Irish Sea Shipping probably indirectly owes its existence to the P.S. WAVERLEY. That might be a strange claim to make; however the WAVERLEY is directly responsible for developing my interest in maritime matters.
I first set my foot on WAVERLEY's decks on May 3, 1977 whilst I was in my penultimate year at school. At that time I was very much a railway enthusiast. My interest in the WAVERLEY stemmed from the fact she was built for the same company that operated the famous Flying Scotsman - the London and North Eastern Railway - she was a railway ship.
The trip on Tuesday May 3, 1977 was an evening "Showboat" cruise chartered by the local Wirral Railway Circle of which I was then a member. On that evening 24 years ago I sailed beyond the Rock and out into the Irish Sea for the first time. Prior to that my only other sailings from Liverpool had been on the Mersey Ferries services and on the river cruises operated by ROYAL IRIS and ROYAL DAFFODIL.
Other sea going trips had been limited to a launch trip from St. Ives sometime in the late 1960s to view some seals and on the Norwest Hovercraft Company's DENNY ENTERPRISE. There had also been a launch trip to view an aircraft carrier off Penzance again in the 1960s of which I have a vague recollection. However, the trip out of the Mersey on the WAVERLEY was my first real trip to sea on a real ship.
There are a number of features of the 1977 trip I recall. Queuing for the then waiter service restaurant, the request for passengers to spread out, rather than congregate on the sheltered side of the vessel to stop her listing. In the channel I gazed on the wreck of the PEGU for the first time, she still retained a mast in the 1970s.
I don't remember if we actually reached the Bar on the first trip, and if I am not mistaken we the cruise concluded earlier than planned due to a shortage of fuel oil or water.
A on the following Sunday I made the full day trip from Liverpool to Morecambe Bay via Fleetwood, the WAVERLEY turning somewhere off Heysham power station. The outward bound trip from Liverpool was I recall somewhat lively.
I didn't go to sea again until the Waverley returned in 1980. By then I was at college and it was easier to juggle some time off - I did an afternoon trip - which had been billed for school parties - Though the forward saloon was reserved for adults. There should have been a trip to North Wales, I can still recall my disappointment at seeing the WAVERLEY in mid river but being told that the trip was cancelled due to adverse conditions which prevented the WAVERLEY being brought alongside the landing stage. However, on the following day it was possible to sail to Fleetwood.
After the WAVERLEY departed I hoped that she would return but she never did. However, in autumn 1991 I decided to take a rather wild trip to North Wales on her running mate BALMORAL - a thoroughly enjoyable trip. In May 1992 it was scheduled that WAVERLEY would operate two cruises from Liverpool whilst en route to the Bristol Channel - I can still remember arriving at Prince's Landing Stage to be greeted by a solitary crewman who advised that the trip had been cancelled as WAVERLEY was stormbound in Glasgow. However, within a few weeks I had taken myself off to Ilfracombe and travelled to Lundy Island on WAVERLEY. My first journey on the paddler since 1980. As they say the rest is History by the mid 1990s I was hooked on shipping and an embryo Mersey and Irish Sea Shipping was circulating as text only newsletter - "Mersey Shipping News" in some CompuServe news groups.
In the latter part of the 1990s my wanderings on WAVERLEY and BALMORAL decreased and my last journey on WAVERLEY was in spring 1996 on the Bristol Channel this being partly due to a change in holiday venues and also a growing interest in Irish Sea ferry operations.
However, my regard for the WAVERLEY has never diminished and it was with great pleasure that I received the news that the Liverpool Daily Post was sponsoring the return of the WAVERLEY to Merseyside to commemorate the 180th Anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool and North Wales steam ship service inaugurated by the PS CAMBRIA on June 4, 1821.
Unfortunately despite announcing the news of the WAVERLEY's visit on M&ISS I managed to delay making my own reservations and consequently failed to obtain tickets for the North Wales trip. I don't know what caused the inertia on my part as I tend to book early. However, it was possible to secure tickets for the cruises on Wednesday June 20.
