Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Waverley Western Isles 2013

Waverley began her 2013 sailing season on Friday 3rd May with her traditional programme of cruises around the Western Isles based in Oban. Last year those venturing north were rewarded with 11 hot and sunny days. This contrast this year could not have been more pronounced.
Truncated to five days of cruising, Waverley departed a wet Glasgow Science Centre at slightly after 7.30am with lots of familiar faces on board. The absence of some familiar and new faces was surprising, perhaps deterred by the shortened schedule and doom-laden weather forecast. Departure was delayed, not because of our Clyde Marine canting partner breaking down - this was a mere operational ripple - but because we lacked the mandatory “roll accompaniments” to the bacon and sausages.
This would be the first of the many intricate challenges that were lurking ready to confront Captain Andy O'Brian and his crew over the elongated Bank Holiday weekend. In this, just as in his handling of the other ‘opportunities’, he instinctively made what the hushed majority agreed was the proper decision; we awaited the late-running baker.
Our chances of rounding the Mull of Kintyre were not good, but by Campbeltown Captain Andy O'Brian reckoned that we had a 50:50 chance so we ventured around the corner to have a peek. In the end the Waverley’s passage around the Mull, whilst lively, was untroubled.
A call was made at Colonsay to satisfy Waverley’s passenger certificate conditions, with ‘Lord of the Isles’ kindly standing off for a couple of minutes to allow us to recover some lost time.

Calmac's LOTI at Colonsay with some of her hardier passengers
on deck to witness Waverley's pier-side manoeuvring.

Waverley reached Oban a mere 30 minutes later than advertised and disgorged her self-discharging cargo on to the North Pier. The rain was ineffective in repelling the sounds of a wheeled luggage invasion as passengers trundled their way to waiting buses or accommodation.
Saturday dawned with more rain and the shipping forecast map again included Malin and Hebridies-shaped red bits. It wasn’t looking good for Ardnamurchan and the scheduled cruise to Armadale and Inverie. On taking Waverley out beyond the relatively sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull, it was clear to all to see, and feel, that the passage round Ardnamurchan was a no-go. Leaving The Old Forge at Inverie to solve its excess beer problem, Waverley turned abaft and headed up Loch Sunart, then onwards to Loch Linnhe where we overtook the Fort William-bound brig-rigged ‘Stavros S Niarchos’ before Waverley turned back for Oban.
The rain never stopped.
The Tall Ships Youth Trust 'Stavros S Niarchos' sailing at a sedate 6 knots
up Loch Linnhe to her overnight anchorage at Fort William.
Day 3, Sunday started predictably with… no wait… there is no sign of the forecast rain… yet.
One minor disadvantage of always travelling on board Waverley is that one rarely gets the opportunity to photography the ship, except inevitably at Oban’s North Pier. 7am on Sunday morning and it had not yet started to rain.
Waverley set off to Fort Bill at 8am to pick up passengers. For those who had elected for forgoing the pleasure of a warm bed they were rewarded by sunshine and blissful cruising weather. The clouds started to roll in as we passed through the Corran narrows.
Something was wrong.
Approaching the Corran ferry 'Corran' at Corran!
The paddles slowed then stopped within sight of the red-roofed Crannog Restaurant at Fort William’s Town Pier. The ship’s emergency generator near the stern was leaking oil. Captain O'Brian was left with no choice but announce our immediate return to Oban. As befitting the mood, the apparent viscosity of the rain increased to surpass that of the leaking oil. The ship’s engineers faced the unenviable task of getting the genny repaired.
A man and his white van was duly dispatched from Falkirk to make the 200 mile round trip to Oban.
Waverley arrived back to a North Pier speckled with umbrellas and soggy potential passengers. Announcements were duly made. Our technical problem meant that the afternoon ‘four lochs and a whirlpool’ cruise was cancelled, but everyone was welcomed on board to look around the ship and sample Waverley’s traditional roast beef or turkey Sunday roast.
Remarkably the rain continued to get heavier and thicker throughout the afternoon. So, rather than travelling up to Fort William on Waverley, the evening was spent watching the rain washing the windows of the hastily arranged B&B (whilst peering at the Ee-usk webcam on the interweb anxiously checking to see if the van with the man had left the quayside).
Waverley rests in damp conditions at Oban's North Pier while repairs are carried out. (P Semple)
Only a white van in sight! (P Semple)
Monday and the red shapes continued to loiter upon the shipping forecast map in all of the wrong places. Passengers were informed that red shapes made a landing at Iona impossible. So Waverley again stayed within the waters of the Sound of Mull and, after an absence of two years made an impromptu call at Tobermory Pier. After a damp couple of hours ashore we headed up and around Lismore in progressively dismal weather before returning to Oban.
At Tobermory. (P Semple)
Day five of five and what a beaut. The sky was predominantly clear and blue, the sea glassy and turquoise as Waverley paddled her way south via Colonsay and Campbeltown to Greenock.
Sanda lighthouse with it's unique stone towers that enclose the steps from
the keepers cottages up to the lighthouse.
At Custom House Quay Waverley’s intended berth was occupied by, yes our old friend Stavros S Niarchos. Delicate and precise manoeuvring was required before the Greenockian air could be saturated with the dulcet tones of wheeled luggage perambulating over cobblestones.
It was over.
Next day Waverley was towed the six cables to the Garvel dock to begin her annual dry docking.
It was not the most auspicious of starts to the new season but one can D:Ream that “Things can only get better.”
Thanks are due to Captain O’Brian and crew of PS Waverley for dealing admirably with the fickle weather and resultant operational difficulties. Also many thanks to the engineers and volunteers, who worked over the cold winter months to ensure that Waverley completed her ten year inspection and was, err, shipshape for all of us to enjoy this year.
(More photographs may be found on Flickr here!)
Roy Tait