the Isles heading past Rubha Nan Gall lighthouse in the background

Environmental credentials: CalMac’s ‘hybrid’ ferry Catriona discharges vehicles at Cumbrae Slip in January 2022

‘CRSC provides a way to re-connect with my childhood memories and encourages me to make new journeys’: the CRSC bus drives off Loch Tarbert at Claonaig during the October 2015 Five Ferries Hopper — Graeme Roy’s first CRSC excursion


Rob Beale

Lawrence Macduff

Carrie MacKinnon

Allan Smith

Paul Semple

Stuart McMahon

Barbara Craig

Charles McCrossan

Andrew Anderson

Anne Mitchell

Fraser MacHaffie

Gavin Stewart

Graeme Phanco

Walter Bowie

Kay Hutchison

Graham Lappin

Jim Stirling

and plenty more….

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Published on 24 February 2022