Liverpool - Llandudno - Holyhead
Though I wasn't able to make this trip it was pleasing to note that the sailing was sold out with over 630 tickets sold. Evidence enough that there is sufficient interest for WAVERLEY to operate further sailings from Merseyside. Due to prevailing conditions she did not quite make Holyhead Bay, being forced to turn off Wylfa on the north coast of Anglesey.
In the evening I drove to New Brighton with the intention of watching her return. However, arriving on New Brighton promenade around 20:10 I was amazed to note that she was facing the wrong way. Mersey Radio was advising other ships to give the WAVERLEY a wide berth and pass slowly as she was at anchor. Fortunately I was able to ascertain by phone from correspondent Kevin Bennett who was on board what had happened. WAVERLEY had lost a paddle float. There then followed an anxious wait to see what happened next. The thought that the next day's trips might have to be cancelled crossed my mind. Eventually she started up again, and aided by a flood tide she was alongside at Prince's Landing Stage by 21:45 just 45 minutes behind schedule. RAPIDE, which does not make a sailing to Douglas on Tuesday evening had moved off the stage and was waiting off Birkenhead.
Liverpool - Lancashire Coast Cruise
I arrived down at the Pier Head early hoping to secure a good location for photographing WAVERLEY's arrival at the Mersey Ferry landing stage from which the three departures were scheduled. [Arrivals being at Sea Containers - Prince's Landing Stage]. On previous sailings of the BALMORAL it had been possible to go down onto the Landing Stage to await the vessel's arrival and obtain some photographs as the vessel came alongside. However, passengers were being queued outside the Mersey Ferries ticket office. To complicate matters, just half an hour after the WAVERLEY's departure a Mersey Ferries Manchester Ship Canal Cruise was due to depart from the Landing Stage.
The WAVERLEY had been anchored near Cammell Laird, she began moving towards the landing stage before 10:00. With the 10:00 ferry departure out of the way passengers were allowed onto the landing stage, unfortunately I was just too late getting onto the south end of the stage to secure any decent arrival photographs.
Once on board it became apparent just how long that the queue had become running back along the stage and up the bridge.
WAVERLEY managed to get away at 10:35 just five minutes behind schedule with 612 passengers for what had been advertised as the Lancashire Coast Cruise. Though the weather was good, there was a stiff breeze and passengers were advised that the ship would proceed out to the Bar and a decision would be made as to the direction and duration of the cruise depending on the prevailing conditions.
The voyage down the buoyed channel proved to be slightly bracing in the prevailing moderate WNW wind, which caused a little spray and motion, though nothing particularly of note. Though some passengers appeared to find it hard finding a comfortable spot on deck and kept wandering around!
Having used the northern most ferry berth, WAVERLEY came off stern first to clear the PONTUS we continued heading stern first for some distance before moving ahead.
SEACAT ISLE OF MAN was already ahead of WAVERLEY having come off the stage at 10:30 for her morning sailing to Douglas. Passing inbound for Tranmere was a Navicon VLCC in the company of Wijsmuller Tugs.
P&O's EUROPEAN ENVOY was seen preparing to leave Gladstone Lock shortly before 11:00. The Rock was passed at 11:00 around the same time the tanker DITLAND passed inbound.
At 11:19 an inbound [Belgian?] trawler was noted in Crosby Channel, she was followed by the LUMAR a small blue coaster at 11:21. As we proceeded along the channel MD&HC dredger MERSEY MARINER passed inbound. Astern of MERSEY MARINER followed the Estonian Shipping Company's CELTIC SUN on charter to P&O Irish Sea in bound from Dublin. Bringing up the rear of the convoy of inbound ships came the LPG Tanker the LINDA KOZAN in the Kozan groups distinctive and well presented yellow and white livery.
As WAVERLEY had made her way down the channel P&O's EUROPEAN ENVOY had been gaining very slowly. She eventually drew level at around 11:45, passing WAVERLEY to port.
