On the Spot: Susan Forrest

‘Every other weekend we travelled from my childhood home in Kilmacolm to our holiday house on Cumbrae. In those days it was the Maids’: Maid of Skelmorlie at Millport’s Old Pier in 1971 with Keppel, on which Susan Forrest was to sail again during a holiday in Malta in 2016

With a growing number of women joining CRSC, it is wholly appropriate to ask new recruit Susan Forrest to answer this amended batch of questions in our regular ‘On the Spot’ series. Susan lives on Cumbrae with her marine engineer husband Alex. Both are big supporters of paddle steamer Waverley and regular attenders on CRSC cruises. Let’s hear her considered opinion on the ferry scene, and beyond.

What is your earliest memory of sailing on a ferry?

Travelling every other weekend from my childhood home in Kilmacolm to our holiday house on Great Cumbrae. In those days it was the ‘Maids’. It was also good fun getting the car ferry from Fairlie or Wemyss Bay: this would be the day when school broke up for summer. I remember the turntable on the hoist of the ABC ferries — it was quite exciting driving onto it and being swivelled round by the crewmen before entering the ‘garage’. It was Mum who drove us down in her wee car, a Mini Clubman and later a Renault 5. I can also remember the hovercraft landing in Kames Bay right in front of our window. We thought it was exciting.

Lifeline service: having lived in Millport for all her married life, Susan depends on the ferry from Cumbrae Slip to Largs for her contact with the outside world. Her photo of Isle of Cumbrae at the Slip on 13 January 2023 was taken during the ferry’s latest relief spell on the crossing for which she was built at Troon 46 years ago

Apart from crossing to your home island of Great Cumbrae, what was the most recent sailing you took?

While on a pre-Christmas holiday in Lanzarote, we went on the Fred Olsen ferry Bocayna Express from Playa Blanca to Corralejo in Fortaventura. On the weekend before that holiday, we went via CalMac’s Rothesay, Colintraive and Tarbert ferries to the top reach of the Crinan Canal to see it empty. We came back via Western Ferries.

Holidays: which Scottish island would you choose?

I love Mull. I like sailing into Tobermory harbour on our boat, and there are nice walks there. The one to Rubha nan Gal is one of my favourites, it’s so peaceful, only a mile there and a mile back. You can sit on the rocks and watch the ferries sail past.

Do you have a favourite steamer or ferry?

It has to be Waverley. I don’t remember enough of the older steamers. I also love the Swiss steamers.

About the ferries, my views are probably biased by what my husband [retired CalMac chief engineer Alex Forrest] thought about them. For example, he always liked Clansman, and he was present when Finlaggan was being built.

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

I remember the ‘Maids’ as a young girl, but I don’t remember any one in particular. I was never keen on the ‘streakers’ — when I knew them, they were ‘done’. Whenever my husband came home from a shift on them (two days on, two days off in those days), I could always smell the boat from his clothes when he came in the house. Iona was the same — a ‘diesely’ smell. But I do like Bute and Argyle. You can sit at the tables at the bow and get this panorama from Toward to Ailsa Craig, while eating your roll and sausage.

Favourite steamer: Susans favoured spot on Waverley is the forward funnel casing, where she is pictured in 2011 with her children Jane and Sandy and husband Alex

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

Glen Rosa. But I am certain it will never sail.

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

I don’t have an answer for this one. As a youngster, we just went from A to B. Later, being married to a CalMac engineer, I probably got some inside info which made me realise every ferry has its weak point.

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

New ferries. More reliable. Interchangeable. Standardised linkspans.

What new west coast route would you like to see open up?

I would like to see the Oban to Coll and Tiree ferry return via Colonsay and the south of Mull.

Each year more and more women are joining CRSC. Why do you think that is, and what is attracting them?

Excursions are something women are happy to go on without necessarily involving their partners, and the Club’s social occasions make you feel welcome, without everyone having to talk about ships.

At Staffa in 2014 with Club member Craig Osborne, another Waverley devotee with whom Susan often exchanges impressions of the sail

What inspired you to join CRSC?

I have got to know a lot of members over the years from sailing on Waverley, and I have sailed on a good few CRSC excursions. I would have joined years ago if there had been joint membership for married couples similar to PSPS. [*see below]

Do you think the YouTube or Zoom meetings that the Club has instigated in the last two years have been a positive change?

They have their place — they kept the Club going during Covid — but I think people will use them now as an excuse not to attend meetings in person. My husband says you only really get the buzz and the banter when you are in the room at Jurys Inn.

What makes you continue your membership of CRSC?

Quality of publications. Most members are a friendly bunch, and the subscription is good value.

What could the Club do better?

I’d like to see CRSC developing more contact with CalMac management so that we can have a more imaginative excursion programme. Also it would be good if the Club could get rid of its ‘anorak’ image. It’s full of old men. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but the Club needs to find a way of attracting younger folk — more than just talking about it. We were at the 80th anniversary dinner, and more recently at the 90th. Will there be a 100th? I don’t think so. Who is going to follow on?

* Married couple membership of CRSC is now available on application info@crsc.org.uk

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Cowal at Millport on 9 September 1971: ‘it was quite exciting driving on and having the car swivelled round by the crewmen on the turntable’

‘I can also remember the hovercraft landing in Kames Bay right in front of our window’

When Susan and Alex Forrest venture on their annual trip north of the Crinan Canal on their boat Spirit of Cumbrae, there are often opportunities to photograph CalMac ferries close at hand, as on this occasion in the Sound of Mull in 2002, when Susan captured Clansman at speed — before the vessel’s open aft deck was extended, an improvement which Alex, then chief engineer of the ship, had suggested to his employers

A piece of history: the Muck ferryboat Wave (left) tenders to Lochmor on 6 July 1999, viewed from Spirit of Cumbrae against the imposing backdrop of the mountains of Rum

On board Spirit of Cumbrae, Susan can often photograph west coast scenes that are denied to most enthusiasts. In 2015 she captured Lochnevis in the broader context of the harbour at Muck

At CRSC’s 80th anniversary dinner on 16 November 2012, with Captain Robin Hutchison and Alex Forrest

Susan became re-acquainted with Keppel on holiday in Malta in September 2016. The vessel’s promenade deck bore little resemblance to its condition on the Clyde in Susan’s childhood

Susan and Alex’s daughter Jane (right) worked on Waverley in the stewards department in the summer of 2012

Farewell for another year: Alex and Susan on Keppel Pier on 31 August 2020 with their son Sandy (left)

Have you joined CRSC? Click here for your £10 introductory membership and you’ll get all the benefits, including the highly prized annual Review of west coast shipping, CRSC’s colour magazine and exclusive access to photo-rich ‘members only’ posts on this website.


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Published on 13 January 2023