Waverley 2001 – From Sun to Storm

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

Waverley 2001 – From Sun to Storm

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Although the weather forecast for Sunday had been unpromising, the sailing had taken place in reasonably calm weather, with the high winds passing to the south. However, conditions did deteriorate in the early part of the following week.

On Monday 1st October 2001, Waverley did manage to berth a Margate’s stone pier at the second attempt. Turning westwards, the paddler made for Whitstable. Unfortunately there was a coaster tied up on the western arm and this did not leave sufficient room for manoeuvre to berth on the eastern arm in with the strong wind and tide. The call was abandoned and course set for Southend. Here two fruitless attempts were made to come alongside before the steamer headed for Tilbury. Then, as scheduled, a non-landing trip to the Pool of London was given for the 79 on board. The final leg to Southend was cancelled as the outward call had not taken place.

No sailing took place on Tuesday owing to forecast continuing bad weather, which did not, in fact, materialise.

Wednesday was calm and sunny and the timetabled sail from Tower Pier to Clacton was given as planned.

Thursday saw the Medway as the destination for a further cruise from Tower Pier. This trip was well patronised with a large party from The Mission to Seafarers on board.

A row of large ships dominated the paddler as she passed Thamesport. From right to left Yeoman Bridge at the aggregate berth, and Ever Renown and Al-Sabahia at the container berths.

The Ever Renown was preparing to depart after Waverley had cleared.

The larger Al-Sabahia with tug Lady Brenda waiting to assist Ever Renown.

Collier Sir Charles Parson unloading at Kingsnorth Power Station Jetty.

The paddler had to wait at Folly Point inbound for the Dutch coaster Sambre, accompanied by the tug Lady Emma H, to clear the narrow upriver channel.

Waverley turned just opposite the former covered slipways at Chatham Historic Yard, with the assistance of the Voith-Schneider tug Nore Triton of Hull. The tall funnel of paddle tug John H Amos, on an open slipway, can be seen just above the tug’s wheelhouse.

Waverley then went a few yards astern, stopping off Thunderbolt Pier where Kingswear Castle was tied up. Note the buildings of the Historic Dockyard beyond. Her captain, John Megoran, was acting as Waverley’s pilot on the River Medway.

The remainder of the cruise went ahead as planned, including an up-river evening non-landing cruise from Tilbury to Tower Pier.

On Friday an up-river cruise was given from Southend and Tilbury. Nick Widdows wrote for Scotships:

“Today the weather was much better – warm, clear skies and much less wind. However the forecast up until yesterday evening was for wind and rain, which probably accounted for the low passenger numbers – very poor from Southend, about 50 or so from Tilbury including about 15 on the ferry from Gravesend.
It was announced that, because of low numbers, instead of turning round in London and terminating at Tilbury as scheduled, she would terminate at Tower Pier and all passengers returned by coach (she was due to operate an evening cruise from Tower Pier at 19.00 so would have needed to run back empty). This did not please many of the passengers who were expecting a full day’s cruise. Whist one can understand the desire to contain costs and no doubt the cost of a couple of coaches was less than the fuel she would burn operating Tower Pier to Tilbury and back, but I wonder if it is worth it in the light of customer dissatisfaction and possible adverse press coverage. Some customers were talking about going to the press.
In the event things did not work out as planned as a bomb scare at Tower Bridge brought us to a halt at the Surrey Docks entrance, where we remained for about 45 minutes, held on station by tug Revenge. It was then decided to return to Tilbury. As usually happens, about 5 minutes after we started back, Woolwich Radio announced that the river was open to navigation again!
Despite missing Tower Bridge and the Pool of London, passengers were much happier to be on the Waverley than on a coach on the A13. Passengers will generally accept disruption to advertised schedule due to such ‘force majeure’ reasons as a bomb scare, bad weather or mechanical problems but are much less sympathetic to changes made for purely commercial reasons.”

Then a light run back to Tower Pier for the evening cruise for PSPS and Douglas McGowan’s Sweet Charity. Douglas was ending his year as President of Sweet Charity (the confectionary industry’s own charity) and arranged the trip as part of an evening function. Douglas’s knees had an airing as he appeared in his kilt. Unfortunately I have been unable to obtain photographic evidence to confirm this. The main part of the function took place ashore at Greenwich, but participants were also treated to a return trip from Tower Pier. This was combined with the customary PSPS evening cruise from Tower Pier.

Waverley spent the night at Tower Pier ready for her 09.30 departure on Saturday for Tilbury, Southend and Whitstable. The cruise was well patronised with a large exchange of passengers at Southend. The Mayor of Southend also joined the ship for the trip to Whitstable.

As we crossed from the Essex to the Kent shore, the steamer had to give way to the Nova Cotta, outbound from the River Medway.

Approaching Whitstable it was announced that, despite a strong wind, the Kingswear Castle would be able to make her scheduled rendezvous with the Waverley at the Kent port. However, to get back through the Swale with sufficient water, she had to depart back to Chatham and Strood straight away. She brought 60 passengers to join the Waverley for a round trip to Strood via Tilbury. About another 20 did the full round trip on the KC, which took 12 hours in all.

Waverley sailed back to Tower Pier with virtually a full ship after picking up evening revellers at Southend and Tilbury. Despite forecasts to the contrary, only about five minutes light rain fell on the paddler.

The forecast for Sunday was considerably worse and unfortunately was not inaccurate. Before the 9am departure from Tower Pier, Purser Jim McFadzean announced that conditions did not allow a call at Clacton as planned, and that a call at Southend may not be possible.

The Dutch frigate Jan van Braken was moored alongside HMS Belfast as the paddler was swung just below London Bridge by the tug Revenge. On the down river passage, Captain Gellatly made arrangements for the steamer to divert to Whitstable for an afternoon visit. The wind was off-shore at the Kent port, while it would have been on-shore at Clacton. On arrival at Tilbury, intending passengers were advised of the changed destination.

Commentator Jeremy Gold relaxes after describing the many power stations of the Thames to the steamer’s passengers.

Approaching Southend a heavy swell could be seen running along Southend Pier. However, Captain Gellatly went in for a close look before deciding a call would not be possible. He then circled round so that an announcement could be made to the passengers waiting on the Pier Head. On to Whitstable amidst an increasingly lively sea. Good time was made and speed was reduced to allow time for the tide to make a little more. Just as the paddler entered between the quays, a large gust of wind blew the paddler’s bow off course and she had to be taken astern rapidly to clear the harbour. After circling round a second approach was made safely, the steamer berthing on the western arm, the opposite to the previous day.

About an hour and a half was given for time ashore during which the weather worsened with spells of heavy rain and increasing winds. Waverley steamed off to the west into visibly roughening conditions, direct to Tilbury. There was speculation that today was the first occasion that the steamer had made a direct return sailing from Tilbury to Whitstable. Passing to the north of the Isle of Sheppey the paddler was rolling and continued to do so as far up-river as Shellhaven, the first time I can remember such adverse conditions at this point.

During the passage, Jim McFadzean announced that, as the Port of London Authority were warned of Force 11 winds, the Waverley would terminate at Tilbury with Tower Pier passengers being coached back. In such conditions, there was a considerable risk that the paddler could have been blown on to the shore rounding one of the numerous bends of the Upper River.

Martin Longhurst

This article was first published on Martin Longhurst’s Waverley – The Unofficial Site.