Passing Q1 at 11:57 WAVERLEY soon reached the Bar where it was announced that due to the forecast for later in the day the cruise would not run up the Lancashire coast but instead proceed along the north Wales coat to off Rhyl.
As someone who prefers the Welsh coast to the Lancashire coast this was a very acceptable change, though some of those on board expecting to view Blackpool Tower may have been disappointed!
Shortly after mid day I thought it was time to try out the new dining arrangements on the Waverley. The new dining saloon is quite impressive. However there are one or two niggles about the redesign. The location of the servery and the new escape stairs create a degree of congestion when a large number of people wish to dine. The queue back from the servery area blocks access to the tables on the starboard side of the saloon, with crew trying to clear tables and passengers with trays trying to locate tables whilst others are queuing appears to cause chaos. The passages to the servery just seem too small and it must be very inconvenient for the crew.
Another moan is about one's fellow passengers. Those who hog tables with an almost finished cup of tea whilst others with full meals are looking for somewhere to sit. It was noted that several announcements were made to encouraged such passengers to move on. Worse still are those passengers who buy a tea and then eat their own sandwiches! This is a problem not confined to Waverley, but has been apparent to me on various ferries when carrying a good load of passengers. Too many are prepared to treat the dining area as an extension to the general seating area which is selfish to others.
WAVERLEY reached a point off Rhyl around 13:00 when she made a turn to starboard. With our back to the wind - temperatures on deck soon rose and passengers appeared to be lingering longer in one spot rather than moving about! This appeared to have a beneficial effect on space.
After the turn our speed was reduced. DAWN MERCHANT passed westbound for Dublin at 13:35 with the Bar light being passed at 13:53. Our slow speed return was somewhat disappointing. One thought it might have been possible to travel further along the Welsh coast before turning and heading back to Liverpool at full speed. However, I have since learnt that the pilot did not want to head up the Mersey channel at low water hence the earlier turn.
The journey back to Liverpool appeared to be a dead slow. Blackpool Tower did just become visible for those who had hoped to view it from the sea at closer quarters! Despite passing the Bar at 13:53 the Rock was not passed until 15:22! Whilst the average punter might have been enjoying the sun I must admit this enthusiast was not quite so happy about what appeared to be a disappointing performance. Perhaps I have had too many fast Bristol Channel sailings?
WAVERLEY returned to Prince's Landing Stage at 15:45 - fifteen minutes ahead of the advertised arrival time.
It was pleasing to return to the Landing Stage just a few hours later for the evening showboat cruise. Once again passengers were queued up outside the Mersey Ferries terminal an led onto the stage after the departure of the 19:15 ferry sailing. For this sailing much lower numbers were evident which made for greater space on board.
The Jeanie Deans Bar appeared popular with those attending the Merseysippi Jazz Band performance. As the evening progressed and more passengers appeared to gravitate in that direction. When I tried to get to the Jeanie Deans Bar around 22:00 was packed and one had to make do with a tea from the dining saloon as reaching the bar looked like a major task!
WAVERLEY got away at 19:41 and within minutes was passing the large bulk carrier AKER which was entering Langton Lock in company of Howard Smith tugs. In the channel the MD&HC dredger MERSEY VIKING was noted heading inbound. Once again there were no prizes in the performance stakes as Formby lightfloat was passed at 20:45
The Bar light was reached around 21:04 where we passed within feet of the light float. Turning to port the WAVERLEY pointed her bows towards Liverpool and we circled around the Bar for a while, whilst viewing a beautiful sunset.
Running back up the Channel an unidentified blue coaster passed outbound, followed by MERSEY VIKING on her sailing to Belfast. Arrival back at Princes Landing stage was shortly after 23:00.
It was great to see the WAVERLEY back on the Mersey after such a long absence. Lets hope that she will return more often. The support is obviously there with around 1,600 passengers sailing on the three trips that were offered.
PLEASE COME BACK NEXT YEAR!!!!