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WAVERLEY was the last sea-going paddle steamer in CalMac ownership and is now advertised as the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world.

Certainly she has proved a ship with nine lives and has already used up several of them in a gloriously eventful and sometimes fraught career. As she is the subject of several widely-available (and lovingly detailed) books, not to mention untold websites, we may keep the account of her post-CalMac career relatively brief.

The fourth WAVERLEY's construction was commissioned for the London & North-Eastern Railway's Clyde fleet on the cessation of the Second World War; the new build was largely financed by Government compensation for the loss of her namesake on active service in 1940. (The beautiful WAVERLEY (II) of 1899, one of the fast paddlers ever built, was perhaps the most popular NB/LNER steamer ever to sail out of Craigendoran, and came to a heroic end in the drama of Dunkirk, downing several enemy aircraft before succumbing to a bomb and sinking with, alas, much loss of life.)

In fact, the LNER could well have built two new post-war paddlers – they won compensation besides for PS MARMION (1906), which was also requisitioned in the fight against Nazi Germany and was bombed and sunk, at Harwich, in 1941. Only one, however, was built; and the contract was duly awarded to A & J Inglis Ltd of Pointhouse, Glasgow – just where the River Kelvin flows into the Clyde through Partick. A & J Inglis had built eleven ships for the “North Bank” services from Craigendoran and their final contribution to the Clyde passenger fleet would come in 1953, with the construction of MAID OF ARGYLL and MAID OF SKELMORLIE.

A & J Inglis Ltd. would also produce the last paddler to be built in Britain the MAID OF THE LOCH for Loch Lomond, and had already won the contract to refurbish two other LNER vessels, JEANIE DEANS (1931) and the distinctly odd diesel-electric TALISMAN (1935) for their return to civilian life.

The new WAVERLEY was duly launched (by Lady Matthews, wife of the LNER Chairman) on 2nd October 1946; and a brass plaque was also fitted on board in memory of the new paddle-steamer's gallant namesake.

Like the earlier WAVERLEY, the new ship
was earmarked for the Arrochar and Lochgoil services and aficionados were cheered by her traditional and distinctly bonnie lines, after a succession of very plain utilitarian paddlers had been built in the Thirties. Indeed in lay-out and appearance she closely resembled the esteemed JEANIE DEANS – gratifying, as that vessel was at her most attractive after her post-war remodelling.

Like JEANIE DEANS, WAVERLEY has two elliptical funnels forward, two masts, and her lifeboats arranged on the upper deck; she also had traditional North British paddleboxes, with fan-vents and attractive, painted detail – a figurehead, Edward Waverley, subject of the eponymous novel by Sir Walter Scott, and fancy scrollwork. The paddle-wheels themselves were rimless, each boasting eight flat wooden “feathering” floats.

She was, of course, somewhat smaller – shorter by eleven feet and accordingly certificated in 1947 for 1,350 passengers rather than 1,480.

She boasted first and second-class passenger accommodation: this for 1947 comprised a dining-saloon, lounge, tearoom and shop on the main (engine) deck, with a bar and another tearoom on her lower deck. Two lrge deck shelters were built on the promenade deck with the bridge, wheelhouse, master's room and two lifeboats placed over the one forward. Passengers shared the deck above her after shelter with two lifeboats and the WAVERLEY's mainmast.

Her fitting out now well advanced, WAVERLEY was towed to Greenock's Victoria Harbour at the turn of the year where Rankin & Blackmore installed her splendid triple-expansion steam engine and her first, double-ended coal-fired; an oil-fired boiler had been planned, but was precluded by the notorious postwar shortages. A multitude of British passenger ships, in 1947, boasted triple expansion steam-engines; her machinery is the last surviving in an active vessel.

(Incidentally, one should firmly scotch the myth that each paddle can be independently operated; they are powered on one crank-shaft and WAVERLEY is not quite as manoeuvrable as many think.)

