With Waverley due to depart Glasgow in a matter of days for her annual visit to the Western Isles I feel it appropriate to be reminded of the magic of sailing such waters aboard a Paddle Steamer.
Waverley may have made her first visit to the Western Isles in 1981 but for me my first visit was in 1997 when she visited in late June/early July, due to her early Bristol Channel visit to celebrate the building and sailing of the replica Matthew. Since then I have been back a number of times, some as crew others as a passenger and again this year I plan to return.
A favourite memory of sailing these waters has to be the 2002 visit to Iona on what can only be described as one of those Waverley days that keeps you coming back for more. On that Bank Holiday Monday I can still recall the atmosphere on board as Waverley rolled her way gently back home to Oban with a very pleased cargo of passengers. Throughout the day the weather had been perfect, Waverley looked splendid as she approached Oban bay having sailed from Fort William. The journey out was filled with a sense of so much to come. As the paddler approached the Sacred Isle passengers busied themselves trying to work out how disembarkation would follow. For me I prefer to be last off and then last back on. Last aboard has somewhat more appeal to me in that by being last back you somehow get longer ashore, but by the pursers calculations we all get “the same time ashore”.
Arriving into Oban having sailed from Fort William, 2002.
Anchored off in the Sound of Iona, May 2002.
As Waverley made for home that day the atmosphere on deck grew more relaxed, indeed on those special days I find there is a collective understanding for how special Waverley is. She represents a way of life that has passed; she is a travelling time capsule that somehow has remained true to her former identity. For me she represents so much that has gone before: a window to the past that somehow through it all has survived. She is a credit to those who have stood by her; she is truly the last of her kind.
A further memory I have of Waverley in the Western Isles is from 1997 when I was asked by a certain purser to accompany 95 passengers from the pier at Fort William to the station to pay the railway fares for the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig. I asked the purser the question “Is there enough time?” to which the answer came “ask if they will let you on as well”. In the end I only had to buy one ticket but that ticket came to over £1600! On that occasion Captain Steve Michel took Waverley further up Loch Eil after departing Fort William before she headed back to Oban allowing her and the steam train to exchange whistles. It was another one of those Waverley occasions.
To those of you who have sailed the western Isles on Waverley before I encourage you to do so again, to those who have never sailed these waters I urge you to do so. This is the first time in a few years that Waverley has offered two consecutive weekends of sailings in the Western Isles, it is therefore vital that she carries as many passengers as possible.
With fuel costs rising rapidly Waverley needs as much support now as she did in the early years of preservation. In operating “the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer” we preserve a national treasure, a link with the past, a living museum and a triumph to the determination of the few. This year as in the past please support her as much as you can.
Arriving back at Armadale, 2010.
Armadale again showing off the quality of paint work, perfect paddle box!
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