PS Waverley: The World’s Last Seagoing Paddle Steamer

PS Waverley: The World's Last Seagoing Paddle SteamerWell, here we are again; it’s always such a pleasure. This post is about something that is quite near and dear to my heart — it’s definitely something I’m geeky about, but it’s got tech aspects that some LockerGnome readers might appreciate, as well. Paddle Steamer Waverley is the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer. She was built in 1946 for the London and North Eastern Railway Company (LNER), so I suppose that puts her squarely in the ranks of the railway’s now famous locomotives like The Flying Scotsman or The Mallard. Waverley was the last “traditional” paddle steamer to be built on the River Clyde. Waverley is/was/will be the last “Clyde Steamer” in current passenger operation.

Regardless of what fuel is used, the two boilers power a 2,100 diagonal triple-expansion steam engine. This engine is the original built by Rankin & Blackmore Limited, Greenock. This engine, Number 520, is not the most efficient engine in the world nowadays, but at the time it built, it was the most efficient steam engine available. Truth be told, the engine is around 70% inefficient, with most of the energy lost through heat. However, the engine cannot be replaced with a new diesel engine for a few reasons. One, Waverley’s engine room is open so that we, the general public, can see the engine in operation — quite majestic it is, too. Two, Waverley would cease to be a paddle steamer if its heart were to be so savagely ripped out and replaced. Waverley was originally coal-fired in 1946/7 when she entered service, although the plans — so I’m told — said that she was to be oil-fired. Oil was more efficient for Waverley because of her two small boilers; coal didn’t get complete combustion. It wasn’t uncommon to see Waverley’s front funnel (the rear one is for storage), belching black smoke between 1947 and 1957 when the coal was finally replaced with oil.

The DEPV (Diesel Electric Paddle Vessel) Talisman, which was built before Waverley, showed the latest in the era’s technology being powered by a diesel electric engine. I should point out that diesel is different to light, medium, and heavy fuel oil, and it could be disastrous if you use the wrong type of fuel. The Talisman was withdrawn from service in 1966 due to her diesel electric engines failing and having to be replaced twice. Some have said that she was withdrawn too early and that, if she was built now, the technology would be there and she could rival Waverley’s success because she would be cheaper to operate.

This was not the case with Waverley, which fell into the hands of the PSPS (Paddle Steamer Preservation Society). At this point of Waverley’s story, she was part of the merged Caledonian Steam Packet Company and David MacBrayne LTD, currently still operating as r Caledonian MacBrayne. While she was part of the new Caledonian MacBrayne fleet, the paddler was sold in 1975 to Douglas McGowan of the PSPS for the sum of £1. Since then, Waverley has been sailing around The Clyde, Western Isles, South Coast, and Bristol Channel.

I’ve been sailing on Waverley since I was around the age of five. Technically speaking, I’ve been supporting Waverley for 21 years, if not more. So you could say that I’m part of the geeks who make up the regulars who sail on board every year — or at least I try. Waverley holds special interest for me because she’s steam powered and because she looks just so different from the current “boxes” that we call modern ferries. The picture below is of one of these modern ferries.

The Bute and The Argyle were built in 2009/2010 by a shipyard in Gdansk, Poland. They are quite ugly, in my opinion, and can’t really do the job that they were designed for (as the people of the Isle of Bute will tell you). They operate the service between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay, Isle of Bute. Due to their high-sided design, they easily catch the wind and, during windy days in Wemyss Bay, they can’t dock and have to divert to Gourock. This impacts the timetable and passenger satisfaction. You would expect the Islanders to revolt, but CalMac holds the monopoly on that route. CalMac also holds the monopoly on the only other route off the Island, which is between Colintraive and Rhubodach.

Waverley has been entertaining visitors and locals alike for generations, and is always looking for money to keep the steamer afloat and be able to entertain visitors for years to come. The ticket price may be steep, but Waverley is something special. I would not be giving Waverley any kind of advertising if I did not think that she was worth a donation. Waverley is a registered charity and I would ask anyone to donate as much as they can comfortably afford to keep her in steam and sailing for generations ahead.

If you are willing to donate a little something, then I would advise that you contact Waverley Excursions via email. Thank you.

Are there any local attractions that feature functioning tech from yesteryear in your neck of the woods that similarly drive your geeky passions? Drop us a comment and let us know about it!

Article Written by

John “Scotsman” McKinlay is a 25-year-old autistic living in Glasgow, Scotland. He has been an online presence since 1998, but has only recently found that his voice and writing skills could bring him into the world of blogging and podcasting -- with a bit of YouTube on the side. He joined the ranks of LockerGnome back in March of 2012 and has been warmly received both by the LockerGnome staff and by you lovely ladies and gentlemen of the LockerGnome audience.

  • http://twitter.com/MeHawth Aaron

    Wow! I live in Scotland, and I remember one time I was in Girvin with my family. I saw many boats that day as Girvin is famous for its harbour. However, in the distance, I saw this beautiful, mighty and unusual boat. I soon found out it was the world famous ‘Waverley’ . Ever since then, I’ve been keeping my eye out for this unique boat whenever I am at the coast or near the Clyde. And a great blog post as well,it was great to find out a thing or two about it! :-)