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The Paddle Steamer Waverley by David Shirres: Tuesday 10 May 2016

David Shirresd

David Shirres.

© John Yellowlees 2016

The first Waverley, ordered in 1899 by the North British Railway, was converted to a minesweeper and sank at Dunkirk after being attacked by 12 planes that scored 3 direct hits.

Her captain survived to serve on her government-funded replacement. This was ordered in November 1945 by the LNER was built by A & J Inglis at their yard where the Riverside Museum now stands.

Launched in October 1946, she received her engines the following year from Rankin & Blackmore's Eagle foundry at Greenock. At 2100 hp, these were the most powerful ever fitted to a Clyde steamer, and reached a maximum of 18 knots but now generally operates at 14 knots, and was converted to oil in the early 1950s.

Clyde cruising declined from the 1950s. as people switched to cars or foreign holidays. In 1953 four motor vessels in the Maid series were introduced to replace large steamers. Car ferries came in from 1954, and of the ten ships cruising in 1964 by 1973 only the Waverley and the Queen Mary remained. That year CalMac withdrew the Waverley and donated her to the Paddle Steamer Society for £1.

Over fifty Clyde piers have now been closed, leaving 18 in regular use today of which eight are used by Waverley. There are a further eight piers at which Waverley is the only ship to call. Indications of the volume of steamer traffic that can be seen today include Wemyss Bay Station, the Kilcreggan steamer signals and the large Victorian toilets at Rothesay pier.

Waverley first public sailing in preservation was in May entered 1975. She has sailed every year since, going to Liverpool in 1977 and the South Coast the following year, then to the 40th and 50th anniversaries of Dunkirk, in 1981 to Oban and the Hebrides and in 1985/6 to Ireland and the Isle of Man. Since then some destinations have been ruled out by high cost of fuel for re-positioning runs and pier closures. She has settled down to a summer routine of a week cruising the Inner Hebrides at end of May, two months on the Clyde from the end of June, switching in late August to Liverpool, Bristol and then London and the South Coast until early October.

Once able to take 1350 passengers, in 2014 she was certified to carry between 740 and 860 passengers according to the category of water. In their heyday, Clyde steamers were supported by a wide range of services and pier maintenance wasn"t a problem. Today piers are maintained by local authorities who may not be able to justify expenditure on piers that are only used by the Waverley.

Nowadays, Waverley Excursion may have to arrange pier staff, gangways, bunkering, catering provisions and water as the ship calls at different piers around the UK coast, Its engineers and ship"s officers have to manage a wide range of specialist tasks and ensure the ship is compliant with marine legislation which is not intended for Paddle Steamers.

The Waverley cruising on the Clyde.d

The Waverley cruising on the Clyde.

© John Fender 2016

This is a demanding operation in a difficult financial environment and so requires significant contributions from supporters to keep the ship sailing. Nevertheless it has been shown to make a £7.3M contribution to the UK economy.

Waverley was rebuilt at Yarmouth in 1999/2000 with a contribution to the £6M cost from the Heritage Lottery, Waverley has three main decks, a triple expansion engine providing 2100 hp at 58 rpm and two Cochran boilers consuming 350 litres of fuel per hour to produce 5.5 tonnes of steam at 180 lbs per square inch. Her main engine is one of 11 steam engines on the ship, for example the steam tiller which moves the rudder and is controlled by a telemotor, Originally there were more but some auxiliaries having been replaced by diesel generators and electric motors. Her paddles have feathered blades to increase efficiency.

She is at the Glasgow Science Centre from October to May for wet deck maintenance, except for around two weeks when she goes up the Clyde to the Garvel dry dock at Greenock in April and/ or May.

The work to maintain and operate the ship since she was preserved in 1974 has been, and continues to be, an impressive operation made possible by the contributions of Paddle Steamer Preservation Society members and others. The ship deserves continuing recognition and support as one of Scotland's greatest operational transport icons.

You can find out more about the P.S. Waverley at

Report and photograph of David Shirres by John Yellowlees.


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