The Preservation Years
From 1978 onwards, the paddle steamer Waverley undertook a full programme of cruises around the UK each year. Her success led to a search for an economical vessel to join her.
A second vessel would provide support in case of a breakdown as well as promoting more significant usage of piers and harbors around the UK. Balmoral had faced considerable uncertainty after being withdrawn from the Bristol Channel service in 1980.
After laying at Bristol and Avonmouth, Balmoral was acquired to become a floating restaurant and disco at Dundee. This venture soon failed, and Balmoral was placed for sale. Balmoral was then identified as a suitable consort for the famous Waverley.
Despite not having seen service since 1980, MV Balmoral only required minimal attention to put to sea again. She had now been acquired by the Waverley organisation. The Waverley organisation inspected Balmoral and duly purchased her. Balmoral arrived at Glasgow in March 1985for restoration. An appeal was launched to raise funds to restore and adapt her.
In March 1985, she sailed from Dundee via the Pentland Firth to Glasgow for renovation – but funds still had to be raised for that.
In January 1986, enough money had been raised for MV Balmoral to go into the Govan Dockyard and begin work on her major re-build. Her old car deck was plated over to provide the galley and dining saloon, a new mast, wheelhouse, and lifeboats were fitted, and the passenger areas renovated. She emerged with a white hull, yellow funnel, and a new port of registry – Bristol.
She returned to service on 13th April 1986 under the command of Captain Steve Michel with a trip from Bristol to Ilfracombe, which was repeated on 27th April as her official maiden voyage. She soon settled into a busy programme of cruises each season.
Central to her timetable was the popular sailings on the Bristol Channel. She soon started to operate popular cruises to Ilfracombe and Lundy from such places as Bristol, Clevedon, and Minehead. She also undertook a high number of unique journeys to such places as Gloucester, Briton Ferry, Chepstow, and Padstow.
From the start, it became apparent that Balmoral would have to operate a long season each year to become successful. This was effectively achieved by sending her around the UK to open up new areas of operation.
By 1989, Balmoral had established an exciting ‘Round Britain’ timetable each year calling at around sixty different ports. Regular cruising areas such as the South Coast, North Wales, Isle of Man, the River Thames, and Sussex soon become popular operating areas each year. They were supplemented by rare calls at East Coast harbours, Lancashire, the River Humber, Western Isles, North-East Scotland, Firth of Clyde, and Northern Ireland.
It was during this year that MV Balmoral celebrated her 40th birthday, back on the Solent. She had carried 109,504 passengers over the course of the season. By the time the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic was celebrated with a Fleet Review off the coast of Anglesey in 1993, MV Balmoral was back to having a “Red Funnel” look – but no evidence of the thin gold band between red and black on the funnel. Unfortunately, the weather was atrocious, and no passengers could be carried.
1995 produced another change to the funnel – this time back to cream but with a blacktop.
In 1996 she had a “Sherwood Green” hull when she was unusually dry-docked on the Mersey for a prop change. She also made one of her rare foreign trips – to Boulogne – in June.
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. 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.
Balmoral has also taken part in many special events such as the D-Day Royal Fleet Review, Tower Bridge Centenary in 1994 as well as offering special cruises to Boulogne and well as acting as the Isles of Scilly ferry. Balmoral gained a reputation for becoming the UK’s most versatile excursion ship.
Throughout all of her preservation career, Balmoral has spent each winter at Bristol and has become an important reminder of the port’s proud maritime heritage.