‘Wherever she turned, her bow seemed to be sailing into sunny waters’

Jeanie Deans commemorated by Waverley: CRSC members and friends gather on the shore at Tighnabruaich for a demonstration of why we exist as a Club — to sail together and talk together. Wherever she sailed on our Round Bute excursion, Waverley seemed to waft away the looming clouds and create a path of sunshine — the one exception being the East Kyle. The atmosphere on board was ‘like a private charter’

Sunday 8 August 2021 saw the first CRSC excursion since January 2020 — a circumnavigation of the island of Bute aboard Waverley. Despite a poor weather forecast, all other elements were in place to make this a memorable trip. Stuart Craig reflects on how the day went. 

At last! Three years to the day, I step across the end of the gangway onto her wooden decks. I’m back on Waverley, and I can see from the benign smiles on the faces of my fellow passengers that they were thinking the same as me: the old ship is back in employment and aren’t I lucky to be sailing on her once again.

Today’s excursion (Sunday 8 August) had been given the appellation of ‘PS Jeanie Deans Commemorative Cruise’ in recognition of  the launch of ‘Jeanie’ 90 years ago. The Round Bute sailing had also been tagged as a ‘CRSC Nominated Excursion’, and 53 members and friends jumped at the chance of joining a further 230 passengers to partake in the first CRSC excursion for 20 months.

Arrival at Tighnabruaich — to a welcome by the Pier Association chairman, Graeme Hogg (right), who also serves as CRSC’s auditor

The ship had started her cruise at Greenock, which she left at 1100 for the first port of call – Dunoon. I joined at Largs, and off we splashed at 1300 across to Rothesay, leaving Cumbrae ferries Loch Riddon and Loch Shira tentatively dancing around each other at Largs pier.

The weather forecast had indicated the likelihood of heavy showers; indeed overburdened clouds had been dumping torrents of rain across west central Scotland for the previous 36 hours. But as we raced (sort of) CalMac’s Argyle to Rothesay pier, the sun put in an appearance and we realised we were in for a great day out.

Up on deck I indicated to my companions the course that Waverley would now take across the bay and up the Kyles. Much confusion then, as she turned to starboard and set off in the opposite direction. Yes, whenever I predict the route a ship will take, I always get it wrong. Waverley was going to circumnavigate Bute clockwise. “Well, the last time we did it we went the other way!”

Past Mount Stuart, past Kilchattan Bay, Wee Cumbrae basking in sunshine to our left, before Waverley turned round Garroch Head and proceeded along the west side of Bute, outside Inchmarnock (unlike the postwar Jeanie Deans route) and into the West Kyle.

The paddler’s passenger limit has been reduced due to ‘you-know-what’ and, while this may mean reduced income, the lighter loadings lend themselves to a more casual, relaxed mood aboard. Personally I always prefer when the ship isn’t too busy, and today there was a palpable atmosphere akin to a private charter. I loved it. It was great to be back aboard, among familiar faces, hearing the reassuring rhythmic rumble of the engines, listening to the insouciant swish of the waters being pushed behind her. Waverley was back in business and I was having a ‘happy attack’.  A glance at my paper cup – yes, it was just coffee I was drinking!

Downstairs in the Dining Saloon on the main deck aft, John McNulty’s model of Jeanie Deans fascinated both young and old. It was superbly detailed and surprisingly lifelike. Her bell now hangs in Waverley’s Jeanie Deans Lounge, forward on the main deck

Downstairs in the Dining Saloon, John McNulty’s superbly detailed 12 foot model of Jeanie Deans was on display. John’s model (how did he get it down those stairs?) was much admired and brought back memories to many aboard. Club member Allan Sheerin’s considerably smaller model of ‘Jeanie’ was also on display, illustrating the wide range of skill required to produce such beautiful reproductions.

Tighnabruaich approached and Captain Morrison touched the ship onto the pier with careful consideration. Our club auditor, wearing a fetching hard hat, helped take the ropes. We had a 45 minute lay-up here, which allowed for group photographs and gentle strolls to be taken.

Still the sun shone as we continued on our passage round the tip of Bute and into the  famous Narrows. Without dropping so much as a knot Waverley was guided skilfully between the red and green buoys, and we were into the East Kyle, passing a now de-masted Loch Dunvegan. It was only fair that rain would seek revenge at some point and the approach to Rothesay saw many scampering for shelter.

Another exchange of passengers at Rothesay, where it was demonstrated that two ships could indeed berth at the same time  – that Argyle again – then it was back across the Firth to Largs. I sat in the Jeanie Deans Lounge for this last part of my trip, for I enjoy the wide-angled view of the open sea from this forward spot, where the bounce of the ship across the waves can be best felt.

Leaving Waverley to head back to Dunoon and Greenock, I reflected on my day during the drive home.

On either side of us today, across the expanse of the Firth, threatening, dark clouds had shuffled towards Waverley’s path, but wherever she turned her bow she always seemed to be sailing into clear sunny waters. To this observer, this was prescient of her brighter future. After a number of serious setbacks, the ship is back with us — paddling across the waters that have been her element for 75 years. Today her engines seemed to run like the proverbial sewing-machine. She looked spic-and-span. Her crew were all smiles — just like her passengers. I can’t wait to get aboard again – luckily that’s only three days away!

Departure from Largs, ‘leaving Cumbrae ferries Loch Riddon and Loch Shira tentatively dancing around each other at the pier’ — a scene also captured by Club member Donald Stirling (left)

At Rothesay, cameras were out in force to capture Argyle’s arrival — with Club member Cameron Wilson (right) in pole position

Club member John Papasian created a special Jeanie Deans commemorative mug to mark the occasion of our cruise. He presented it to our president, Andrew Anderson, on Tighnabruaich Pier

The ship’s bell of Jeanie Deans (1931-67) now hangs in Waverley’s Jeanie Deans Lounge. The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society recently rescued it from the US

It is 90 years since the legendary Clyde paddle steamer Jeanie Deans was launched, and 60 years since Norman MacGilvray (second from left) began the first of two summers as her assistant purser. Also in the photo are John McNulty (left), creator of this wonderful working model of ‘Jeanie’, which he brought along for viewing on our ‘nominated excursion’ round Bute; Andrew Anderson, CRSC president (right), and Paul Semple (second from right), general manager of Waverley Excursions Ltd, who has done a heroic job over the past two and a half years, surmounting all kinds of obstacles to get Waverley fit for purpose and back in service

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Published on 10 August 2021