A New Life with P. & A. Campbell
Balmoral was chartered from Red Funnel by P. & A. Campbell of the Bristol Channel in 1969. When Balmoral arrived, she was placed on a substantial cruise programme along with her former fleet-mate Westward Ho.
The steamers of the Bristol Channel found it challenging to create a predictable schedule due to the enormous tidal range. Thus the ship mixed sailing days between regular journeys to Lundy, and operating a ferry between Cardiff and Weston-Super-Mare.
It transpired that Balmoral was a great success that Summer, which led to a ten-year demise charter being arranged. It led to Balmoral returning the following year
In 1970, we saw fuel prices and the cost of wages rise. Combined with challenging weather, which was only further compounded by problems with the parent company of P. & A. Campbell (European Ferries).
This season, the Balmoral appeared in a brand new, full Campbell livery – complete with a funnel cowl. With her newly painted white funnel, Balmoral soon became a well-loved steamer as she cruised to Lundy and the other Bristol Channel resorts. With her speed, Balmoral was placed chiefly on the Bristol to Lundy and the Swansea to Ilfracombe via Tenby routes. This marked the first time since the passing of the paddle steamers that Tenby was restored to a working schedule.
Her sea-going qualities were improved by increasing her weight aft. It enabled her to cope well with the deep-sea conditions of the more exposed Bristol Channel crossings.
Soon, she established a reputation as a spectacular excursion steamer and inherited the annual Isles of Scilly mini-cruise.
By 1971, the Westward Ho was withdrawn from the Campbell fleet, leaving Balmoral to become the sole survivor and heir to the Campbell name.
Carrying over 200 years of pleasure steaming heritage on her decks, the Balmoral is now based at Swansea to provide regular sailings to Lundy Island, via the harbour of Ilfracombe. She provides a reliable service with good speed, despite the vast expanse of the channel in this area.
From 1973, the Balmoral was to be undertaking more public sailings at Penarth, Bristol, and Weston-Super-Mare. A more varied schedule here provided enough traffic to extend her season and thereby aided by the ship’s economical running costs.
However, the 1974 operating season was impacted by poor weather. There was also an incredibly rare breakdown that spanned three weeks. Thankfully, this was remedied with an uplift in weather and patronage in a 1975 and 1976 uplift.
Balmoral was now becoming well-known around the rest of the UK, and she undertook several select cruises as well as tendering work. During this time, she visited North Wales, the Isle of Man, and Fleetwood. She also conducted some famous enthusiast charters around the Isle of Wight and participated in the 1977 Silver Jubilee Fleet Review.
It was in 1977 that P. & A. Campbell decided to acquire the Devonia. A splendid vessel, formerly Scillonian of the Isle of Scilly Steamship Company. She operated from Penzance, Cornwall, to St. Mary’s in the Scilly Islands.
However, this acquisition had a further knock-on effect on the finances of the company. Beneath the surface of enterprise and success, it became self-evident that the writing was on the wall.
Meanwhile, at the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, the paddle steamer Waverley undertook a full programme of cruises around the UK. Her success led to a search for an economical vessel to join her.
In their eyes, a second vessel would provide support in case of a breakdown and promote more significant usage of piers and harbors around the UK. For now, though, this story goes no further and does not yet include the Balmoral.
Finally, in the late 1970s, wages and fuel prices were escalating, while good cruising weather conditions seemed the exception. Profits were minimal, and areas of maintenance and necessary refurbishment were fast increasing. While the mechanical nature of the vessels was impeccable, a prolonged lorry drivers’ strike had impaired the parent company (European Ferries) profitability. It came as no surprise then that at the end of 1979, the traditional operations of the P & A. Campbell Ltd. White Funnel Fleet ceased. The age of the commercial operation of day excursion ships in England and Wales was rapidly coming to an end.