On the Spot: Stuart McMahon

Ardrossan, 30 July 2008: while Caledonian Isles sits at the link span berth, passengers board Waverley at Winton Pier for a charity cruise organised by Stuart McMahon to raise funds for the Vine Trust. The total handed over to the Trust was £4,500. Legendary Waverley purser Jim McFadzean stands on the right. It was the paddler’s first visit to Ardrossan in 24 years

Although a relative newcomer to CRSC, Stuart McMahon has long been an enthusiastic observer of the Scottish ferry scene. He runs the ClydeMaritime website and his distinctive contributions to our Facebook page have been much admired, especially from his home town of Ardrossan: over the years he has seen a wide variety of vessels there, from Saturn and Pentalina to the Isle of Man ferries — not forgetting Waverley in July 2008, when he chartered the paddler for a charitable fundraising cruise.

Stuart, 53, is a graphic designer by trade, but it was as a church organist in Saltcoats that he first made contact with the music-loving Ian McCrorie, one of CRSC’s greatest ambassadors until his death two years ago. ‘Ian is greatly missed’, says Stuart.

In his answers to our regular ‘On the Spot’ questions, Stuart suggests CRSC could be more ‘practical’ in its attempts to engage with younger enthusiasts.

The most recent sailing undertaken by Stuart McMahon was a trip to Tarbert on Waverley on 18 August, when he took this ‘selfie’ as the paddler lay at the pier

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

The earliest I can recall was being taken by my grandfather on a cruise on Glen Sannox in the late 1970s when I was a wee boy, and a vague recollection of seeing Queen of Scots in Rothesay Bay.

What was the last sailing you took?

A trip on Waverley on 18th August from Largs to Tarbert with a couple of friends. Prior to that, a short hop over to Cumbrae in July, outbound on Loch Shira and return on Loch Linnhe. That was my first trip ‘overseas’ since Covid restrictions were introduced in March 2020. I had hoped to go to Arran by now, but there’s always been too many things happening!

Holidays: Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran?

I think it’s got to be Arran – so many lovely areas on the island, particularly on the west side overlooking Kilbrannan Sound. I do recall a holiday in Dunoon as a wee boy with my parents, when an almighty thunderstorm came up the Clyde and lasted for what seemed an eternity!

What is your favourite steamer?

The only one on the Clyde I’ve ever known is Waverley. I was delighted to charter her back in 2008 for a charity fundraising cruise [the Vine Trust] from Ardrossan – her first visit to the port in 24 years. My interest in boats and ferries was kindled by my grandfather and parents who often took me down to see the Isle of Man steamers at Ardrossan, Ben-My-Chree and Lady of Mann being my two favourites.

Stuart has a childhood memory of seeing Isle of Man steamer Ben-My-Chree at Ardrossan. Here she is at Govan dry dock in April 1976. Click on image to enlarge

Which was Waverley’s best livery?

I’ve only ever known  Waverley in her current livery – which is very distinct and recognisable.

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

I only ever sailed on Jupiter and Saturn. Juno always evaded me. Saturn was probably my favourite as she appeared to be the most versatile streaker in the fleet, covering other runs such as Ardrossan/Brodick in summer. Such a shame to see her rotting away in Orkney now.

Jeanie Deans or Waverley?

Waverley – Jeanie Deans had stopped sailing before I was born, so I never saw her!

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

Given that we’ve currently got Clansman and Hebrides, it would be nice to resurrect either Columba or Claymore.

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

How long have you got? Better integrated transport and ticketing at the key ports where buses and trains meet all ferries. In timetabling, more late night ferries to accommodate day tourists – it seems mad that the Arran run has a late boat on a Friday night but no other day of the week. A late boat leaving Brodick at 2140 on a Saturday and/or Sunday would enable day trippers to enjoy, for example, a relaxed evening meal on the island which in turn would bring some much needed income for island businesses. And with new ferries – a standardised design which can be built quickly without having to reinvent the wheel all the time, and that can be used throughout the network and fits the majority of ports without major port infrastructure works.

Waverley at Portencross on 16 April 1995. This was very much a one-off visit, masterminded by Captain Steve Michel. The pier had had no excursion steamer calls since before the First World War, and Waverley has never been back. Stuart was present for the 1995 call, and would now like to see a repeat visit

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

That’s a tricky one! Waverley’s Glasgow to Oban positioning cruise at the start of her West Highland season is a great sail, and I’ve enjoyed my sailings from Scrabster to Stromness on Hamnavoe, passing the Old Man of Hoy. I encountered some ‘interesting’ sea conditions in Hoy Sound on the old St Ola. On my most recent visit to Orkney in 2018, I managed a trip on Earl Thorfinn out to North Ronaldsay: you sail past many of the outer isles and experience the lift on/lift off operations of the ferry.