WAVERLEY duly ran trials in June 1947, attaining a very respectable 18 ½ knots with her engine running at 56 rpm. (Her usual service speed is 15 knots, but that reserve is frequently useful.) WAVERLEY finally undertook her maiden voyage on Monday 16th June 1947, on the route for which she had always been intended – the cruise up Loch Goil and Loch Long to the villages of Lochgoilhead and Arrochar. And she sailed under the command of Captain John Cameron DSC, who had been navigating officer on the bridge of the previous WAVERLEY when she succumbed to the Luftwaffe.

The new ship was a most welcome advent to the Clyde fleet, despite her rather cramped accommodation and very basic crew quarters. In gay LNER livery with black hull and paddleboxes, brown-grained deck shelters, cream upperworks, two gold lines on her hull and red funnels with black tops and white bands, WAVERLEYproved a handsome new arrival. Her cruise was part of the “Three Lochs Tour”- with a return leg by Loch Lomond steamer – and in that first 1947 WAVERLEY would visit Arrochar six times a week. By 1972 – the last season before the pier was closed – Arrochar enjoyed only one weekly call; the decaying pier at Lochgoilhead was closed in 1965.

But she would enjoy only season as a LNER vessel in their glowing colours. Britain's railways were nationalised from 1st January 1948 and all the LNER-owned Clyde steamers were subsumed under the hideously named British Transport Commission. (The CSP fleet, nationalised under a different immediate ownership, British Railways). But an almost Soviet-style cult of uniformity, mediocrity and drabness descended overnight on all the the fleet – and WAVERLEY's bright funnels vanished under tedious buff and black like every other ship's; her cream upperworks became unimaginative white.

With JEANIE DEANS and TALISMAN, ownership of WAVERLEY passed in 1951 to the BTC's revived Scottish shipping subsidiary, the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd – through British Railways remained the operating concern until 1957. This transfer in ownership at least brightened their funnels from buff to yellow. In 1953 WAVERLEY lost her gold lines round the hull;; her grained deckhouses became white and her brown ventilators silver. From, though, WAVERLEY and her sisters could fly the bright CSP pennant; that company name also appeared once more in timetables.

So WAVERLEY was gradually weaned away from traditional “North Bank” operations into the wider CSP network. Nor was she entirely a summer butterfly; she relieved TALISMAN (at Gourock) for winter overhaul as early as February 1949; and again in January 1950 on a most demanding Craigendoran-Rothesay-Gourock timetable. Until the advent of the new motor-ships WAVERLEY was generally retained through winter steamed up and on stand-by for emergencies.

More usually she was, through summer, deployed on assorted ferry runs from Gourock and Wemyss Bay. Her crew came to dread the “death run” from Arran; a seven am Monday morning sailing to bear unhappy weekenders back to their employment. Such duties were incorporated alongside a widened summer cruising programme, at the expense of Arrochar trips. She began a lengthy Arran cruise from Craigendoran in 1953, calling at piers – like Lamlash and Whiting Bay – now decades closed. There were more subtle changes in appearance; from 1959 her paddleboxes were painted white.

Wednesdays in 1955 brought a “Round the Lochs” cruise – a traditional CSP outing – and 1957 saw WAVERLEY include Glasgow in her schedule, as destination in a sort of “up the wa'er” Friday cruise from Largs, Rothesay and Dunoon. She also deputised on occasion for the turbine steamers, like DUCHESS OF HAMILTON, and many regard the late Fifties as the peak of her pre-charitable career. Commanded by Colin MacKay and with celebrated engineer Bill Summers at the throttle – a on-board plaque today pays tribute to this memorable character – an early biographer, Alan Brown, observes that WAVERLEY “achieved an enviable reputation for punctuality and general smartness.” On Friday 26th September 1958, for instance, she undertook the longest and most demanding sail in the CSP roster – from Gourock to Ayr with a cruise around Holy Isle.

