Monday, 30 May 2011

Waverley - 23rd August 1954

Another short piece from Robin Copland.

On the 23rd of August 1954, I had yet to reach my first birthday, so I am fairly certain that standing on my own two feet was not yet one of my major strengths.  The power of speech still eluded me, though doubtless I exercised my vocal chords when stressed or needing fed.  Food would probably still be limited to milk and perhaps the odd solid.  Perambulation would be by pram and my mother and father probably still thought of me as the apple of their collective eyes.

Of PS Waverley, I knew precisely and exactly nothing, but I have in front of me form E.R.O. 13826 – and please don’t ask; suffice it to say that it involves Ebay and a wife who wonders just which planet it is that I am from – the daily report of traffic carried on that good ship on that, for all I know, fine day.  And it makes interesting reading for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the route that she took.  Why don’t you come with me, whilst I explain all...

Craigendoran knew not of its fate twenty years down the line.  It remained a busy pierhead despite the takeover of the north bank fleet some six years previously by the “auld enemy”, those nice folk from Gourock.  Stubbornly, the crews of PS Waverley and PS Jeanie Deans stuck to their traditions.  Their erstwhile Craigendoran consort, DEPV Talisman had defected to the Caley stronghold that was the Millport station but at least she had seen off PS Marchioness of Lorne, already withdrawn and sitting idly in the Albert Harbour awaiting her fate – as it turned out, an appointment with the breakers torch in Port Glasgow the following year.

Waverley sat at the pier, steam wisping from her funnel and her paddles turning ever-so-gently as she was coaxed into life.  Her paddleboxes remained black and, though her funnels were painted in the buff and black of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Limited, the line on them both told of a different heritage.  She was in the prime of her young life at this point in her career – barely six years after her launch.  Her older sister, Jeanie Deans lay parallel to her on the pier.  Both their angled bows had gently kissed the sand under their keels as the tide went out from the notoriously shallow pier.  Later on, both the deeper-drafted Duchesses made calls at the pier, but one imagines that everyone on board was on high alert as the approach was made!  The last thing that anyone wanted as the famed turbines visited the north bank terminal was the ultimate embarrassment of being stuck fast to the seabed!

Life, in the form of a steam-hauled train puffed into the adjoining station; the odd car pulled up and was parked adjacent to the station entrance – nothing fancy in those days, mind you, nothing fancy at all.  An old Austin Seven perhaps, or maybe the still relatively new Morris Minor – the German invasion was still far into the future.  In any case and one-by-one, sixty one hardy souls boarded Waverley that morning – sixty-one hardy souls and five goats!  History does not tell us where the goats were headed, nor indeed where they were stored on board, but I imagine that they would have been tethered to a rail somewhere on board and that a sign would have been hastily erected – something to the effect that there were goats on board and to avoid wherever they were for fear of a kicking!

At ten o’clock, she beat across the estuary to Gourock where five of her number disembarked (the goats, I wonder?) and where 288 passengers joined.  Presumably, this being still the relatively early fifties, the bulk of those had travelled by train from points east.  She sailed across to Dunoon where 212 passengers joined but where 94 left the ship.  I presume that a goodly number of these had travelled either via Craigendoran or, more likely via Gourock and were using Waverley as a ferry service and nothing more.  In any case, she travelled next to Innellan, where 44 joined and 10 disembarked; at this stage, there were 496 people on board ship as she went round Toward Point and into Rothesay Bay.  At Rothesay 77 joined the ship and 118 left to enjoy the splendours of the Winter Gardens or the Old Pavilion.  She sailed from there through the Kyles of Bute to Tighnabruaich for a quick stop to let 9 off and take 22 on.

And now it gets interesting because our ship carries on through the Kyles of Bute, passing to the west of the Wee Cumbrae and on down to Brodick, there to pick up a solitary passenger and let 158 off.  Round the point she sailed to Lamlash next to drop off 41 passengers – doubtless they all went to the Aldersyde hotel just along from the pier, there to imbibe the odd pint or two or foaming ale.  She was not finished yet though, for her next and final stop was Whiting Bay where the remaining 244 passengers disembarked for a short stay ashore.

What happened next was also interesting, for the 244 who had left at Whiting Bay became 265 for the first leg of the return trip.  I can only imagine that a goodly few had disembarked at Brodick and Lamlash, travelled by road to Whiting Bay and rejoined the ship there.  Maybe some did the same in reverse – in other words, disembarked at Whiting Bay, then made their way north to Brodick or Lamlash.  For 65 joined at Lamlash and 135 joined the ship at Brodick, though 3 left at that point. 

So where does that leave us?  Well 442 passengers were disembarked at the three Arran ports and, when she left Brodick on her return trip around the east coast of Bute (and therefore not calling at Tighnabruaich), she had 445 passengers on board.  I do not have a 1954 timetable to hand, but I assume that there was a connecting service from Rothesay to Tighnabruaich to allow the nine passengers who embarked there the chance to get back home; I also assume that the 22 who disembarked in the Kyles of Bute resort would have used TS Queen Mary II perhaps – or even St Columba, I suppose, to return whence they came.

When she came alongside Rothesay, there were 177 passengers waiting to board and 75 to clear, so for her trip from Rothesay to Innellan, she was again at her busiest – carrying 544 people.  At Dunoon, 141 joined her and 211 left; at Gourock, 301 left and 15 joined her, so for her final leg to Craigendoran, she still had a relatively healthy 171 passengers on board.

She was never near her capacity throughout the day, to be fair, but pause and reflect on this for a moment.  Waverley was but one of a large number of Clyde River Steamers, visiting different parts of the estuary.  What is more, you could plan to stay on one ship, or you could devise all kinds of weird and wonderful combinations of ships as they – and you – danced your way around the firth.  Even relatively remote outposts like Tighnabruaich received regular steamer visits each day.  The major resorts like Dunoon and Rothesay had multi-berth piers, but more importantly, they were still needed.  Often there would be two or sometimes three steamers tied up, but straining to get on their way again.  The great difference between then and now was the sheer number of inter-resort sailings available to the travelling public of the time.  Not many people had access to cars and most folk were still reliant on public transport.

There is one more thing of interest to note.  On the return journey from Arran, there were three barrows of general freight and – one dinghy.  I ask you – one dinghy!

 Robin Copland

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ken Angell - An Obituary

Words & Photos by Stuart Mears

Writing an obituary for a friend and former work-mate is never easy. Having to write obituaries for two is particularly sad, yet having scarcely finished John Lees’ obituary I learned that Ken Angell had also passed away. Ach.

Although I was only signed on ship’s articles at the same time as Ken for three summer holiday spells whilst I was at school and intermittently when I was Balmoral’s motorman in 1988, again, like John, Ken proved to be a very big part of my brief seagoing career.

When I was first around Waverley in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Waverley’s engineering team were exclusively Scottish, but with the arrival of Prince Ivanhoe, came an influx of Welsh engineering expertise. Sadly the Prince Ivanhoe venture did not last as long as anyone of us would have liked but a positive of that was that we ended up with Ken on Waverley, and I’ve always thought that Firth of Clyde Steam Packet Company Limited’s loss was very much our gain, so to speak.

As with John Lees, since hearing of his passing, I have found myself smiling a lot as I’ve been remembering Ken and again, that is surely a measure of the man.

Some random memories. In no particular order:

Anyone who knew Ken must surely remember his infectious laughter which seemed to be almost permanently about to break out. But as well as his undoubted ability to brighten the place up, he was never slow to let you know if things were not up to his expectations and for a young aspiring engineer this was an invaluable mentorship. I well remember being on a particularly intense run ashore to the Off the Record bar in Glasgow and it’s fair to say that as an 18yr old I was still exploring the boundaries as to what counted as sensible drinking! The next morning I was paying the price for such overindulgence and was coiling the shore power cable with scarcely concealed nausea. I’ll never forget Ken coming down the alleyway and letting me know exactly how stupid I’d been. At the time I probably just had a bit of a huff but as the year’s have passed, I’ve come to realise that in this instance and many others, he was really just looking out for me in his own inimitable way.

It was Ken who gave me my first task as a member of the engineering department. On a bright sunny morning in Glasgow I was sent with Ken for some job or another on the steering engine. We got as far as the hatch on the poop deck when Ken turned to me and in very solemn tones announced, “Right, I have an important job for you, young ‘un. Get it right, and we’ll be fine. Get it wrong band you’ll have a bloody miserable summer holiday job. Listen carefully. I want you to make me a cup of coffee. However, I want one heaped table spoonful of coffee in it. Not a tea spoonful, a table spoonful. Think you can mange that? Good-oh, off you trot.” I was convinced it was a wind-up but I did as I was told and low and behold it was actually what he wanted. This turned out to be no emergency hangover recovery cuppa. It was just how Ken liked his coffee. I can’t have made too bad a job of it because over the ensuing seasons on both Waverley and Balmoral, it’s safe to say I made Ken quite a few!

When I had been on Balmoral as motorman in ’88 for a few weeks, Ken came aboard to visit during the overlap of a couple of days when Waverley and Balmoral were both on the Bristol Channel at the same time. He tracked me down in the Steering Flat and asked how things were going. When I diplomatically replied that I was learning more about painting than marine engineering, he said he’d have a quiet word with the Chief. That same day and for the rest of the season I was suddenly driving the starboard main engine at just about every pier! Again, he was really just looking out for me in his own inimitable way.

Ken was a man for whom all apart from the bottom two stud fasteners on his boiler suit seemed purely for decoration rather than function, but given the elevated temperatures in both Waverley and Balmoral machinery spaces, I reckon he was smarter than all the rest of us!

When I was working in Waverley’s engine room, during school summer holidays,  one of my daily tasks was to polish the brasses, including the large copper funnel that sits out on one of the walkways that extends over the main engine, and it’s smaller brass companion. I used to fetch those in from their allotted positions and buff them up from the comfort of the engine room tool chest. Never being one to let the opportunity for a bit of fun pass by, Ken soon had us playing them bugle style, usually on an early morning run down from Glasgow. A favourite was “When the saints go marching in” complete with harmony parts, with me holding down the melody….sort of, and Kenny heading off on some freeform jazz improvisation.

He could deliver a bollocking and a compliment in the same sentence! When Waverley was undergoing her wheel transplant in the early 90’s I was down in Avonmouth for the start up and run to the dry dock. Unknown to me Ken had been summonsed from Balmoral to help the new chief with the intricacies of the Waverley’s machinery. When he arrived on the engine room platform and spied me there his outburst to me in front of everybody was along the lines of “oh for *&#! Sake, if you’d let on YOU were here I could have told them to get lost, you could have shown them the ropes (!) and I’d have had another couple of hours in me bed”! In amongst the expletives and moaning about getting dragged out of his bed there was actually a back handed compliment that he thought the ship would have been in safe enough hands with just me there. To be honest I think it was just a bit of flattery but I walked a bit taller that day nevertheless.

One week when we were stormbound in Swansea on Balmoral, Ken and I were tasked with re-jointing one of the cylinder heads on the port engine. Things had not, to be fair, got off to a great start as , whilst we started on the cylinder head, Iain Mac and Thundermop, the other motorman were working beneath and had removed the crankcase door. These two were obviously not used to working as a team….ahem. As the increasingly irate exchanges wafted up to us astride the cylinder head Ken and I became increasingly helpless as we tried to contain our mirth in silence. However, once Thundermop actually dropped a bit of engine on Iain’s head I’m (slightly) ashamed to say we fell about laughing

By this stage in the proceedings we were actually at the point of getting the head off the engine casing by a well established though rather novel means. This involved backing off the cylinder head nuts by about an 1/8th of an inch then starting the engine…..sort of. The trick was just to put the starting air on the engine, not go for full blown ignition. The blast of air would jack up the cylinder head till it hit the nuts that had been slackened. This was then repeated until the head was easy to remove by chainblock. At this point a young steward stuck his head into the engine room to see what was going on. He was obviously and understandably bored stiff, on a wet day in Swansea on an almost deserted ship and we were subjected to an endless stream of questions about what we were doing and why. Now, call it coincidence but Ken seemed to have become a bit over enthusiastic and, as well as slackening the nuts off a wee bit more than the regulation 1/8th of an inch, also came within an ace of actually starting the engine! The resultant explosion of sparks, flames and smoke, had the steward departing up the alleyway never to be seen again for the rest of the day! 


Just Like Ken.

Ken in Balmoral's Engine Room

Stuart Mears


Monday, 2 May 2011

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than This!

Sunday May 1st will go into the diary as one of the best days I have ever had on Waverley ever!
The forecast strong winds did not appear to have materialised as we boarded Waverley amidst glorious sunshine at Oban's North Pier.
Today's cruise would take us to the Isle of Coll passing the Treshnish Isles en-route. An hour's time ashore could be had if you didn't fancy the afternoon cruise on offer. After a pleasant sail we arrived at Coll ahead of time - so much so that those going ashore had additional half hour!
On reboarding we headed for Tobermorey via the Sound of Mull arriving back at North Pier a full 25mins early. Couple that with a hebridean sunset and you have a great day to remember!
Gavin Stewart