On Saturday 23rd April 1977 Waverley ran her first trip of the season leaving Glasgow at 10am for a day trip to Greenock, Kilcreggan, Dunoon, Largs, Rothesay and Tighnabruaich where she gave about 50 minutes ashore.
In the spring of 1977 there had been a determined effort to give Waverley a major upgrade and try to set up her up for a more extended career in the ownership of Waverley Steam Navigation Ltd and its operating arm Waverley Excursions Ltd. Advantage was taken of a Government grant scheme which provided twenty skilled hands who were put to work renewing much of the accommodation as well as being engaged on a mission to lighten the ship and remove all unnecessary weight, including the traditional coal-fired galley range, to try to make her float a little higher in the water and increase the freeboard under the sponsons.
I travelled up to Glasgow to make just one cruise on Waverley as a passenger in the previous 1976 season. I had watched Alf Pover as chief engineer of Embassy and Monarch and Cyril Julien on Consul as a boy. I knew how they handled paddle steamer engines, what they did and how they used the levers. This day on Waverley I was not impressed by what I saw. There were clearly tensions in the engine room. At one point coming into a pier the chief was on the levers when the greaser got up knocked him out of the way, called him a rather rude name and took over the controls himself. In the evening on the way back up the Clyde to Glasgow I noticed the second engineer and the same greaser standing in the port side engine room alleyway holding court and chuckling away with each other both with cans of beer in their hands. In fairness this was just one day. Perhaps things went better on other days. Perhaps there were other engineers on other days. But I have a very clear recollection of what I saw on this day. And I was not impressed.
For the following season in 1977 there was a change of personnel in the engine room. Ken Blacklock, who had been second engineer in 1975 under the highly experienced Bill Summers, was recruited as chief engineer. He was not free to join the ship until closer to the start of the season so Ian Muir was hired as second engineer in January to start the refit with the view of becoming relief chief if funds permitted later in the season. They made a formidable team. Both knew how to handle the engine and Ken in particular had an uncanny ability to make it dance with ever prompt and accurate responses to orders on the telegraph.
This is an issue which is very close to my heart as in the early days of running KC I had a few engineers who found getting to grips with efficiently handling our engine hard and sometimes delivered a sluggish response, occasional wrong way engine movements and from time to time the nightmare scenario of getting the engine steam locked and stuck. It is not a pleasant experience when as captain you ring full astern and find that nothing happens. Or you ring full astern and you know from experience that one engineer will give it to you straight away and with another you know you will have to wait several seconds for the same thing. And in paddle steamer handling several seconds can feel like a very long time indeed and makes all the difference to a successful berthing.
Of course the ideal scenario is that every engineer does it exactly the same. That is how it is done in Switzerland. That is how they are trained. In the end, when we got it sorted out, that is how we did it on KC too. And I am very grateful for the advice which Ken Blacklock gave us all those very many years ago. So thank you Ken.
1977 was also the year in which Waverley first ventured forth to offer cruises in places other than the Clyde. On Friday 29th April she set off southwards to run some excursions from Liverpool and Llandudno. But that is another story for another day.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 23rd April 2021.