“Throughout the week WAVERLEY had maintained excellent timings and great interest centred on the Ayr run, for it was on this that she faced her stiffest task. It was therefore with considerable anticipation and excitement that I made my way down to Gourock Pier that calm, crisp, sunny autumn morning; nor was I disappointed, for WAVERLEY gave me the most enjoyable and thrilling sail I have had on the Clyde in postwar days. The whole day was tightly scheduled, but she nevertheless arrived at Ayr in ample time to commence her afternoon cruise round Holy Isle at 1.45 pm. Leaving Ayr one minute late on the return run to Gourock she pounded homewards, her triple cranks spinning round at an effortless 50 rpm and her wooden floats endlessly repeating their intoxicating 'eight beats to the bar' rhythm.

“Slicing through the dark, glassy water, she left a broad carpet of foam trailing astern, and as she curved round into Gourock there was a general air of triumph on board. Alongside the pier DUCHESS OF HAMILTON lay at peace, and on the after deck a number of her crew were on board, perhaps speculating on the hour of WAVERLEY's return. The look of utter astonishment and disbelief on their faces as WAVERLEY berthed, three minutes ahead of schedule, still remains as a vivid memory of September 26, 1958.”

Of course the career of any long-serving Clyde steamer had its little bumps. Within a week of entering service in 1947, a gust blew WAVERLEY off course and piled her onto a sandbank at Arrochar. She was undamaged but it took an hour and a half to get it off. On Sunday 29th August 1948 a paddlewheel jammed at Auchenlochan, in the Kyles of Bute; TALISMAN had to sail out to rescue her passengers and WAVERLEY was towed back to Greenock in disgrace – out of service for the rest of the season.

On Wednesday 24th July 1957 more paddle problems saw her shudder to a halt in the middle of Rothesay bay. On this occasion her trippers were retrieved by COUNTESS OF BREADALBANE. And she ran aground again, and again at Arrochar, on Thursday 30th July 1970; her rudder was damaged and she was off for two weeks at the height of the season. Arrochar seems to have taken a real dislike to WAVERLEY: in July 1971 the last Clyde paddler was flung by a bad gust against the village's pier - “with such force,” records a recent account, “that the top of her foremast was snapped off and thirty feet of railing was ripped off her foredeck. Luckily nobody was injured but her inward calls minus half a mast caused something of a sensation. She sailed for the rest of that season with a stump foremast.”

WAVERLEY's most spectacular scrapes had to await her second career.

By the early 1960s she was in the trough of her first. Captain MacKay retired in 1960 – the same year WAVERLEY acquired radar - and a less dedicated hand was at the helm. Certainly standards of day-to-day maintenance dropped – to such a low that one Easter passengers were startled, on boarding, to see grass growing under her lifeboats. “As it happened, at the time JEANIE recovered strength,” Fraser McHaffie muses of JEANIE DEANS, who enjoyed a brief and rather glorious swansong at the end of her career, “WAVERLEY had reached her nadir and was reckoned in the early 1960s to be the scruffiest of the entire Caledonian fleet. WAVERLEY had been a great favourite but at this time lost much of her support to the elder sister...”

She had been converted to burn oil in the winter of 1956-7 – which reduced smut nuisance to passengers and gave a marginal increase of speed – but in 1961 her forward funnel was replaced with a new all-welded unit and when the aft in turn was renewed, the following year, it was of markedly different rake. This lent WAVERLEY a most odd appearance from certain angles and it was nearly forty years before anything was done about it. She duly adopted the new CSP livery in q1965, with monastral blue hull, grey railings and ventilators and lions on her funnels. (These were a little too small and didn't suit her.) The wooden Purser's Office, on her promenade deck, became so leaky that in 1968 it was replaced with a white-painted metal structure. 1969 and STG ownership saw yet more change in livery; black hull and red underbody were restored, along with silver for railings and ventilators.

The Sixties brought more summer duties from Rothesay and, with the demise of TALISMAN in 1966, more sailings from Millport and Largs. Thereafter only CALEDONIA and WAVERLEY survived as Clyde paddlers – both based, for the most part, at Craigendoran. And from 1969 there was only the WAVERLEY.

