The Big Sail

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

The Big Sail

(All pictures are my own except where noted otherwise – click on them to enlarge)

Last Sunday Waverley operated her longest excursion of the 2010 summer season – all the way along the navigable River and Firth of Clyde – and all the way back again. In the 198 years that paddle steamers have been operating on the Clyde the sailings from Glasgow to Campbeltown and the Kintyre peninsula and Inveraray at the head of Loch Fyne have been the longest operated – at least 14 hours is normally required to complete the return sailiing. In spite of recent atrocious weather Waverley set off from her base at Plantation Quay adjacent to the Glasgow Science Centre at 0900  on Glasgow Fair Sunday.

She hadn’t long left her berth when she was passing the new £80m Riverside Museum at Pointhouse Quay which will open in 2011 as a replacement for Glasgow’s famous Museum of Transport. The new building is virtually complete and work will soon start on moving some of the large exhibits (buses, tramcars and steam locomotives) from the old premises at the Kelvin Hall to the new venue on the site of the former A & J Inglis Pointhouse shipyard where Waverley was built just after the cessation of WW2.

 Waverley approaching the new Riverside Museum at Pointhouse Quay (part of this riverside area was known as Partick Wharf, where some of the Clyde steamers had called in bygone days)

 The river side frontage of the new museum corresponds closely with the former riverside elevation of the Pointhouse shipyard.

Work is ongoing to prepare the new permanent berth for the sailing ship Glenlee which will move here following drydocking in September 2010.


 The new museum is close to the confluence of the River Kelvin and the River Clyde. It was from a launch slipway on the now ‘greened over’ east bank of the Kelvin that Waverley was launched on 2nd October 1946.

The construction of the sixth and final Type 45 destroyer for the Royal Navy is progressing; the vessel is to be named HMS Duncan (after Admiral Duncan, one of Admiral Lord Nelson’s trusty lieutenants) at her launch on 11th October 2010. Duncan is latest of over 750 ships to be built at the Govan yard, now operated by BAE Systems. Originally built in the 1860s by the renowned shipbuilder and engineer John Elder, the yard was best known for nearly 80 years as the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company or just ‘Fairfields’ (as many Clydesiders still refer to it). It produced everything from paddle steamers to battleships, from passenger liners to aircraft carriers. It is only in the last decade that the yard has specialised exclusively on naval and auxiliary ships. It is currently fabricating enormous sections for the aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. However, those vessels will not be launched into the Clyde as the sections will be assembled in drydock at Rosyth on the Forth having been transferred there by barge from Govan.

Currently, Duncan is the last of well over 25,000 ships that have been launched into the Clyde and 2011 looks like being the first year since the early 1700s that no substantial ship will be launched into the Clyde (or, in fact, anywhere in the UK)

 Soon to be named HMS Duncan – will she be the last big ship launched into the Clyde? Let us hope not.

A few minutes after passing ‘Fairfields’ the paddler was abeam of Shieldhall Quay, one of only 3 remaining commercial dock areas still operating on the upper Clyde – the others being the adjacent King George V Dock and the Rothesay Dock in Clydebank. The commercial quays and wharfs upstream have all ceased to operate, the Kingston and Queens Docks and Yorkhill Basin have been filled in and have disappeared without trace and Princes Dock is substantially filled in. This crane and its sister have been handling bulk cargoes at Shieldhall for many years but in the past 2-3 weeks its sister has been demolished and cut up, no doubt adding to one of the local heaps of scrap metal

Only the base of the crane’s sister machine now remains (left of centre) – how long will the other pair on Shieldhall Quay survive? Clydeside used to be a forest of cranes but very few remain.

Apologies for the quality of this image – it shows the two new cranes purchased by Clydeport in recent years. They are highly mobile and of significantly greater lift capacity than the old cranes.

A historic little crane currently lies in three bits on the western quay of KGV Dock. It was built by Babcock & Wilcox in Renfrew in 1909 and worked on Windmillcroft Quay in Glasgow for almost a century (the huge Clydebank Titan crane is the only older Clyde crane still in existence). For much of its working life it was associated with the coastal steamers of William Sloan & Co which operated from the Clyde to the Bristol Channel and the Thames.. It was a fairly unusual design due to the narrowness of the quayside. Latterly it was used by Euroyachts Ltd to lift leisure craft into the river.  It was removed from Windmillcroft Quay about 2 years ago to make way for the south side landfall of the new Tradeston Bridge, At the last minute it was saved from the bscrapper’s burning  torches and placed in storage in a shed at the dock until its recent move out onto the quay.

Above picture and the next three were taken a couple of days before the Big Sail. First, shows Waverley passing the coastguard vessel TTS San Fernando which had been launched just six hours earlier at 0400 on 16th July 2010 from the covered building berth at BAE Systems Scotstoun yard (formerly Yarrow’s). She was sponsored and named by the wife of her future captain and slid into the dark waters of the Clyde to the accompaniment of Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. The vessel is the last of three sisters for the Government of Trinidad & Tobago. Her sister, TTS Scarborough was launched at Scotstoun last December and the third sister, TTS Port of Spain, is being built at BAE Systems Portsmouth yard (ex Vosper Thornycroft).

