July 2020:
Talisman Aground at Arrochar

July 2020:
Talisman Aground at Arrochar
On Thursday 3rd July 1952 Talisman, pictured here approaching Rothesay, ran aground at Arrochar.

In those days Waverley’s Class IV Passenger Certificate on “Partially Smooth Waters”, as then defined by the Board of Trade, was for 1,500 passengers. Talisman’s was for 822. Thursday 3rd July was expected to be a particularly busy day on the ferry runs across from the mainland to Dunoon and Rothesay so Waverley was drafted in to boost capacity on these routes and Talisman was rostered to replace her on her sailing from Craigendoran (10.10am),Gourock (10.40am), Dunoon (11.05am) up Loch long to Arrochar.

Talisman laid up at Greenock November 1965.

Arrochar Pier is on the east side of, and almost at the head of, Loch Long. The usual practice for the paddle steamers was to steam straight in to the pier and berth starboard side to. Then, when they had unloaded and loaded again, they backed out with the helm hard to port to swing the bow round so that it was pointing head out.

This was the first time that Talisman had visited Arrochar for some years and for some reason her master that day decided to swing her round to starboard at the head of the loch and so come in and berth her port side to so that she was already facing in the right direction for sailing back down the loch.

That is fine but there are a some points which all experienced paddle steamer captains must consider before undertaking such a manoeuvre. Firstly, is there enough room to get her round in one? Paddle steamers tend to have large turning circles for their size which can catch out those not used to their vagaries. KC has a turning circle of about 1 cable and Waverley’s is about 2 cables although these can be affected by the wind, how the passengers are standing around the ship affecting the trim of the ship with maybe one paddlewheel more deeply immersed in the water than the other and so on. I would expect that Talisman’s turning circle was about, and maybe a tiny tad under, 2 cables. The available room to turn off Arrochar Pier between the west shore and the pier is about 2 cables. So it was going to be tight.

Secondly where a turn is going to be tight, a captain needs to make sure that he maximises his room by keeping as far as he dare up to the shore on the opposite side of the loch (or river) from the pier to give him maximum room for his turn. This makes all the difference between the success or failure of such a manoeuvre when a captain is really pushed for space.

Thirdly he needs to consider what to do if the turn doesn’t work out as hoped. And in the doing of such a turn there can be a heart stopping moment for a paddle steamer captain. Is she going to come round and clear the end of the pier in time? Is she not going to do it? It can be a split second judgement. If you carry on you might hit the pier or maybe she will just make it. If you back off then you might run aground.

If you come to think that you are not going to make it then you need to stop in sufficient time, put the helm over in the opposite direction and back off at full speed to try to get some way on to give a bit of steering and so lift the bow off the pier so that you can have a second go at berthing.

Talisman aground at Arrochar 3rd July 1952.

And that was the problem at Arrochar. With the pier being almost at the head of the loch and with what little room there is to the north of it being shallow and awash with boat moorings, there just wasn’t anywhere to go astern.

It must have been a bleak few moments for Talisman’s master that day when he realised that he wasn’t going to make it, rang full astern to stop him running into the pier, dropped the anchor in readiness to try to haul himself off again and then watched as the sideways swing of the ship caused by the turn and exacerbated by going full astern set him slowly sideways until the ship came to rest on the shore.

However there was one plus point in all this which would have been immediately obvious, and ticked the right box, for any investigating Board of Trade surveyor. There is an axiom amongst captains: never allow yourself to be set ashore with your anchor still in the hawser pipe. And as you can see in this picture, he had dropped his anchor before he ran aground. So that box was ticked.

Talisman had 800 passengers aboard her that day who were all brought ashore in the lifeboats. 500 of them were bound for Tarbet just one and a half miles up the road on Loch Lomond to board Maid of the Loch for the run to Balloch with return by train. The remaining 300 boarded the Marchioness of Graham which arrived after the stranding on a day trip from Ayr.

Three hours later on a rising tide Talisman floated off again and made her way back under her own power to Craigendoran. There was no damage caused and she returned to service the following 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.

John Megoran

John Megoran