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Archive 35
Waverley Paddle Steamer


What, you might ask, is a magazine entitled 'Gear Wheels'
doing by including a maritime feature within its pages?
The answer's really quite simple, for the vessel involved is,
in fact, a two-wheeler! One on each side.
In this first instalment of a two part feature we look at Waverley prior to its recent major refit/rebuild

Nostalgia is what it's all about and the Waverley is the world's last sea-going paddle steamer. With a length of about 73 metres (approximately 240 ft) combined with an all-up weight of around 700 tons, it's also one of the largest of its type.

   For many of us old enough to remember, paddle steamers will always be associated with the fleet of small boats bringing the troops back from the beaches of Dunkirk and the original Waverley was indeed part of that armada. But sadly, it was also one of the casualties, going down off the French coast on the 29th May, 1940 along with most of its crew and servicemen.

   The existing ship was built in 1947 at the Inglis shipyards in Glasgow for the LNER (London and North Eastern Railways) and was originally intended for cruising on the Clyde. Despite changes brought about by the nationalisation of the railways and becoming part of the British Transport Commission/British Rail fleet, the Waverley retained its name and, for many years, continued as a cruise ship (and ferry) in the Firth of Clyde area.

  However, by 1972 the general public were more interested
in looking to the future and
the introduction of faster,
more comfortable and more economical vessels meant that the Waverley was becoming a liability. Reliability was also
a problem, making a nonsense of schedules and, in 1974, the ship was taken out of service with the intention of it becoming a static restaurant or museum.

   Fortunately, some people had other ideas and in August 1974, the Waverley changed hands once again, the new owners being the Waverley Steam Navigation Company Ltd., a company set up by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society who had paid the magnificent sum of 1.00 for the vessel. But it was going to cost almost 100,000 times that figure to restore the ship and make it suitable (and safe) for passenger traffic once again.

   Restrictions imposed during the sale negotiations initially allowed only a limited role in the Clyde area of Scotland and this, along with a useful season of five months (or sometimes less) meant that, in the early days, the ship finances were somewhat tight to say the least. But rather than sit back and hope that things improved, the new owners bravely decided (in 1975) to move the enterprise further afield, first to the Mersey and north Wales and then, in 1978, along the south coast and into the Medway. It was the right decision for by 1979 passenger numbers were almost double the 1975 figure.

   In April 1981 the Waverley made her longest-to-date voyage from Glasgow to Poole in just 35 hours sailing time. It then went on to make history by becoming the first coastal steamer to sail round Britain offering excursions at various ports along the way.

   Nowadays, of course, the Waverley is a regular visitor to the south coast and Bristol Channel offering day trips from places such as Bournemouth, Swanage, Yarmouth (Isle of Wight), Weymouth, Ilfracombe, Minehead, Clevedon, etc., along with special event trips such as a fireworks cruise or a trip to see some of the great liners at Southampton.

  Both the Waverley Steam   Navigation Company and   the Paddle Steamer   Preservation Society are   recognised charities,   meaning that all the profits   generated are used to help   out with the high costs of   regular maintenance and   running the vessel.

   So by taking a trip, you will not only get an enjoyable experience, you will also help preserve a living relic of the past. For further details and bookings, etc., contact Waverley Excursions on
0141 243 2224, or visit the website.  

 

 

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