Spring 1996

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

Spring 1996

25 Years Ago… Trust are the Maid’s New Owners – On 4th of December, the council officially transferred ownership of the paddler to the Maid of the Loch Trust. Three years exactly to the day, Dumbarton District council purchased the ship. The Trust was established by the council in March 1995 with the promise that on successfully raising the sum of £200,000 the ship would be given free of charge to the Trust. The target having been achieved, a short ceremony on board saw the handover of the title deeds. It was attended by the press and TV and by Scottish broadcaster Jimmy MacGregor who willingly lent his support.

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich – is to run a two day course on paddle steamers on 14/15th June. The development the sea-going paddle steamer has particular technological challenges to both Merchant and Naval designers. The course looks at how these problems were solved and the vessels’ survival in the excursion trade. On the second day students will learn about the problems of operating the paddle steamer today and undertake a 2 hour voyage on PS Kingswear Castle. Lectures are open to all whether for a major research, preparation for further study. The fee for the two day course is £70.00. Tutors include Captain John Megoran.

The End of an Era? – Its 25 years since Ashley Gill wrote an account of a trip on the Danube in what was thought to be the final days of the DDSG diesel paddlers.

In 1995 the two paddlers Stadt Wien and Stadt Passau offered the unique and rewarding paddling experience of a three day return trip from Vienna to Passau. The Economist had announced the closure of the Erste Donau Dampschiffahrts Gesellschaft (DDSG). However, reassurances direct from the company confirmed that the ‘machines’ would be in ‘steam’ until October. Unique in Europe, these ships were the only paddlers with overnight passenger accommodation. Eight of the 24 cabins were in the sponsons. These ‘A’ class cabins with WC were comfortably equipped. Free mints carefully placed on the pillows provided some welcome nourishment. A large cabin window offered an excellent view of the floodlit Kaiser Jubiläumskirche (church). The noise of rushing water through the paddles was ever present along with the occasional bang as the paddler shifted against the mooring barge. Stadt Wien suffered from that age old problem of dampness in the sponsons and this was particularly noticeable in the WC. Some hours later I was rudely awoken by tap-tap-tap, tap-tap, a few feet from by head. The crew had seen fit to tighten the paddle wheel nuts at 6:30am!! On deck crew members were busy preparing the steamer for the 8am departure. Across from my cabin was the engine room where the mighty diesel engines were silently awaiting the 15 hour long haul to Linz. Other members of the DDSG fleet were also alongside.

Quieter Than Expected

On board Stadt Wien the main engines were being fired up. They were much quieter than expected and this was still the case when underway. The passenger accommodation on board is very spacious. On the main deck forward is one of the dining saloons which I couldn’t help feeling were trapped in the 1950s. In the starboard engine-room alleyway was a display case containing a wide range of souvenirs including books, ties, T-shirts, etc. The alleyways contain two sets of viewing windows into the engine-room, one for the main engines and the other for the gearing and paddle shaft. Unfortunately, there are no portholes to view the paddle wheels and passengers could be forgiven for not realising that they were on a paddler. The promenade deck’s open areas stretch almost to the bow and stern and are partially covered and typically for a Danube paddler glass screens are provided as a wind break. The wheelhouse is split in to three shelters one in the middle and one on each sponson.

Immense Power

At 8am on the dot the wire hawsers were let go and the paddles responded immediately to direct control from the bridge. The immense power became apparent as we moved away from the berth against the flow of the river. The diesel engines were inaudible and the only vibration came from the action of the paddles. The first call at Vienna Nußdorf enables a connection with the suburban rail services but only about half a dozen passengers joined to swell the complement to around one hundred. The 15-hour single trip to Linz costs nearly £50 although as an enthusiast the trip is worth every penny. Locks are encountered at Greifenstein where the paddler makes the only call of the day by any vessel. The rope handler could be seen cycling towards the pier where he unfurled and raised the DDSG house flag. Once the steel hawsers were ecured a couple of cyclists disembarked to join the path along the river bank. Before the building of the hydroelectric schemes it had been possible to sail the 297km journey from Passau to Vienna in only 13 hours but with the slowing of the river this journey now requires an overnight stop in Linz.

Massive Locks

The locks are massive at 240 metres by 24. The water level rises rapidly and the paddles are kept turning to avoid straining the moorings. The best scenery on the stretch from Vienna to Linz is concentrated in the Wachau Valley between Krems and Melk. After Krems the characteristic scenery of the Wachau, Baroque architecture and ruined castles dominates. The river is fast flowing through the valley as there are no barrages in the area. I changed paddlers at Spitz in order to return to Vienna. The gangways are formed by two wooden gangways side by side to make one, as they only have one railing each. I disembarked at Spitz and lingered at the landing stage to see Stadt Wien paddle away disappearing round a bend in the river.

Stadt Wien was completed in 1939 by Schiffswerft Korneuberg in Vienna with the Sulzer engines coming from the Winterthur works. Stadt Passau was completed a year later at the same yard but the Sulzer engines came from the Ludwigshaven works. The two vessels are virtually identical and were essentially a modification of the design adopted for previous steamers. However, they were fitted with very squat funnels and short masts both of which can be lowered or collapsed to negotiate low bridges. The paddlers are 249 ft long and 53 ft wide overall with a draught of nearly 9 feet and originally carried 1400 passengers. For comparison, Waverley is 240 ft long. The passenger certificates have since been reduced but are curiously higher for Stadt Passau (950) than for Stadt Wien (800). They joined an extensive steamer fleet but all the others were gone by the late 80’s. Stadt Passau looked impressive and was very different to Stadt Wien. The steamer was pretty busy and immaculately turned out. Even in the engine-room the blue diesels sparkled with carefully placed cloths catching the slightest drop of oil. The crew were all very keen and the souvenir shop well stocked. The river passed by much more quickly going downstream and we soon left the Wachau Valley behind. Our speed was exhilarating and was most evident when entering the locks. With only a few feet to spare on either side we would enter at full speed the thumping paddle beat bouncing back off the walls.

Full Astern!

The paddles were then put into full astern before losing speed and with much banging and wash we ground to a halt a few feet from the end of the lock… breathtaking. As we turned in the river at Vienna there were just a few hardy passengers remaining on deck. After 166 years the passenger services of the DDSG are finally to end. The company established by the Englishmen Joseph Pritchard and John Andrews, even at its height struggled to make a profit. Sadly, the mighty paddles will turn no more as they suffer a lingering end as floating restaurants. It is unlikely the three-day return service from Vienna to Passau will run again as new operators concentrate on the more lucrative waters from Linz to Passau and the Wachau valley. One glimmer of hope is that Schönbrunn now in a shipyard at Melk is to be restored to service in two years. It is to be hoped that it will again be possible to undertake one of the great river journeys by paddler.

Compiled by Guy Hundy from Paddle Wheels No. 143 Spring 1996 and No. 142 Winter 1995