Waverley fleetmate ‘won’t sail in 2013’

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The operators of the paddle steamer Waverley have announced that the historic vessel’s fleetmate, the motor vessel Balmoral, will not sail in 2013.

Kathleen O’Neill, chief executive of Waverley Excursions Ltd, said that the Balmoral’s cruise programme had been disrupted in recent years by bad weather, and that to continue to operate the ship in 2013 would risk the viability of both the Balmoral and the Waverley.

The Balmoral was bought by the Waverley’s owners, the Waverley Steam Navigation Company Ltd, in 1985 to boost the company’s earnings as a way of safeguarding the Waverley’s future.

In a letter to Waverley and Balmoral stakeholders, Ms O’Neill said: “Balmoral’s operation has been hampered increasingly in recent years by extreme weather conditions. This has led to many cancelled or disrupted sailings, which has had a significant impact on that ship’s contribution to operating results. Waverley’s timetable is less susceptible to such disruptions.

“Clearly, we are unable to predict the weather for 2013, but none of the forecasters is predicting a significant improvement over recent years. After taking a wide range of considerations into account, we have decided, reluctantly, that it would be too great a risk to operate Balmoral next year and that doing so would increase the threat to the future of both ships.

“We are not in a position to take such a risk and so we will not be operating Balmoral on a programme of cruises in 2013.

“At the moment Balmoral is being looked after on a care and maintenance basis by volunteers in Bristol. We are looking at alternative ways of utilising the ship in 2013 and, over the coming months, we will seek to identify a robust operating programme to offer the prospect of returning her to service in 2014 and beyond.

“Waverley will operate her usual extensive programme visiting all the areas she has served for so many years.

“This has been a very difficult decision but we consider that it offers the best way in the current circumstances to ensure Waverley’s continued operation.”

Built at Woolston, near Southampton, and launched in 1949, the Balmoral’s annual cruise programme has in recent years been increasingly focussed on the waters of the Bristol Channel, south Wales and the south coast of England.

Her last spell in Scottish waters was a short programme of cruises from Oban in September.

The Waverley’s own future has been under threat in recent years due to a combination of poor weather, rising fuel costs and the economic downturn.

Donations from several public and private sector organisations and individuals, including Largs-based Euromillions jackpot winners Chris and Colin Weir, raised enough money to keep the paddler sailing during 2012, 65 years since her launch, while a development board has been formed to look at other ways in which the steamer might be a source of income.