The 1946 paddler had spent most of her career in the shadow of assorted Clyde celebrities – the JEANIE DEANS, the Caley DUCHESSes – and, once the novelty of the new ship had faded, she quickly acquired the air of postwar “austerity” and “utility” which proved inordinately difficult to shake off. She was “to all intents and purposes,” muses one writer, “a pre-war vessel that happened to be built after the end of the conflict...” and neither especially comfortable, especially fast, or especially interesting; it was a very near thing when the old CALEDONIA – which was, after all, larger and rather more reliable - and not WAVERLEY was retired in 1969.

Yet by that accident of history WAVERLEY was, by the early Seventies, now unique and she became rapidly rather a favourite of the media. This in turn drew a new and curious clientele out on her sailings and she was practically adopted by the Glasgow and Clydeside public. She was also blessed with a new and much more committed crew who developed a keen pride in her appearance and upkeep; and – if she could be cramped when sailing with anything like a full complement of passengers – she developed a reputation for offering the best catering in the fleet.

The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society had, too, naturally begun to take a keen interest in WAVERLEY and the Company – who took a high of their duty to the Clyde's steamer heritage, and fielded much undeserved criticism on this respect – increasingly involved the PSPS in her management.

It was at the Society's suggestion, for instance, that for the 1972 season her paddleboxes were partially repainted in black, to emphasise what was by now unique propulsion. Yet another plaque was also presented by the PSPS that year, to mark the ship's silver jubilee. To many it was little compensation for the closure of Craigendoran pier at the end of that season; it has since rapidly silted and WAVERLEY can no longer visit her old and indeed her original home-port, though she has become a regular visitor to Helensburgh, close at hand.

And the Society also led the public outcry when, for the 1973 season, the new Caledonian MacBrayne regime proposed a variation of the new fleet colour-scheme for WAVERLEY. Instead of a yellow circle with red lion on a red funnel with black top, WAVERLEY briefly sported the red lion on a yellow band.

The result was vile and after a few days was mercifully abandoned; in the standard CalMac livery, WAVERLEY looked most handsome and sailed that summer on a new programme of shorter, varied cruises. But fancy colours and a paddler's glamour could not disguise three painful realities. The other surviving Clyde steamer, QUEEN MARY II, had enjoyed much recent investment and had far better on-board facilities than the paddler. More, WAVERLEY was in an appalling mechanical state and was plagued by boiler trouble throughout 1973. And the market was simply not there to support two pleasure steamers – especially not for a Company whose prime mandate was to provide the public with lifeline ferry services.

In November 1973 it was announced that WAVERLEY was to be withdrawn. Even before that announcement, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd had invited PSPS representatives to break the news – and when Douglas McGowan duly turned up at Company HQ in Gourock on 22nd November, he was offered the 693 paddlesteamer as a gift. Of course almost everyone expected WAVERLEY to survive – if she were saved at all – as a static museum-piece.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Though it was not possible to restore WAVERLEY to service for the 1974 season, she made it out in 1975 (owned by a new, non-profit making concern, Waverley Steam Navigation Ltd., which itself was a subsidiary trust of the PSPS) and in a new livery approximating her original LNER glory. More, she restored full “doon the wa'er” sailings from Glasgow – the first public cruises from Glasgow since 1968 – and duly beat offher origional owners when they subsequently tried to muscle in.

WAVERLEY has sailed every season since. She was not,, of course, a strict gift; to ensure the legality of the transfer, CalMac sold WAVERLEY to the new WSN for the princely sum of £1. (The pound-note was donated by Sir Patrick Thomas, chairman of the Scottish Transport Group, and unfortunately no one thought to ensure it was preserved for posterity.)

