Monday 27th May was the first day in service of the 1963 season for Maid of the Loch. She made her usual two round trips of the loch from her base at Balloch, one in the morning and another in the afternoon carrying around 200 passengers on the first and 700 on the second on this day according to “Ship Ahoy”.
Three days later on 30th May Mr Alexander Stewart, General Manager of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company from 1955 to 1970 announced that the company had embarked on a very analytical review of its services with a view to cutting out marginal tonnage. He said:
Constantly rising costs make the position well nigh impossible. To make them pay the fares you would need to liquidate the losses would not be acceptable. The matter must be reviewed very carefully this year from the point of view of reorientation of the services from next summer. Where we are providing tonnage for pure luxury and speculative services which depend on the weather we cannot afford, with rising costs, to continue them in perpetuity. We would not wish to cause any hardship to the main traffic routes but would require to take a critical view of summer excursion vessels.
As a start to this the turbine steamer Duchess of Montrose and the paddle steamer Jeanie Deans were withdrawn at the end of the 1964 season with basing an excursion steamer at Ayr discontinued the following summer.
But for all that Maid of the Loch had a niche running up and down this beautiful loch. Against all the odds she managed to remain in service as other steamers were withdrawn from service on the Clyde and elsewhere and continued in steam right up to 1981 even though as the years rolled on the number of piers she could access declined with money unavailable to refurbish them as they fell into disrepair.
And in my view a suitable business model could be made for her to return to service. She could be run like a Swiss paddle steamer on this Category C inland waterway with a tiny basic core crew. For this she also has one ace up her sleeve to keep costs down. Right next to her base at Balloch she has her own slipway for annual MCA survey and underwater work.
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 27th May 2021.