On the Spot: Kay Hutchison

Kay Hutchison lives in Kent but keeps in touch with her west of Scotland roots: ‘It has never been easier to communicate with enthusiasts wherever they might be in the world’

Kay Hutchison has known the steamers and ferries of the Clyde for as long as she can remember. She is the daughter of Robin Hutchison, one of the best known Clyde captains of the past half century.

Drawing on her long experience as a media executive, Kay in 2009 founded Belle Media which — among other titles — has published Captain Hutchison’s memoirs, Hurricane Hutch’s Top 10 Ships of the Clyde, and the children’s story book series The Adventures of Captain Bobo. Both titles recall the onboard nicknames affectionately given to her father, who died in 2018 aged 85.

Having recently joined CRSC, Kay takes to the stand to answer the crucial questions that all Club members should consider when they are put ‘On the Spot’. Interview by Stuart Craig.

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

Sailing across to Millport for the holidays. I don’t remember crossing on my dad’s ship, but I do remember my brother and I going down to wave to him as he sailed into the pier (probably on another 14-hour shift). My memories are all positive — enjoying the fresh air and gusts of wind up on deck, exploring the ship and sunny crossings with the whole family including grandparents (I’m sure they weren’t always sunny).

What was the last sailing you took?

Waverley on the Thames – Gravesend and through Tower Bridge and back again. It was a glorious day and the ship was packed (she had come from Southend).

Holidays: Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran?

 Arran, and Millport too. We often took a cottage on Arran as we loved to climb Goat Fell and visit the place where Arran Aromatics were produced. Our parents knew quite a few Arran locals — lucky people!

Robin Hutchison c1960 as mate of PS Caledonia: ‘He loved the ships. It didn’t seem to matter which one, as he enjoyed the sea so much’

What is your favourite steamer?

I have two favourites. Waverley and the turbine Queen Mary (when she sailed – although it’s great she is back on the Clyde). Thank goodness for Waverley — we can all still enjoy the unforgettable experience of sailing on board a ship that was made for cruising, for passengers and enjoyment. I also think there is something wonderful in the modern era about being able to go and see the engines actually working — not just some electric motor whirring away quietly inside a casing.

Which was Waverley’s best livery?

I liked the pale yellow and black with lion rampant (I know I’m in the minority, sorry). I loved the CSP colours because, for me, it always meant a trip to the bridge and seeing my father and his (usually) lively crew. But of course today’s colours are far more striking.

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

My favourite streaker was Jupiter — my Dad brought it out new from Lamont’s in 1973-74. He talked about it so much and we enjoyed many trips over to Dunoon, to the Highland Games, pipe bands practising on the car deck mid crossing.   I remember when I was working on board as an ‘ATRA’ (assistant tearoom attendant!) one scorching summer. I couldn’t believe how much food we sold in that tiny tearoom — there was constant demand for sandwiches, buttered scones and doughnuts.

In terms of the ‘Maids’, it has to be Maid of Argyll.  It was my father’s favourite ship, simply because it was the first ship he captained.

Jeanie Deans or Waverley?

When CRSC chartered Maid of Argyll to Paisley Harbour on 17 September 1966, Captain Robin Hutchison was in command

WaverleyI’ve known her all of my life in various guises. I was a bit too young for Jeanie Deans, although I’m sure I went sailing on her,  just can’t remember the details. If only Mum and Dad were still around, they’d know (well, my father would certainly know. Mum was more interested in golf).

A new turbine has been built on the Clyde. What would you call her?

Red Gauntlet. I like the name — it speaks of heritage and swashbuckling tales. It’s also a real steamer name. Thanks to the CRSC website, I saw an image of the North British steamer Redgauntlet [named after the last of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’ novels]. In almost every respect our books are loosely based on real stories and actual events, and when I saw that image I knew we had our steamer name for the ‘Adventures of Captain Bobo series. For kids we thought the name would probably be better split into two words, so Red Gauntlet it was.

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

I’d like to see a fuller appreciation of the history and progress, and that all ships have their place in a hall of fame. My father taught me that. He loved ‘the boats’ as my mother would say. It didn’t seem to matter which ‘boat’, as he enjoyed the sea so much.

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

Wemyss Bay to Rothesay – especially the striking station and pier buildings. The care and attention that was put into the design of these otherwise very functional buildings was extraordinary – an age of confidence and opportunity.