The WAVERLEY has survived serious blows. In 1976 she lost all her local authority funding and she continued to be plagued by boiler and paddlewheel trouble. In July 1977, approaching Dunoon, she grounded on the notorious Gantocks and was extensively damaged – so badly that she came within a razor's breadth of becoming a constructive total loss. There has also been some controversy over her Glasgow berth, where she normally lies in the off- season. Until 1978 she sailed from Anderston Quay, just below the Kingston Bridge. Then she was based a couple of hundred yards further west, at Stobcross Quay. By 1981 she moved back a little to Lancefield Quay – then to Anderston Quay again. The construction of a new and controversial bridge over the Clyde inton 2004 will force the paddler quite significantly down river; her new berth will be at Pacific Quay, which is on the south side and by no stretch of the imagination at Glasgow's city centre.

The episode, with WAVERLEY out of action for weeks at the height of the tourist season, highlighted the perils of a one-ship operation; the wee QUEEN OF SCOTS was briefly chartered in sailed in WSN colours. The paddler's admirers bent their heads to two problems: fund-raising for the vital new boiler (which would not only grant reliability but save significantly on fuel consumption) and acquisition of a sister-ship (which could not only cover against breakdown or calamity, but develop some of the new markets, such as in the Bristol Channel, that WAVERLEY could but tantalisingly exploit in increasingly bold spring or autumn jaunts around the British coast.)

Both won mixed success. Frantic fund-raising did indeed win a new boiler; it was fitted in 1981 but as soon as 1987 was causing serious problems. A handsome Denny-built Solent passenger ferry, SHANKLIN (1951), was acquired at the end of 1980 and beautifully refitted as PRINCE IVANHOE. She became a big hit and was winning huge crowds on the Bristol Channel when, in August 1981, she struck uncharted wreckage off the Welsh coast. Her resourceful skipper acted quickly to restart the vessel's engines and beach PRINCE IVANHOE before she sank in forty fathoms of water with hundreds of passengers on board, but she was comprehensively wrecked.

There have been assorted misadventures. WAVERLEY's debut on the Firth of Forth, in 1981, was marred by exuberant over-issue of tickets and angry crowds. In 1986 she sailed from the Isle of Man in such excessively exciting weather conditions that fraught passengers afterwards filled the press with assorted horror-stories, and in 2000 a highly respected WAVERLEY master was ruined by his conviction on squalid sexual offences involving teenage boys.

But the boiler problem was “sorted”. And PRINCE IVANHOE was succeeded by BALMORAL (1947), another great survivor of British coastal shipping and which has proved a stalwart partner to WAVERLEY; though she is most associated with the Bristol Channel, BALMORAL's Scottish jaunts have included the Sacred Isle of Iona and she always closes the Clyde season. This characterful and rather fast motor-vessel was re-engined in 2003 and anticipates handsome refitting in 2004.

Yet WAVERLEY has sailed – sometimes staggered – on, and in the course of nearly thirty years in this new career, maintained and refitted by a host of eager volunteers, competently crewed and imaginatively managed, has not only maintained paddle-steamer cruising on the Firth of Clyde and gone on spectacular, sometimes wistful jaunts (she has, for instance, visited Dunkirk, with old Captain Cameron as guest of honour; and in 1989 paid a visit to the Outer Hebrides) but become a regular visitor to such ancient paddling haunts as the Bristol Channel, the Isle of Wight, the Thames Estuary, the Firth of Forth, the Argyll Hebrides and the Isle of Skye.

On 16th June 1997 the Heritage Lottery Fund announced their support for plans of massive reconstruction of WAVERLEY, not merely to guarantee her survival for another half-century, but to encompass both maximal restoration of WAVERLEY to her 1947 splendours and the integration of every modern standard of safety. It was a magnificent Jubilee present.

The work was carried out in two stages – 1999-2000 and 2002-2003 by George Prior Engineering Ltd of Yarmouth, at a cost of some £17 million. Its splendid success, and the style and beauty of the fully restored and rejuvenated paddlesteamer, no doubt contributed to another announcement, in the spring of 2003, that PS WAVERLEY was to be formally listed by the UK National Historic Ships Committee as part of their “Core Collection” - vessels of “pre-eminent national importance.” Also admitted to this hall of fame was the former Royal Yacht BRITANNIA; the list includes vessels of the stature of HMS VICTORY.

Text thanks to John MacLeod (C)


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