The following fine picture of San Fernando in the building hall at Scotstoun just before launch was taken by Barry Watson, one of the best recorders of the contemporary Clyde shipping scene in both picture and video. Go to Barry’s Upper Clyde Shipping blog to see his film of the launch of San Fernando and his  many other excellent pictures and films of Clyde shipping.

Waverley passing BAE Systems fitting out complex – founded in 1907 by John Shearer & Co and formerly known as Elderslie Dockyard. Elderslie House and the Elderslie estate was on the opposite side of the Clyde at this point.

Waverley passing TSS Scarborough at Elderslie. The new vessel went down river later in the day to commence sea trials.

The BAE Systems yard at Scotstoun is the fitting out and completion centre of excellence for the £6 billion Type 45 Destroyer programme – the original plan for 12 vessels was cut to 8 then to 6,  Currently the 3rd, 4th and 5th vessels are fitting out at the complex
 Diamond at Elderslie Wall

Dragon in No 2 Drydock  (left) and Defender in No 3 Dock 

The crane to the right of Defender is one of the last functional artefacts of the famous William Denny & Brothers’ Leven Shipyard at Dumbarton which built over 1500 ships, the greatest output of any Clyde shipbuilder in terns of numbers of vessels built. The No 3 dock was excavated in the 1960s at the same time that Denny’s went into voluntary liquidation.
Work progressing on the infilling of the Pudzeoch at Renfrew- presumably for more residential developments. Originally cut as part of a canal (hence

Canal Street

nearby), the Pudzeoch was a hive of activity until just a few years ago. It served as a fitting out Basin for William Simons Renfrew shipyard and a repair and lay-up berth for the Clyde Navigation Trust’s fleet of ferries, dredgers and hopper barges being immediately downstream of the Trusts Renfrew slip dock following transfer of these facilities from its former slip dock at Dalmuir.

The two SPT ferries Renfrew Rose and Yoker Swan, successors to the CNT ferries, were withdrawn from  service ealier this year and they are currently laid up in the Rothesay Dock awaiting their fate. Meanwhile, the diminutive ferry Island Trader has taken over the Renfrew to Yoker ferry service on a privately financed basis. There has been a ferry across the Clyde at this point for about 800 years.

Since Clydeport, the private entity successor to the Clyde Navigation Trust, disposed of its once significant fleet of dredgers and hopper barges many years ago, dredging operations on the river has been subcontracted, mainly to the long established Westminster Dredging Company, and their dredger Medway II has been a familiar periodic visitor to the river for a number of years. However, in the last couple of weeks the modern and highly efficient suction dredger Shoalway has made her first appearance on the river, dredging in a number of locations – close to the tall ship Glenlee at Yorkhill Quay and off Clydebank at confluence of the rivers Clyde and Cart.. Therefore, meetings of Waverley and Shoalway have become quite frequent of late.

Shoalway undertaking dredging work off Clydebank as Waverley returns to the city from her normal sailing to Tighnabruaich on Glasgow Fair Saturday. The small red marker light that can be seen to the left of Shoalway’s bow marks the end of the massive main launch ways of the former John Brown yard – cradle of many of the world’s most famous passenger liners and warships. The slipway can be seen at low water but is submerged by a few feet at normal high tides.

On such a long sailing as this one the number of calling places is necessarily restricted. After clearing the navigation at the Tail of the Bank, the paddler headed direct to Largs where she arrived on time, two and a half hours after leaving her Plantation Quay berth. This is a commendable timing especially as it includes canting at the entrance of the Princes Dock immediately after departure – it can be difficult to maintain this time at normal cruising speed if its done against a strong flood tide in the river section. After embarking a good number of passengers at Largs the paddler proceeded swiftly southwards, passing hrough the Tan (the channel between the Greater and Lesser Cumbrae islands), round Garroch Head (at the southern end of Bute), across the Sound of Bute and around the Cock of Arran into Lochranza. The latter was for long a calling place on sailings to Campbeltown until the closure of the traditional wooden steamer pier in 1972. Calls by Waverley at Lochranza became possible again a few years ago when a new overnight berthing structure for the Lochranza to Cloanaig ferry operated by CalMac Ferries Ltd was constructed. In common with many of the piers on the  west coast and islands of Scotland, and the ships operated by CalMac Ferries, Cowal Ferries and Northlink Ferries, Lochranza pier is owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd of Port Glasgow. This company originated as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company way back in 1889, becoming Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd in 1973 and Caledonian Maritime Assets in 2007. 

After clearing Lochranza, Waverley proceeded down the Kilbrannan Sound (between Arran and Kintyre) giving good views of the Apostles of Catacol, Pirnmill and Carradale, where she had made that spectacular, (and probably one-off) call in September 1992.  About 6 hours after leaving Glasgow the familiar old lighthouse on Davaar Island, sentinal guardian of the entrance to Campbeltown Loch, was off the port bow as Waverley approached the capital of Kintyre for her third and final visit of 2010.

