Autumn 1995

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

Autumn 1995

25 years ago… Waverley to the rescue! – John Boxall writes: On 29th May I hoped to sail to Lynmouth from Bristol. Waverley turned unassisted at the Tongue Head. The Lynmouth call was impossible because of weather and the Ilfracombe call was difficult. After going to anchor off Coombe Martin, Waverley was late returning to Ilfracombe as a result of problems recovering the anchor. Everything that could go wrong did. Entry into Ilfracombe harbour was dramatic, the swell rolled her enough to lift the starboard wheel right out of the water. Despite leaving Ilfracombe late, we returned to Bristol almost on time. It has to be said how impressed I was on these sails on Waverley by the deck crew, not only by their skills as seamen, but by the way they worked with the passengers which was exemplary. On the 11th June. I joined Waverley at Clevedon where she was already disembarking passengers from Penarth who were going to be bussed to the West Somerset Railway.

Weather was poor

A call had been put in at Penarth at 12.30 so we had a very pleasant cruise up Channel to off Avonmouth before turning and going round both Steep and Flat Holm, killing time until there was enough water for us to call at Penarth. Although the weather was poor the sail was very relaxing and with less than a hundred passengers aboard and, until we got to Penarth, there was something of a private yacht feel about the sailing. Waverley sailed to Porlock Bay while I wandered round Minehead. The return sailing was direct from Minehead to Clevedon which gave the chance to see some of the coast that you do not often come close to.

Leapt for the controls

However, off Weston I was in the engine-room when ‘Stop’ was rung. Chief Engineer David Harbord leapt for the controls while I went on deck where two people could be seen clinging to an upturned dinghy – had we been only a few yards further away from the coast we would have collided with them. The Captain had seen them from the bridge and manoeuvred Waverley into a position to pick them up. They seemed to move towards us very quickly until I realised that we were simply being blown towards them, which gave a graphic demonstration of the problems experienced in handling any ship in even a light breeze. The scrambling net below the bridge was lowered and they were lifted aboard. Then we had problems as the dinghy was stuck under the port paddle box. By now both the Weston lifeboats were in attendance and were able to pull the boat clear and tow it to Weston while we continued to Clevedon with the survivors where we were greeted by the coastguard and press. Fortunately our two dinghy sailors were unharmed and one of them by now clutching a (free) ticket said that it was the luckiest piece of paper she had ever had. The following day my photo made the front page of the “Bristol Evening Post” and a video of the rescue was show on the HTV news.

66 years ago… Don Anderson remembered a busy Bristol Channel season – In 1954 I persuaded Bristol City Museum to mark the centenary of the first sailing of a Campbell steamer – the Express – on the Clyde in 1854 with an exhibition under the title The Bristol Channel Steam Packets. The “hidden agenda” was to provide a much needed publicity boost to Campbell’s steamers on the Bristol Channel, already reeling under the winds of change which were destined to virtually kill the British pleasure steamer industry. The event was a great success and the legacy lives on in that it provided a first introduction to many of today’s enthusiasts. I had been given a free pass by the Company and I made the most of it, beginning on Wednesday evening, 14th April, aboard Glen Usk on her positioning run from Bristol to Cardiff. After checking the compass off Avonmouth we called there to land a BoT official.

Decks covered with soot

Glen Gower was also in service for the Easter weekend, sharing the Weston ferry and ‘Combe runs with Glen Usk. I went down with Glen Usk on Good Friday, 16th April, along with 393 other passengers. The weather was so windless that smoke belching from the funnel covered the decks with soot. It was Glen Gower’s turn on Easter Monday. In glorious weather she went to Ilfracombe with a capacity crowd having left folk behind at Penarth.

On Whit Saturday 5th June, I was one of the two intrepids who turned up at 7.30 for Ravenswood’s morning cruise from Cardiff to Newport (return by train). The weather was beautiful and later that day I sailed on Bristol Queen from Cardiff via Penarth, Barry and Lynmouth for Ilfracombe. A reduction in her gross tonnage from 961 to 848 was in recognition of certain newly ex-exempted spaces. With 700 school children aboard Glen Usk returning from Weston direct to Cardiff (no call at Penarth) on 18th June she made the journey in exactly one hour – most of which I seem to have spent in the dining saloon! We landed approximately 600 passengers from Bristol Queen on Lundy on Sunday, 20th June. Two launches, Westward Ho and Cambria (ex-Southern Pride) – acted as tenders. That day Ravenswood was full leaving Cardiff on the Weston ferry and cut out her call at Penarth.


Historians relying for their research on timetables will be wise to check their facts towards the end of June 1954. Both Bristol and Cardiff Queens were having trouble with bushes in the paddle wheels and there was some station changing by the two ships between Swansea and Cardiff to enable replacements to be fitted. Bristol Queen also had boiler troubles and Britannia entered service three days early to cover for her. The River Severn cruise on Bristol Queen from Cardiff on Monday, 12th July, was memorable for the 6/- (30p) lunch of soup, roast beef and fruit salad. I have a record of sailing on Britannia from Minehead the following Monday evening – Leave Minehead 21.01, Arr. Barry 21.56, Lv. Barry 21.59, Call at Penarth 22.31, Arr. Cardiff 22.39. One hour and thirty eight minutes was pretty good going for the trip! Britannia was then 50 years old and a veteran of two wars. As a result of gales on 27th July the planned first sailing of the season by Britannia to Tenby was cancelled but she got to Clovelly OK on 29th July and landed about 300 passengers.

Holiday Monday resulted in troubles for Cardiff Queen when she damaged her rudder post during the second run of the day from Swansea to ‘Combe but she managed to make her own way to Cardiff the following day (3rd August) for repairs in the Mount Stuart Dry Dock. She re-entered service on 7th. Ravenswood made a special cruise from Cardiff to Bristol on Sunday 22nd August to enable enthusiasts to attend the centenary Exhibition in the Bristol Museum. Britannia was having some engine troubles and was off service. I noted that she was “running well” after repairs Monday 23rd August, but she was withdrawn on the following day. I wasn’t intelligent enough to record the nature of the problem. Re-scheduling of the remaining ships to maintain the service meant that Ravenswood had no off-service day for 19 days and Glen Usk similarly ran for 15 days on the trot. Highly indignant officers told me of threats to “speak to Mr. Smith-Cox” about the long hours when the season was over!

Compiled by Guy Hundy from Paddle Wheels No. 141 Autumn 1995.