Entering the Twenty First Century
Over two centuries of pleasure steaming has now existed in the British Isles, with Balmoral and Waverley at the forefront of upholding this tradition. However, a new threat now looms on the horizon.
Internationally, a rise in people traveling overseas with budget-friendly airlines has started to affect the tourism sector. A yield management model means people can now travel overseas to beautiful destinations, for less. In Britain, the end of Duty-Free has further impacted passenger statistics on existing ferry routes on International voyages.
At Waverley Headquarters, a change of management has also been implemented. It seems the turn of a century is all change.
While the years come and go, the passenger numbers gradually decline but hold relatively steady for the Paddle Steamer Waverley. For Balmoral, however, her numbers will continue to freefall – is something amiss?
In 2007 MV Balmoral “went foreign” again, sailing light-ship from IOM to Carlingford Lough and then, after a call at Carlingford, up the re-opened ship canal to Newry.
In 2010, the Balmoral benefited from the ‘Peoples Millions Big Lottery Fund’. Masterminded by Branch Chairman Alec Lewis, an application was made through the Bristol Channel Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, and the Charity was awarded £50,000 for the vessel on November 24th.
In a competition between sixty projects in South-west England, Balmoral got the winning votes in a televised event on the ITV West News, alongside seven other finalists, and the money went a long way towards the refurbishment of the Britannia Lounge. Much of the work was carried out by volunteer labour, and in conjunction with the Sharpness Dry Dock in Gloucestershire.
Refurbishment continued, and on the Promenade Deck, the Observation Lounge and Shop received upgrade work in 2011/2012. It could now be said that the public rooms on Balmoral were three-quarters of the way towards being fully restored as the dining room had been rebuilt, and only the lower bar remained virtually untouched from Red Funnel days, ad retains superb period mirrors, as well as providing a quiet area.
2012 proved to be MV Balmoral’s last season under the WSNC flag. It was an Olympic year, and the ship had been chartered to provide spectator/hospitality cruises from Weymouth for the sailing events. MV Balmoral’s final revenue-earning a trip for WSNC was another charter – to open the Ormonde offshore wind farm in the Irish Sea.
A Pause for Balmoral
A worrying trend of recent times has been increasing fuel prices. It’s contributed towards a shorter operating season for both the paddle-steamer Waverley and motor-vessel Balmoral. Although the twin diesel engines of the latter are less fuel-hungry than the oil-fired boiler installation, which powers the former.
In September 2012, owners Waverley Steam Navigation decided to withdraw Balmoral from service, pending some difficult decisions to be made about how to fund the way forwards. It was based on the need for her five-yearly survey and a more miserable weather performance between 2010 and 2012 impacting margins.
It was expected that significant works, including hull and other repairs, would be necessary to be re-certified by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA). There was a sense that even if finding fresh funding was going to be uncertain, but Balmoral was where she belonged, in Bristol.
None the less, fund-raising quickly began. A new group, consisting mainly of members of the Bristol Channel Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, emerged to coordinate these efforts. Together, they started to plan her future.
In the years following, a hardened team of volunteers remains dedicated to restoring the Balmoral, intending to eventually return her to sea-going passenger service.
Over a career and legacy spanning one-hundred-years, the Balmoral has taken part in many special events, including the D-Day Royal Fleet Review. She has offered select cruises to Boulogne, acted as the Isles of Scilly ferry, and lifeline supply ship for Lundy. She has gained a reputation for becoming Britain’s most versatile excursion ship.
Now, throughout all of her preservation career, Balmoral has spent each Winter at Bristol, and has become an essential reminder of the port’s proud maritime heritage.