As Waverley sailed into Campbeltown her ‘Pilot Jack’ (the name of the broad white bordered version of the UK Union Flag that is flown at the bow of a British merchant ship) was lowered and replaced by a much older Pilot Jack (shown in the picture above). This old flag was being given its first ‘airing’ in almost 46 years. It was last flown on the jackstaff of the magnificent Clyde turbine steamer  Duchess of Montrose at the very end of of her 34 year career on the Clyde on her last visit to Campbeltown in August 1964. The splendid picture below, taken by Brian Hargreaves on 26th August 1964, shows the Duchess of Montrose departing Campbeltown with the Pilot Jack at her bow. A nice little bit of nostalgia that the flag was carried back to Campbeltown by Waverley 46 years later.

Th Duchess of Montrose was built by William Denny & Brothers at Dumbarton in 1930 and she was joined by her quasi sister ship, Duchess of Hamilton, which was constructed by the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Govan in 1932. These vessels represented the peak of style and performance of the hundreds of excursion steamers that have sailed on the Clyde since the first such vessel, Henry Bell’s Comet, appeared in 1812. Each of the two 1930s Duchesses had Steam V passenger certificates that permitted them to carry over 1800 passengers. The Montrose’s steam turbines were built by Denny’s enginebuilding subsidiary, Denny & Co, at the Dennystown Forge, which was situated further up the River Leven than the shipyard. The Hamilton’s machinery was constructed in her builder’s workshops at Queens Island in Belfast. Both ships were capable of speeds well in excess of 20 knots which made them well suited to the longer Clyde excursion routes, to Campbeltown, Inveraray and, more rarely, Stranraer. Unlike the now ubiquitous Waverley, however, neither of these ships left the waters of the Clyde.  Even towards the end of her career the Duchess of Montrose was a fast ship and, although racing of the Clyde steamers had long been frowned upon by  ‘the officials’, it was keenly anticipated and enjoyed by  regular passengers. On her sailings to Inverary, it was not unknown for the Montrose to enter into a little tussle of speed in the Kyles of Bute with her rival, the magnificent three funneled turbine steamer Saint Columba, operated by David MacBrayne Ltd. In the early 1960s summer Friday timetabling enabled her to challenge her sister, the Duchess of Hamilton, in the short stretch across the Firth between Largs and Rothesay. Duchess of Hamilton was under command of the legendary Captain Fergus B Murdoch MBE and the Montrose was under Captain John MacLeod.
Duchess of Montrose, and the famous Craigendoran paddle steamer Jeanie Deans (Waverley’s big sister) fell foul of the infamous ‘axe’ weilded by Dr Beeching on the British Railways network and its associated coastal fleets in 1963. On 19 August 1965, a year after her last sailing, the magnificent Duchess of Montrose left her native Clyde waters for the first time and forever. She was towed to the shipbreaking yard of Van Heyghen Brothers at Ghent. Duchess of Hamilton remained in service until 1970 and was eventually demolished by the West of Scotland Shipbreaking Co at Troon in 1974.

Waverley offered the good folk of Campbeltown a 2 hour excursion to the Sanda Islands and towards the Mull of Kintyre and she was rewarded with good support from the locals and tourists – by now the sun was out, the wind was gentle and the sea was almost glassy calm. There follows a few pictures from that part of the Big Sail

The western extremity of Waverley’s Big Sail was off the village of Southend at the bottom of the Kintyre peninsula where the prominent feature is the white painted pile of the former Keil School (above and below) – a couple gannets out fishing too!

Above, the clear atmosphere afforded us good views of the County Antrim coastline of Northern Ireland – with a large ACL container ship outward bound through the North Channel from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic Ocean

Off Kintyre we passed Ronja Viking, one of the modern Norwegian-owned fish farm servicing ships – possibly bound for Portavadie in Loch Fyne where vessels of her type are regular visitors

Ailsa Craig, sometimes called Paddy’s Milestone, viewed from the west – with a wig of light cloud and a veil of sea mist

Below, have passed through the Sound of Sanda on the outward leg we returned outside the Sanda Islands (Sanda, Sheep Island and Glunimore) on the homeward voyage with great views of Sanda’s spectacularly perched lighthouse

Slightly late and against the tide Waverley’s engine speed was raised to circa 48 rpm on the return voyage  a rare sight in these days of fuel economy.

Approaching Largs we noted the new Trinidad & Tobago Coastguard vessel Scarborough undertaking trials off the Portachur buoy.

TTS Scarborough and CalMac’s Bute (the latter on last service run from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay)

Scarborough at rest on a golden sea

Waverley departing Largs (circa 2030) for Glasgow

At Largs in the Gloaming, the classic motor boat Britannia
(with TTS Scarborough in the background)

Homeward Bound off Wemyss Bay 
– the end of a great day on the World’s Last Seagoing Paddle Steamer

Stuart Cameron