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

Portencross. Whilst theres not a lot to see and do at Portencross at present, it would give the castle a huge boost in visitors. I’ve got memories (and photos somewhere) of Waverley’s last visit there, with a gangway strategically positioned over the gaping hole in the pier deck.

What inspired you to join CRSC?

For many years I’ve published the local shipping groups’ syllabuses on my ClydeMaritime website, and numerous talks had caught my eye. Until recently, I worked in Glasgow city centre and had always intended coming along to some of the meetings after my work — but for one reason or another that never happened! Similarly, I’ve always had other engagements when the Club’s cruises took place, but I was on the CRSC charter of Caley Isles’ when she circumnavigated Arran in February 2004. With the move to online meetings via Zoom, I finally bit the bullet and signed up, and hope to have a bit more free time in future to support the cruises.

Stuart can’t remember exactly when he took this photo of Seacat Scotland at Troon Harbour, but he likes to nip over there when something unusual is happening

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

Definitely, as it has opened the Club up to worldwide audiences, many of whom can’t attend a physical meeting. Through my church I have firsthand knowledge of the problems of providing live streaming, especially in a hired venue, but it can be done and is certainly worth the effort.

What makes you continue your membership of CRSC?

This is my first year in the Club. I enjoy seeing everyone’s photos of the ferries and steamers, whether current or from times past. It is also good to meet folk in person when out and about — such as watching Pentalina’s berthing trials at Ardrossan this summer.

What could the Club do better?

Being new into the Club I’m not sure – but maybe more marketing initiatives aimed at the younger generation, or organisations that have large youth memberships, whether that be through special rates for groups or young individuals on some of the cruises, and online campaigns highlighting the Club through the various trendy social media sites. Or something practical that young folk can come along to and physically do – I read the other day of a story from Orkney where Stromness Academy had a group of pupils who were given basic sailing and water safety lessons.

All images on the CRSC website are protected by copyright law. Do not reproduce them on Facebook, Pinterest or any other public platform.

Getting it right: Stuart crouches to get the best angle on Loch Linnhe as the ferry leaves Tobermory for Kilchoan in 2004

Stuart was on hand at Ardrossan Harbour earlier this month to capture one of Coruisk’s rare visits there

One of Stuart’s most atmospheric recent shots: Waverley, Loch Riddon and Loch Shira at Largs in the late evening of 7 September 2021

Here is Stuart’s distinctive take on Pentalina when the Pentland Ferries catamaran visited Ardrossan for trials on 14 June 2021. When he posted it on our Facebook page, he wrote: ‘Good to meet a few CRSC members down at the harbour’

Stuart McMahon has long had a good eye for a view: here is the scene he captured from the top deck of Jupiter as she pulled away from Dunoon in the summer of 2010. Stuart says it’s a shame that the sole surviving ‘streaker’, Saturn, is ‘rotting away’ in Orkney

Another stunner: Waverley heads down the River Clyde on 9 April 2004, viewed from what was then the Moat House Hotel

Although he had not yet joined the Club, Stuart bought a ticket for the CRSC Round Arran charter of Caledonian Isles on 7 February 2004. He captured Ian McCrorie chatting with a group of younger enthusiasts in the ship’s lounge bar — (clockwise starting from far left) Ian McCrorie (holding a colour slide), Shelagh Holt, Geoff Russell, Al Black (white T-shirt), Gavin Stewart (half out of picture), Bruce Biddulph (founder of Clydesite, wearing NATO-style blue jersey and baseball cap) and Neil Guthrie (foreground)

Waverley arriving at Ardrossan Harbour for the Vine Trust fundraising charter organised by Stuart on 30 July 2008

Stuart McMahon (centre) on the bridge of Waverley on 30 July 2008, when he handed a cheque for £4,200 to the Vine Trust’s chairman, Willie Macpherson (right). The final figure was actually £4,500. Captain Steve Michel stands on the left

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Lawrence Macduff

Paul Semple

Barbara Craig

Charles McCrossan

Andrew Anderson

Anne Mitchell

Fraser MacHaffie

Gavin Stewart

Graeme Phanco

Walter Bowie

Kay Hutchison

Graham Lappin

Jim Stirling

Carrie MacKinnon

and plenty more….

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Published on 25 October 2021