Old Caledonia gutted by fire – The former Clyde paddle steamer Caledonia, a familiar part of the London scene for the past eight years, was seriously damaged by fire early on April 27th. The fire was spotted by river police who rescued three staff members who were sleeping on board. Forty firemen with ten appliances fought the blaze on board but were withdrawn to the Embankment after four firemen were injured in a flashback explosion.
Kingswear Castle – Everards have made a fine job of the replacement steelwork at the stern and our own volunteers have been busy working on side plate replacement in way of the starboard paddle box and this is now complete. A hectic weekend was spent taking up floorboards and removing panelling to expose the main frames and stringers below the water line. This was necessary so that a survey could be made showing where repair or replacement is required. The quotation has now been received and it is hoped that work can be started shortly. The new wiring is at an advanced stage with all the cable runs installed.
Bristol Channel – After the 1979 season Balmoral retired to the City Docks in Bristol where she laid up alongside Devonia. She left Bristol for the recently re-opened Penzance Dry Dock on 16th February and returned to Bristol for completion of her overhaul. She was due to re-enter service for the 1980 season on 2nd April. Passenger services have been transferred by P&A Campbell to the Landmark Trust. Sailings will continue to be operated by Balmoral which is being chartered by White Funnel Steamers Ltd., a new company owned by the Landmark Trust. Campbells will continue to manage the bookings and services. Devonia, used for relief sailings in the Bristol Channel in 1978 and currently laid up in Bristol is on the market for sale or charter.
American paddlers – The paddle steamer enjoyed a renaissance during the 1970s. In 1962 the veteran sternwheeler Avalon (1914) was purchased and re-named Belle of Louisville. Following a restoration programme she re-entered service on the Ohio in 1963. Overnight services on the Mississippi are maintained by the famous Delta Queen. Built in Glasgow with engines constructed by Denny’s she must have presented quite a sight on the Clyde where she was temporarily assembled. Freighted out to California, she entered served in 1926. In 1947 Delta Queen was towed round to the Mississippi and considerably modified. In 1976 a new sternwheeler Mississippi Queen made her maiden voyage. She is the largest and fastest Mississippi paddler ever built. She is propelled by tandem reciprocating hydraulic engines, powered by gas turbines. A totally contrasting but equally modern stern-wheeler, PS Natchez undertakes two hour cruises from New Orleans. She was built in 1975 though it seems that her boilers and engines date back to 1927. What is almost certainly the world’s largest existing side-wheeler, Alexander Hamilton, now lies rotting in sixteen feet of water at the naval docks in Middleton Township, New Jersey. Built in 1924 for excursions from New York up the Hudson River, she continued in service until the end of the 1971 season.