40th Anniversary Reception

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

40th Anniversary Reception

The beginning of Waverley’s 2015 season was marked by a reception on 21 May on the paddler at Pacific Quay to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her first passenger sailing in preservation in 1975 shown in the picture. Among the guests were Waverley Excursions Ltd chairman David Kells, chief executive Kathleen O’Neill, founder and past chairman Douglas McGowan, Captain Steve Michel together with various dignitaries and contributors to the Waverley cause. John Goss took this photograph of Waverley leaving Ardrishaig during the Society charter on 24 May 1975 (reproduced from the contemporary Paddle Wheels magazine).

Speakers included Captain Andy O’Brian, senior master since 2008, and Lawrie Sinclair, the present chairman of Waverley Steam Navigation Co Ltd (WSN), the charity set up by the Society in 1975 to preserve the steamer in operating condition.

Lawrie Sinclair addressed the guests as follows:

Waverley is the world’s last sea going paddle steamer. She was built by A & J Inglis Ltd in 1947 for the London and North Eastern Railway. When the Railways were nationalised in 1948 she then came under the British Transport Commission. Control was then passed to the Caledonian Steam Packet Company in 1951 with whom she operated till 1972. Following on she served with Caledonian MacBrayne until 1975, when she was deemed to be uneconomic and sold to Waverley Steam Navigation a subsidiary of the PSPS for £1. They in turn passed the operation of the vessel to Waverley Excursions Ltd (WEL) who continue to operate the ship.

That was 40 years ago and we have had many challenges to overcome in these years and operating the Waverley in 2015 is not any easier than in 1975. The environment in which we operate has changed significantly and costs are higher, fuel, crew and maintenance being but three. In addition regulations have changed for all passenger ships over the period due to the losses of the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia along with the introduction of the International Safety Management Code in the late 1990’s and the hours of rest regulations.

In preservation, she has sailed from over 80 ports, brought pleasure to over five million passengers and contributes £7m to the UK economy annually.

In her 40 years in service with WSN and WEL, Waverley has won many awards and accolades, has become famous around the UK – has featured in many television programmes and has even starred in a Hollywood film. She has been recognised in the Core Collection of the National Register of Historic Ships in the UK

Waverley is nearly 70 years old but the rebuild in 2000, with major funding from Heritage Lottery Fund has given us a ship capable of operating in the 21st Century. There have been many people who have contributed to the success of WSN over the years, they know who they are and we thank them, but there is one person who I would like to pay tribute to and that is the Project Director of the rebuild, Ian McMillan who sadly is no longer with us. Without him we would not have the rebuilt Waverley – it is his legacy.

We want to be able to continue to provide a service to the communities of the UK, but we can’t operate Waverley without help. To continue to give the public the chance to sail on this heritage ship, where they can learn about maritime and social history, engineering heritage and the chance to see the environment and coast from a different perspective, we need you to continue to support the ship.

Thank you to all who have helped in Waverley’s preservation over the years from those enthusiasts at the beginning who bought the ship, those who have provided funds or in kind, support right through to the professionals who operate the ship today. To Glasgow City Council who have provided funding to support Waverley’s operation for most of her operation and to the Inverclyde, Argyll & Bute, North & South Ayrshire councils who have supported the ship in recent years. We also appreciate the support of the PSPS whose members have supported the ship financially and through a volunteer effort since day one.

In addition, I should also like to thank the office staff based in Glasgow who do sterling work in the background to keep the ship sailing through good and bad weather and the officers and crew who have the job of ensuring that the ship sails safely.

From the Boards of WSN and WEL we thank you for your contributions and assistance in keeping the Waverley sailing.
Our chairman Iain Dewar then addressed the assembled company:

Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured guests: all Friends of Waverley in the widest sense. The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, a charity, was founded in 1959 to try to secure part of Britain’s dwindling maritime, leisure and engineering heritage. Only 15 years later it found itself the surprised owner of this splendid ship. Even when built, she was of a past age: an expensive steam vessel with operating costs well concealed within the cushion of nationalised accounts. It is perfectly possible she never made a penny for her owners.Nevertheless, the PSPS took the bold decision to try to operate her, led by a group of rash young men who knew no better and wouldn’t listen to advice that “ye cannae run a paddle steamer without Gourock [CalMac HQ]”. I see two of them here today — Douglas McGowan and Peter Reid.

