John Newth takes us back to a scene that was part of everyday life on the Firth of Clyde in 1964 but would all too quickly pass into history.
It is the late spring of 1964, just before the start of the summer timetable on Saturday 30 May. Four Caledonian Steam Packet vessels are tied up at Gourock Pier, all preparing for service.
Closest to the camera of the late Robin Boyd is Maid of Cumbrae, decked out with a new suit of flags – the British Pilot Jack at her stem, the red and white Pilotage Exemption flag half way up her foremast, and name pennant and company houseflag at the mastheads. Her paintwork is looking fresh, all ready for a busy summer season.
There are two gangways on board, one amidships and another aft, leading to the small area of deck usually reserved for the carriage of parcels. At the foot of the latter gangway is one of the pier luggage trolleys, loaded with CSP wooden deckchairs. As Maid of Cumbrae was a popular choice of vessel for the early season charter market, it may be that she was being supplied with extra seats from the Gourock stores for a special sailing in the next few days.
Berthed astern of Maid of Cumbrae is the ex-LNER paddler Talisman, unlike the ‘Maid’ devoid of flags apart from a Red Ensign at her stern. She would be spending the summer season running between Wemyss Bay and Millport, and had just returned from Port Glasgow where she had been slipped at James Lamont’s yard for a quick hull clean. While at Gourock that spring, she was occasionally used for some short cruises, notably to Loch Long and Carrick Castle, before returning to Millport.
Lying astern of Talisman is the turbine steamer Duchess of Montrose. She was the last of the Clyde turbines to be fully commissioned for the 1964 season, only reappearing at Gourock after her winter slumbers on Friday 22 May, although she had been pressed into service for a charter sailing from Bridge Wharf two weeks earlier. She too appears to be bereft of bunting, although she has a good head of steam – the pressure being high enough to lift the safety valves of her Scotch boiler.
Also of interest is that the lifeboat on her upper deck has been swung out on its davits, a rare sight on the Clyde fleet, and more so over a pier!
The last vessel in this study is one of the ‘ABC’ car ferries, lying off duty at the wires. Although the car ferry service card advertised the need for only two ‘ABCs’ (with Glen Sannox on Arran duties), the third ‘ABC’ was extensively used for relief sailings, so whichever one is depicted here must have been enjoying a few days’ respite.
In today’s terms, none of the vessels was particularly old. The car ferry and the ‘Maid’ had only been in service for around 10 years, having been introduced as part of the post-war modernisation scheme instigated by the British Transport Commission in the early 1950s.
Talisman was a year short of 30, while Duchess of Montrose was 34 years old. 1964 was to be her last season, and her impending withdrawal had been made public just days before this picture was taken.
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