On the Spot: Paul Semple

Into the spotlight this time is CRSC member Paul Semple, who holds the posts of National Chairman and Scottish Branch Chairman of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society. Paul began his association with Waverley as Assistant Steward in 1996: ‘Despite hating it to begin with, it became a way of life,’ he says. He later served as Chief Steward and Shopkeeper, and has done regular spells as Purser on both Waverley and Balmoral. A familiar face at CRSC meetings, in his ‘spare’ time Paul is Principal Teacher of Chemistry and Physics at Kyle Academy in Ayr.

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

A different style of cruising: Paul Semple on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth at New Year 2016/17

Waverley – 1984.  I can still recall waiting on Largs pier as a small child surrounded by a crowd of passengers. The lasting image in my mind from that occasion is of the steamer alongside the pier with her towering funnels, but I could only see the white and black tops above the crowd.

What was the last sailing you took?

Aboard MV Isle of Arran for the round Arran CRSC charter in January. I congratulate the Club for undertaking such an excursion and getting so many enthusiasts to socialise and sail together.

Holidays or family visits: Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran?

I have never stayed overnight at any Clyde resort or island. I’d opt for Arran though, since the sea journey is longer and therefore more time on a ship or paddle steamer. For me it’s often about the journey rather than the destination.

Do you have a favourite steamer (not necessarily one you’ve sailed on)?

I have never really admired vessels that I haven’t sailed on, although over time I have built up a greater appreciation for steamers and ships of the past. My favourite steamer has to be Waverley of course. Ask for my favourite Swiss steamer and I would struggle.

Favourite steamer: a scumbled and rebuilt Waverley in the River Clyde, whistle blowing, in June 2003. Copyright Paul Semple

Waverley’s best livery — LNER, CSP or CalMac?

I think she was at her best in 2003 with scumbling and newly rebuilt. However, without the scumbling I would prefer her deck houses and upper works white so she stands out more in the distance. She did look good with the CalMac funnels, but red, white and black it has to be.

Did you have a favourite ‘streaker’?

I was only ever on a ‘streaker’ twice because ferries did not interest me until more recently. Since joining CRSC I now pay more attention to ferries. My first trip on a ‘streaker’ was from Gourock to Dunoon one way — I was trying to catch up with Waverley, having been left behind in Greenock due to a lack of bakery stores. On that occasion I can’t recall which ‘streaker’ it was, but I did sail on Saturn on her last round trip between Gourock and Dunoon.

Isle of Arran or Hebridean Isles?

Isle of Arran. I don’t think I have ever sailed on Hebridean Isles. Over the past few years I have done a few Campbeltown sailings on IoA. That sailing ticks the box for me, being more sea-going with the chance to eat aboard, and there are usually a few CRSC members around.

A new turbine has been built for the Clyde. What would you name her?


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

Replacement of the current vessels on the Gourock-Dunoon route. Improved timetable on the Ardrossan-Campbeltown route.

A teenage Paul (second from left) with Waverley colleagues in 1996, when he sailed on the paddler’s epic voyage down the Irish Sea and round Land’s End. Left to right: Chris Currie (Shop Keeper and Steward), Paul Semple (Assistant Steward), Ruari Kid (Steward), Gary Stevenson (Chief Officer), Jim McFadzean (Purser), Murray McDonald (Steward), Chris Murray (Assistant Purser). Copyright Paul Semple

The best point-to-point sailing you’ve taken?

Hard one to decide on, if I take this as meaning a continuous sailing from one port to another! Several sailings come to mind that I don’t think I will ever do again.

1. Glasgow to Weymouth on Waverley in 1996 — this was my first time sailing down the Irish Sea and rounding Land’s End.

2. Balmoral from Greenock to Edinburgh in 2002 — getting to sail around most of Scotland was special.

3. Douglas to Oban last July on Balmoral — a great trip with a flat calm evening cruise up the Irish Sea and an overnight anchorage in Luce Bay.

Apart from Millport, which pier would you like to see reopen?

Simple: it has to be Arrochar. It would be fantastic to take Waverley up to the head of Loch Long, berth at Arrochar, then cross to Loch Lomond to join a rebuilt Maid of the Loch and experience the famous Three Lochs Tour. Two Clyde built paddle steamers in one day – now that’s a very exciting prospect!

What inspired you to join CRSC?

It seemed the next organisation to join in Scotland after being a member of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society for so long. The fact that the Club focuses on both the past and the present appeals to me.

Paul (right) with fellow Waverley crew members Celia Maclean and Craig Peacock in 2012. Copyright Paul Semple

If CRSC had loads of money in the bank, what would you spend it on?

Support several projects to bring maximum benefit to the few remaining Clyde built steamers, to ensure their long term survival. Firstly, provide the match funding for Maid of the Loch to ensure she can return to service – I have yet to sail on her. Secondly, create a Clyde Steamer Visitor Attraction in Glasgow. Queen Mary could be the permanent static attraction, complete with catering and conference facilities. Waverley could then have an office, workshop facility and covered dry dock for winter layup and overhaul work. The attraction could also house and display the PSPS and CRSC archive collections to tell the story of the River Clyde and its steamers, with a focus on Waverley and Queen Mary. Finally, rebuild Arrochar Pier!

What makes you continue your membership of the Club, year on year?

The social aspects — at meetings and on special cruises.

What could the Club do better?

Despite its excellent location, I find the meeting room at Jurys Inn an odd shape for presentations, with it being long and narrow. I think it would be more comfortable for both speakers and the audience if there was a room which was wide rather than narrow.

Paul Semple is the speaker at CRSC’s meeting on 14 March 2018 at Jurys Inn, Glasgow (7.30pm): the title of his talk is ‘From Waverley to Schiller’.

On board Balmoral, sailing light from the Isle of Man to the west of Scotland on 5 July 2017. Copyright Paul Semple

Paul Semple (far left) joins other former Waverley crew members for a group photograph on Coll pier during Balmoral’s visit on 8 July 2017. Copyright Paul Semple

The social aspects of CRSC membership: Paul (right) with Cruising Coordinator Neil Guthrie (left) and fellow enthusiasts Alice Hickford and Cameron Shaw during CRSC’s ‘ferry hopper in May 2017. Copyright CRSC

Paul Semple (centre) on Balmoral at Largs on 25 September 2017, with Jim McFadzean and Allan Smith. Copyright CRSC

Extract from Paul Semple’s discharge book from the late 1990s: the second entry on this page finds him joining Waverley as Senior Steward at Glasgow on 1 August 1997 and leaving at Southampton on 21 September. Copyright Paul Semple

In 2017 Paul spent much of July working as Purser on Balmoral on the Bristol Channel. He also sailed north with the vessel for her West Highland season. Copyright Paul Semple

Previously ‘On the Spot’:

Robin Urie

Lawrence Macduff

Iain Dewar

Derek Crawford

Cameron Shaw

Graeme Dunlop

Andrew Anderson

Barbara Craig

Terry Sylvester

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