A company was set up — WSN — in which PSPS has the majority shareholding. Staff were taken on; volunteers set to. Funds were raised by and from PSPS and a huge variety of other sources. Included right from the beginning, I’m pleased to say, was my own native city of Glasgow, whose Lord Provost is with us today. The Friends’ network was and remains immense.

Nevertheless, seasoned Clyde steamer experts sucked in their cheeks and prophesied a nine-day wonder. Even the diarist of that august journal, the Herald, anthropomorphised Waverley into a marine monster which climbed out of the Clyde and, left unchecked, would eat her way through the entire West of Scotland arts budget.

And it’s true that when maiden voyage speeches were made almost exactly 40 years ago, just across the river, most people were thinking of getting through that summer and the next. Or perhaps even just that day.

The return of Waverley to service was the result of astounding determination and effort, but few would have dared dream she would still be sailing in 2015.

As the only sea-going paddle steamer in the world, Waverley is our last link with a huge slice of industrial and marine history. She is a living evocation of the social history of the Clyde, of Britain, of day pleasure cruising around the world. To sail on Waverley, or to watch her pass by, is to witness two centuries of history, as if the hands of time had stood still.

But this ‘time travel’ does not come at all easily – or cheaply. Yet we believe it is deeply, deeply worth caring about. So funding from PSPS has been constant. Last year we gave upwards of £75,000; this year, so far, rather more than £40,000 — raised by a voluntary society of just under 3,000 members. But of course even that is not enough to sustain the ship. There are countless others, some represented here, who make hugely valued contributions.

Keeping Waverley’s paddle wheels turning, keeping her in operational — not static – preservation seems to me just as important as preserving ancient monuments and works of art, and Waverley needs and deserves continued support in the decades ahead.

She is a floating time capsule. Some liken her to a marine Stonehenge, our sea-going Skara Brae: certainly worthy of as much public consideration as the Tower of London or Stirling Castle. There is a very good case to be made that Waverley is the most historically important operational ship in the world.

Waverley is indeed even more special than we think, and we need to stand up for her continued operational survival.

Super-human efforts of all kinds brought Waverley back to operation in 1975, but the annual task of bringing her back each Spring remains truly Herculean. Leaving aside the nature of the beast, compulsory annual refits are hugely expensive and they come at the end of a non-earning winter: the relatively short season imposed by our wonderful British climate creates challenges both to income and cash-flow.

Without enthusiasm, 1975 would not have happened. But it has been professional marine management, general management and good governance which, added to enthusiasm, have succeeded in bringing her back every year since.

As Chairman of PSPS which, charity as it is, is the ultimate caretaker of Waverley, I want to acknowledge on behalf of the Society not only everything done by our volunteers and so many others but to pay tribute in the warmest terms to the women and men of Waverley Steam Navigation and Waverley Excursions of this generation, who bring Waverley back to us and back to the world each year.

Thank you, to Chief Executive Kathleen O’Neill, for your staying power, your deep knowledge of the operation, and your determination. And to all your staff at Lancefield Quay.

To Captain Andy O’Brian, for giving leadership in matters marine in today’s modern and demanding environment. The days are long gone when all a captain needed was a compass and a sack of potatoes in the bridge wing to throw at obstructive rowing boats. And to all your officers and crew, pursers and catering staff on board.

To Ken Henderson and Tony Byrne and all the engineering staff, for keeping the steam dinosaurs which are Waverley’s engine and machinery healthy and forever young.

And thanks to the individual board members and Chairmen of Waverley Steam Navigation and Waverley Excursions: to Lawrie Sinclair, for bringing your pragmatic experience of the shipping business and shipping politics. And finally and above all, to David Kells – for your quiet determination, for being the most enthusiastic of non-enthusiasts, for returning the operation to a more even keel.

All of you who work on board or ashore keep our dream alive.

With enthusiasm, with funding, with good management and governance, and all working in partnership —

Long may she sail!