Her heyday has long since faded but she can still turn the head of every man, and woman, who sets eyes on her. The Waverley is the world’s last ocean going paddle steamer, a national treasure which serves as a moving monument to a bygone age before the advent of easy air travel and cheap foreign holidays.
- Full feature in Issue No. 7
A hundred years ago more than three million people a year were regular travellers on Britain’s abundant fleet of coastal steamers.
Vessels such as the Waverley were a common sight throughout the UK, especially on the Clyde where steamers would ferry passengers and cargo to and from Glasgow to communities throughout the west coast.
Today, the Waverley is exclusively a pleasure boat capable of taking more than 800 passengers at a time for what has been described as “the best day out in Scotland”.
“A day trip on the Waverley is probably one of our most popular excursions,” said Tasha Watson of the VisitHelensburgh Information Office.
“On a beautiful day there is no better way to spend a few hours than on board Waverley as you sail down the Clyde, along the west coast or through the Kyles of Bute.”
The current PS Waverley, named after the first novel penned by Sir Walter Scott, was launched in 1946 to replace a predecessor of the same name sunk in 1940 by enemy aircraft while trying to rescue 600 British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.
“Almost everyone who comes in to to book a ticket has some story another about the Waverley. Either they used to go on it as a child or they have had friends or relatives who recommend it as one of the “must do things while holidaying in Scotland,” added Tasha.
“We had one man in who wanted to go on it because his great uncle had been on board the previous Waverley when it was sunk at Dunkirk.
“Apparently, he had been one of the crew and couldn’t swim. When the ship was bombed he was left standing terrified on the deck with his back up against the funnel waiting to do down with the ship. Fortunately, somebody ran past and shouted ‘Hang on to me, Jock’ and the two of them managed to swim to another boat and were picked up.“
” The Waverley has become so iconic it means such a lot of things to so many people”.
The current vessel was initially built to sail just between Craigendorran and Arrochar in the Firth of Clyde. However, within 10 years of her maiden voyage the market for paddle steamers was coming to an end.
By the early 1970s mounting running costs had left the then operators no choice but to withdraw Waverley from service.
In an attempt to preserve the ship for future generations she was sold for £1 to the the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society in 1974 to be lovingly cared for by a team of dedicated professionals and volunteers.
Millions of pounds have since been spent restoring the engines, decking and interior, including tearoom and bars, to their 1940s glory.
Now, she sails around 150 days and more than 40,000 miles a year as she operate a full programme of cruises from Easter to October around Britain, including regular trips on the Clyde, the Thames, South Coast of England and the Bristol Channel.
However, it still takes a lot of money to keep 240ft of brass and iron weighing in at 693 tonnes in seaworthy condition, especially with an annual fuel bill of £570,000 and maintenance costs of £350,000.
Every penny raised by the Waverley Steam Navigation Company and the Paddle Steam Preservation Society through ticket sales and other merchandising is used to help with the high cost of keeping the ship going.
By taking a trip passengers not only get an enjoyable experience but they are also helping to preserve a living relic of the past.