It was forty years ago that the paddle steamer WAVERELY left Glasgow to sail the Clyde again, yet were it not for the hard work and dedication of enthusiasts, volunteers, professionals, and indeed the public, it might very well have been the year she sailed to the scrapyard instead, like so many other well loved coastal cruising ships before her.
Her former owners Caledonian MacBrayne had come to the conclusion that the Clyde passenger ships days were over and that they had to concentrate on car ferries to link the communities of the Clyde. But they didn't just send the ship off for scrap money, instead they sold her, for one pound, to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, in 1975.
Much work and fund raising ensued with public campaigns to help save the vessel for the future and the following year the ship once more started sailing on Clyde waters and afterwards brought joy to hundreds of thousands who went aboard her or simply observed her graceful progress down the years. Forty years on, with a rebuild in 2000 and overcoming many hurdles, she is still going strong and drawing crowds.
At a ceremony in Glasgow last month to mark the 40 years of sailing again, Lawrie Sinclair, the current chairman of Waverely Steam Navigation Company said:
"Waverley is the world’s last sea going paddle steamer. She was built by A & J Inglis Ltd in 1947 for the London and North Eastern Railway. When the Railways were nationalised in 1948 she then came under the British Transport Commission. Control was then passed to the Caledonian Steam Packet Company in 1951 with whom she operated till 1972. Following on she served with Caledonian MacBrayne until 1975, when she was deemed to be uneconomic and sold to Waverley Steam Navigation a subsidiary of the PSPS for £1. They in turn passed the operation of the vessel to Waverley Excursions Ltd (WEL) who continue to operate the ship.
"That was 40 years ago and we have had many challenges to overcome in these years and operating the Waverley in 2015 is not any easier than in 1975. The environment in which we operate has changed significantly and costs are higher, fuel, crew and maintenance being but three. In addition regulations have changed for all passenger ships over the period due to the losses of the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia along with the introduction of the International Safety Management Code in the late 1990’s and the hours of rest regulations.
"In preservation, she has sailed from over 80 ports, brought pleasure to over five million passengers and contributes £7m to the UK economy annually."
PSPS Chairman Iain Dewer recalled that not everyone wished the paddler well in 1975:
"...seasoned Clyde steamer experts sucked in their cheeks and prophesied a nine-day wonder. Even the diarist of that august journal, the Herald, anthropomorphised Waverley into a marine monster which climbed out of the Clyde and, left unchecked, would eat her way through the entire West of Scotland arts budget.
"And it’s true that when maiden voyage speeches were made almost exactly 40 years ago, just across the river, most people were thinking of getting through that summer and the next. Or perhaps even just that day. The return of Waverley to service was the result of astounding determination and effort, but few would have dared dream she would still be sailing in 2015."
So it will be with a certain jaunt to her gait, if we continue to anthropomorphise, that this old 'monster' will pull herself away from the quayside in Glasgow and perform yet another miracle of endeavour as she beats her paddles towards such nostalgic haunts as Rothesay,Dunoon and Tighnabruaich yet again. Sailing time from Glasgow Pacific Quay is 10.00 am. For more information visit the ship's operators' website at: