All aboard the world's last seagoing paddle steamer for 2013 season

Behind the scenes on the Waverley as the 66-year-old steamer prepares to go back on the high seas for the summer.

Waverley: The boat is the last seagoing paddle steamer in use.
© David Hitchborne

She was built in the days where an extravagant holiday was a few nights in Largs and a break abroad was the stuff of dreams, or movies.

She’s seen a change in monarchy, endured the invention and rise of the internet and come up against competition from car ferries and cheap flights.

But 66 years on, the Waverley is still taking Glaswegians on day trips ‘doon the watter’.

While the landscape of her native river has changed, the ship itself has been renovated and restored to look like her 1947 self.

And as the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world, The Waverley has a busy season ahead of her.

Kicking off on Friday, May 3 she will be heading up to Oban for some cruises before a stint on the Bristol Channel and then returning to the River Clyde for her main summer season and the Thames and Southampton in the autumn.

However, those 150 days of sailing across the UK come at a price. The Waverley’s projected fuel bill for 2013 is £570,000, on top of the £350,000 cost of maintaining her 1940s engine and façade.

Andy O’Brien, the senior master of the paddle steamer, says it’s more challenging than ever to get The Waverley riding the high seas.

He’s encouraging members of the public to take the opportunity to sail on her during the season.

Andy explained: “When these boats were built there were no motor cars, no Easyjet, no cheap packaged holidays.

“People went to Rosyth for their holidays or Millport and that was the same all over the country - they went to the local resorts and these steamers were the mode of transport.

“That’s the reason there is now only one because people go on their holidays abroad and they’ve all got motor cars and car ferries are what’s required to transport your car.

“She has bucked the trend in some respect but she does need a lot of support. She’s a very expensive beast to run and she needs support from the public, from the councils and from the industry.

“A lot of our older passengers remember the Clyde steamers and they’re bringing their kids and their grandkids on to experience the same. It’s also got a reputation as a great day out. She was voted in the top three nostalgic days out that you can do in the country.

“She takes you straight to these resorts the way that steamers used to and she also runs showboat cruises at night which are very popular with young people.”

The Waverley

During the six month season break, the Waverley’s small team of engineers and volunteers work to make sure her 1940s machinery is up to scratch, restore her funnels and varnish her decks and furniture.

She was built in 1947 to replace the original Waverley that sunk off Dunkirk in 1940 as it took part in the rescue of stranded Allied soldiers during the Second World War, and her initial route was between Craigendorran and Arrochar in Argyll and Bute.

In 1974 the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society saved the Waverley from being scrapped and bought the 693-tonne ship for just a token £1.

Since then the society and its supporters have maintained the steamer and through grants worth more than £6m from the Heritage Lottery Fund her interior including tearoom, bars and decking area have been restored to her 1940s glory.

Andy, who was born and brought up in Gourock, says the Waverley was a ship he was very much aware of when he was growing up.

He said: “My dad was a seafarer and a large part of the end of his career was on the Clyde steamers. I did travel on The Waverley as a passenger when I was younger but never ever did I imagine in my wildest dreams that I would end up as master of her. My career took me to sea and finally brought me back to square one and I’m now in command of this lovely old ship.

“There’s always work to do, she’s full of 1947 kit and a lot of modern stuff that’s been added over the years. The volunteer labour helps a great deal and over January and through to May it’s a process of getting the ship ready for passenger service and all the equipment maintained and recertified for the coming year.

“She’s absolutely unique, there’s no other ship that I could command in this country or in the world quite like her. She’s a very unmaneuverable ship, famously so, paddle steamers are very different from modern ships but she’s quite a pretty little thing, she’s very popular and if the weather’s nice and you’re taking her for a sail through the Kyles of Bute then there’s nowhere nicer to work.”

To find out more about the Waverley and her 2013 timetable check out The Waverley website.

Video by Greig Gallagher.

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