Caledonia c1969 passing Toward, where steamers stopped calling a century ago: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to ‘alight’ there on a sunny day?’

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

Toward pier. I lived in Skelmorlie for 10 years and loved the view across the Clyde.  It’s an excellent place to walk with all the views and the lighthouse. Wouldn’t it be nice to ‘alight’ there on a sunny day and have a picnic down at the water’s edge?

What inspired you to join CRSC?

It’s been a long time coming. I knew Ian McCrorie — he taught at my school (Greenock Academy) and was my brother Glenn’s teacher. I was keen on music, so I also knew him for many years and knew about his love of the ships, his books and special group cruises. I didn’t know it at the time, but the ships really were an important part of my life — it’s only later you realise it fully. When we came to help my Dad write his book, Ian and CRSC were so helpful in sourcing photographs and Ian wrote the Foreword too. Ian told me my Dad had taken the CRSC on the last trip up into the heart of Paisley in 1967 as captain of Maid of Argyll. Eric Schofield kindly presented him with an image of that outing — I think it was the last time anything that size navigated up the River Cart. So, it’s probably about time that I supported such an important group of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people. CRSC’s work is important in recording and documenting such a great part of our heritage.

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

I know it’s an enormous amount of work to produce regular sessions on platforms like Zoom. However, I can’t think of a better way of sharing the knowledge and experience and reaching a far wider audience than is possible at a City Centre venue like Jurys Inn. I’ve only attended one CRSC event at Jurys Inn, and that was with my father a few years back. It was excellent, but there’s also something to be said for an online meeting that allows people across the country and further afield the opportunity to attend. I now live in Kent so I appreciate the online meetings. 

The second book in the Captain Bobo series is entitled ‘On The Rocks’. A third is due out this summer

What makes you continue your membership of CRSC?

Well, I’ve only just joined, so perhaps it’s a little early to say, but I look forward to hearing more about the ships, the trips and the characters that sailed or worked on board. 

We published my father’s book Hurricane Hutch’s Top 10 Ships’ a few years ago and this summer will publish the third in our series of children’s picture books about a captain and a paddle steamer – ‘The Adventures of Captain Bobo’. The next book takes the story to London and Tower Bridge. That series was developed into a radio series, narrated by the late, great John Sessions, and ‘Hurricane Hutch’ is shortly to be released as an audiobook, read by Bill Paterson. In working with John and Bill, and with our technical and production team, it’s clear people are fascinated by the boats and want to know more. They loved the ships and were delighted to breathe new life into the stories. All of this work made me realise that I wanted to be part of the CRSC community. I didn’t want to lose the connection. There are so many reasons to be part of it.

What could the Club do better?

You already do a wonderful job — I’m only just beginning to realise the scope of the Club, in terms of knowledge, images and connections. I’d just encourage you to record everything you do and produce. It’s a precious resource.

It’s never been easier to communicate with enthusiasts wherever they might be in the world. Even in lockdown our ‘Captain Bobo’ series got a broadcast run (English and Gaelic versions) on a radio station in Nova Scotia where they are keen to celebrate all things Scottish, so there’s a great opportunity to continue to find even more of CRSC’s potential ‘following’ around the world.

I know you’ve been doing that already, but perhaps this Zoom age means that we can all better share in the enjoyment.  Also, encourage a few more women and girls to join please — there’s certainly an important opportunity to widen the net.


Captain Robin Hutchison (right) on holiday at Millport with his son Glenn (left) and wife Ann (centre)

Captain Hutchison briefly came out of retirement in 1998 to stand in as master of Waverley

Robin Hutchison (centre) at the February 2011 CRSC meeting in Glasgow, with (left to right) Alex Forrest, CalMac chief executive Phil Preston, Captain Guy Robertson and Gordon Law. Robin also attended the Club’s 80th anniversary dinner in November 2012

Robin Hutchison (left), with his daughter Kay (right), at the CRSC book signing for his ‘Top 10 Ships of the Clyde’ in March 2014. Also present was John Whittle (centre), CalMac’s first managing director and now an honorary member of CRSC

Robin in his 80s with Kay at the viewing point above the Kyles of Bute

Previously ‘On the Spot’ — Jim Stirling, Graham LappinJohn Beveridge, Andrew Anderson, Paul Semple, Lawrence Macduff and many more….

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Published on 26 March 2021