Letting off steam


Letting off steam

Back in August we were treated to a day out on the Waverley by Crazy Uncle John. I’d wanted to go back on the paddle steamer for what seems like the best part of twenty years, but it isn’t the cheapest thing to do and there was always that nagging thought that if the novelty wore off all too quick then you’re pretty much stuck there for the duration.

Still, I was quietly excited about being back onboard just for the sheer nostalgia of it. A school trip on the Waverley was one of the highlight’s of my childhood, and it’s hard not to be impressed by what is a marvelous feat of engineering whatever your age.

The plan was to board the Waverley at Helensburgh pier at noon on the Sunday and enjoy the full six hours of cruising up and down The River Clyde between the various stopping points. Although the weather during the week had been pretty patchy, Saturday had been great, so we had high hopes of it being a nice day. Rain would have taken the shine off of the trip somewhat, but in the event we were rewarded with one of the clearest and sunniest days that late summer had to offer.

Arriving in time to watch the Waverley come in from way out in the Clyde, we waited as the pier became quite crowded. The steamer eventually came in at a fair rate of knots – looking for a time like it was going to disasterously strike the pier. It turns out those big paddles can bring all that mass to a halt in just a few seconds, which is quite an impressive party trick.

It looked very crowded on the deck, with people lining the sides staring back at us as the ship was manouvered into place. It was hard to tell which of the people around us were boarding and who was just watching, so I began to get nervous about the possibility of us missing out. We hadn’t booked tickets – the way it works is you just get onboard and buy them during the journey, showing them as you get off again. So on that basis there’s a chance it could be too crowded to get on should the turnout be large enough on a day as perfect as this one.

Having managed to shuffle our way along the pier to bring us closer to the where the gangways would be placed, I was a little more confident of getting on by the time we were given the order to board. In the event I needn’t have worried at all – the fact that folk naturally move to the port side to watch the ship dock had given the impression it was far busier than it actually was.

Once we were on deck and the crowds thinned out we took a seat on the starboard side and kept it as a base point for the rest of the day. Crazy Uncle John excitedly took Elisha off to explore almost straight away, after we’d explained to her not to go near the sides of the boat and not to run off by herself.

I was delighted with the chance to get my camera out again, and began reeling off shots of the Waverley, the view, and other boats as we passed them. Fliss had loaned me her telephoto lens for the day and I was glad of having it – there really wouldn’t have been much point of taking pics of anything too far afield without it.

We’d taken some snacks and drinks on with us, although we’d later discover from a notice on the back of the tickets that I shouldn’t have brought beer on with me. I actually bought more beer from the ship’s bar during the day than I’d taken with me, so maybe I only bent the rules a little bit. I’d forgotten about the restaurant below deck, and the smell of fish & chips as I passed by made me wish we’d not brought so much food with us.

As the day wore I documented the engine bay in mostly blurry photographs – turns out the light isn’t particularly good down there. Watching the steam engine is mesmerising, though, and when I wasn’t on deck gettinig sun burnt, I was down observing the massive pistons move us along with apparent ease.

Later in the afternoon I got talking to a couple of different people on the deck as the supporting cast changed at each stop. I met a really nice old guy who told me some great stories about his time as an engineer. The chat was mundane stuff on the face of it, but as I wasn’t going anywhere it was just a really good setting for drinking in the atmosphere and enjoying the history of the vessel.

By the time Helensburgh crept back into view I’d had my fill, though, and Elisha was spent after countless laps of the upper and lower decks. It had been a very long day and I was a bit on the sun burnt side, plus that sea air does take it out of you, too.

Stepping off the gangway onto the pier I looked back and wondered if it might be another twenty years before I was back onboard the Waverley again. Now that I have fresh new memories of a great day cruising on the Clyde to go with those fond childhood ones, I do hope not.