By Waverley to St Mawes

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

By Waverley to St Mawes

In a now-gone era when it was acceptable, Waverley’s schedulers used to timetable special cruises which were, in effect, positioning voyages. There wasn’t carte blanche of course, as normal certificate and plying limits had to be observed, subject to specially agreed extensions when required. In 1996 Waverley’s season commenced on 1st May at Worthing as a precursor to a short Thames season. More about that another day.

The next area to be served was the Bristol Channel, so there was an opportunity to offer a series of cruises along the South Coast. We joined Waverley at Bournemouth on 14th May for a westward sail to Kingswear, where the steamer berthed adjacent to the station. This is now a marina, so no such call would be possible today.

We were booked in for the night at a B&B in Dartmouth. The host knew our intentions and kindly cooked a “soft” breakfast so, as he put it, it wouldn’t hurt when it came back! Fortunately his caution was not necessary. The timetable called for a single trip to Mevagissey, a small fishing village in Cornwall some 50 miles to the west, with return by coach. There was also to be a non-landing evening cruise. Anyway, we crossed the Dart to Kingswear and boarded Waverley. The forecast for the day was poor but people were made of sterner stuff then.

The Harbourmaster came down from the bridge with the Captain, who said “this is the man to thank for today’s sailing.” Apparently he had advised that with the current wind direction we would have a comfortable passage once we had rounded Start Point.

The paddler was berthed bow in so the first step was to turn her to leave the sheltered waters.

One launch pushed on the stern while…

…another pushed for’ard. We headed out out to the open sea and headed west. The Harbourmaster had been quite right and conditions soon abated and we enjoyed a comfortable passage along the South Devon coast, passing Plymouth. Gradually the wind picked up but it did not create a problem on board as we were going with it.

It was early afternoon as we approached Mevagissey (below) which is built on the slopes overlooking the harbour.

It became clear that it was going to be a tricky landing, as the sea was being driven on to the harbour arm.

Cautiously we continued to head towards the harbour entrance. The Captain’s dog Tip watched progress from beneath the lifeboat. The intention appeared to be to put the sponson on the end of the wall and warp round on to the quay.

The crew managed to land the bow line but the Captain decided there was too much movement to continue with the docking and rang for Full Astern.

Talk on deck turned to speculation about our alternative destination. We knew the large port of Falmouth was about 10 miles further west but we also knew there was a lack of a suitable landing place. Then the Purser borrowed an OS map off a passenger! Subsequently it transpired this was needed to ensure the return coaches could reach our eventual destination as well as Waverley.

We did turn into the River Fal but did not head for Falmouth on its west bank. We turned east instead, towards the village of St Mawes, set of the eastern side of the estuary. There was no suitable landing here either, but it did offer less additional mileage for the return coaches. So we dropped anchor and waited developments. A launch came alongside and this took the master to the quay to view the facilities. In the event, it was decided our passengers would be tendered ashore.

Passengers joining the St Mawes launch.

The first load is away to St Mawes, seen in the background.

Meanwhile, arrangements were being made to salvage the evening cruise from Mevagissey, to avoid disappointing our intending passengers. They were to be coached to join the steamer by launch at Falmouth, as the St Mawes berth was not suitable for large numbers after dark. This was a stroke of luck for us as our bed was in Mevagissey and we could use the return coach to get there! The round trip was also given from St Mawes to cater for car passengers and any locals who fancied an unexpected cruise.

As the paddler would remain at anchor off St Mawes for some time, we joined the last launch to St Mawes with the intention of rejoining the evening cruise, which we did.

The ultimate proof it really happened!

So we rejoined Waverley and she steamed the short distance across to Falmouth to anchor and pick up the Mevagissey passengers. Tendering was provided by the local Enterprise Boats.

Waverley did eventually call at Megavissey, but not until 1997 – and that is another story!