Summer 1991

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

Summer 1991

The paddle wheel historyWaverley is this season equipped with new paddle-wheels. The smooth, vibration-free running instantly impressed many. Equally impressive were the pleasure and enthusiasm evident in the reactions of the men from Avonmouth Ship Repairers who had built the new wheels. In the past, new wheels were constructed in the warmth, shelter and relative safety of a workshop. These were built up from scratch on board the ship, afloat, in the cramped confines of the paddle-boxes. The last wheels to go out on trials in 1947 were those of Cardiff Queen, and they were very different from Waverley’s. Cardiff Queen was considerably heavier and with fuller hull-form. It was 1813 when Robertson Buchanan of Glasgow thought of the essential motion of paddle floats which would pivot, the motion being controlled by an eccentric. Because a greater part of the wheel can be immersed, this feathering wheel can be much smaller than radial or fixed float wheel for the same power. On the earlier feathering wheels there were problems which were overcome by placing the eccentric outboard of the wheel rather than in the middle. The basic mechanical design of 1833 can still be seen in action aboard Waverley.

Stage and television stars Prunella Scales and Timothy West with Waverley at Rothesay on Good Friday.

Superb day out – Timothy West and Prunella Scales, those well-known faces from stage and screen, were amongst the excellent company aboard Waverley and in superb weather. They were escaping for a few hours from the stage of the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, where they had been starring all week. Timothy is a very familiar figure on our TV screens and noted for his portrayals of Edward VIII and Winston Churchill, whilst Prunella’s role as Sybil Fawlty is indelible on our memories. Timothy is a PSPS member and has sailed aboard Waverley on several occasions. Considering Waverley had only returned from dry-docking in Avonmouth four days previously, Waverley’s two regular captains had done a remarkable job in getting the ship ready for Easter weekend.

Medway hosts four paddlersKingswear Castle is the sole operational steamer. Medway Queen and paddle tug John H Amos may not be sailing for some considerable time. Monarch is a small newly built river vessel with feathering floats.

A day in the life of KC – The first person to show lights the fire and get some steam around the engine. Other jobs include oiling the main engine and pumps, cleaning engine room brass and ensuring water tanks are full. Other members of the crew start arriving and start washing the decks down. Seats have to be set out and brass polished. The heavy brass bell and maker’s plate are fitted before climbing to polish the brass whistle. The engine room fills with steam as the cylinders are warmed. Passengers start appearing. Some have their own unofficial seats and take up position quite early. Others ask “where is the bar mate?” We can always tell when we turn for home, with the wind head on, only the bravest stay outside. There is an influx of people buying teas, coffee and beer. Before long we are back at Strood, time to get the gangplank in place. The trip back to the Dockyard is always the best with the engine in overdrive. Back at Thunderbolt pier tills are cashed up, saloons cleaned, rubbish collected, fire raked out. The crew double up the mooring ropes. KC has done another day’s work.

Snowbound Medway Queen – The bad weather and snow in February held up work for a couple of weekends due to difficulties of getting to site and flooding from burst pipes.

And 50 years ago… First sailing from Helensburgh since 1951; Westward Ho opened the season on the Cardiff/Barry – Weston ferry until Bristol Queen enters service; Sandown sold to breakers. Read more…