No Cruise for the Crews! – Chairman’s Blog No. 9

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

No Cruise for the Crews! – Chairman’s Blog No. 9

I was fortunate enough to be anchored off Lamlash the other night in David Edward’s fine yacht, Enigma. As is often the case, over the course of consuming a modest amount of Scotland’s finest exports, namely Malt Whisky, Oatcakes and cheese, the conversation turned to all things Waverley. One comment that struck a chord concerned some of the changes we have seen over the course of our thirty year involvement (as of June 16th this year, jings!). In those early days, those who crewed our ships for us, certainly at a senior level had either direct experience of the “driving” of other Clyde Steamers, direct experience of operating and maintaining similar steam machinery, or had the benefit of such knowledge being passed directly to them by those who had. Over the years it is inevitable that the thread of such experience has been stretched to the point of being almost invisible.

And yet…….and yet we have people on our ships who have come into our world of Paddle Steamer Preservation from markedly different back grounds, but still operate and maintain our ships with an incredibly high degree of skill and professionalism.

Make no mistake about it, their’s is not an easy task. Our ships are uniquely demanding “characters”, and the very organisation that sustains their operation is not blessed with multi-national muscle and resources.

I can certainly vouch for the uniquely demanding characters of our vessels. I have known hugely experienced masters with incredible passion for Waverley refer to Waverley as…..well lets just say it was implied that she was advanced in years and more than capable of having puppies! This was usually when she decided to be a bit….stubborn, such going astern to Port despite the rudder being hard-a-starboard. Or her ability to suddenly appear to be made of lighter than air materials when the lightest of unexpected breezes would carry her sideways at a frightening rate of knots, mid cant at Glasgow.

In Waverley’s engine room I have had cause in years past to refer to Waverley either in whole or directed at specific bit, in the most indelicate terms. Threatening, begging, pleading with or generally swearing at the air pump, feed pump, paddle wheel, steering engine to do what they should, is a pastime I can still recall in great detail.

As for the Balmoral I could probably write a book on my experiences of her engine room in the “Sirron era” in 1988, which I remember with huge affection but were undoubtedly “a hard shift”.

Speaking of a hard shift, only yesterday, I had my normal working day from 0830 to 1630, went home, had a bath and bite to eat, walked down to Largs pier and caught a taxi to Fairlie. There I joined Waverley who’s crew had been up probably earlier than me, and when I left them at Greenock at 2130, still had at least two hours work ahead of them to get the ship to Glasgow and put her to bed for the night. Thought: repeat daily till mid-October or thereabouts. Daunting, isn’t it?

You might be forgiven when on Waverley, on hearing the amount of salty sea stories that abound when a few of us get together, for thinking that life on Waverley or Balmoral was just one continuous succession of amusing and exciting happenings. Well, I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that much of what happens, week in week out is just pure, hard slog. Same routine: different day. It’s interesting enough and yes, rewarding but certainly not what you could often really call fun, and incredibly hard work.

Perhaps it’s the fact that, on the surface, our ships seem to be operated with such ease and general lack of….fuss, is the biggest testament of all to the skill and professionalism all of those who strive and labour and in doing so allow us to indulge our hobby.

We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

(Photo of Waverley’s 2008 Crew taken August ’08 at Tighnabruaich by A. Black)

[signature name=”Stuart Mears”]