Saving Balmoral

After two years of laying on the mud at Dundee, the Balmoral was made available for sale by the Bank of Scotland. 

At this stage, the Waverley Steam Navigation Company had been seeking a new vessel. A few years prior, the companies second vessel, the Prince Ivanhoe, sunk off the coast of Port Eynon Bay on the Gower Peninsula. It was a tragic event that led to the need for the company to acquire a second vessel.

Prince Ivanhoe operated long enough, for the organisation to realise there was an apparent demand for a ship to be based in the Bristol Channel. They also needed to reduce ongoing overheads. So, the organisation decided to travel to Dundee and inspect the Balmoral.

Despite the extended period of inactivity, and not being in service since 1980, they discovered that Balmoral was actually in sound condition.

They negotiated a favorable price with the Bank of Scotland, and the Balmoral became the property of the Waverley organisation.

An appeal was launched to raise funds for her restoration, and adapt her for active service. She was to set sail immediately from Dundee, through the Pentland Firth, and round to Glasgow.

Arriving in March 1985, her acquisition was easy enough. However, the fight to raise some £300,000 (in today’s money, that is £958,633 as of June 2020) to refit and renovate the ship to modern standards, proved difficult. She had to be restored to full seaworthy condition, with a complete vision for passenger comfort in mind.

Members of the Bristol Channel branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society spent the entirety of 1985 trying to raise the necessary funds. A coalition of support was gradually formed, with cruising enthusiasts, and mainly locals of the Bristol Channel, contributing generously.

In Ilfracombe, the townsfolk and traders immediately appreciated the value of the steamer calls to their community. They threw their weight, most empathetically behind the Balmoral’s appeal. Some local public bodies in the Channel area also saw the value of Balmoral to tourism and provided crucial support.


In January 1986, enough money had been raised for MV Balmoral to go into the Govan Dockyard and begin work on her major rebuild. 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. Corroded areas were removed, and increased accommodation was developed where possible.

In order to emphasise the pleasure aspect of her voyages, a decision was made to highlight her yacht-like lines. She was painted in cruising colours, which included a white hull, and yellow funnel.

She was registered at the Port of Bristol. A symbolic movement of gratitude and ownership to the people of the Bristol Channel.

A test run for the vessel were set up to take place on Easter Monday, which was March 31st, 1986. She left Glasgow at 16:20 for the Skelmorlie measured mile, where she made a pace of 15 knots without being pushed. She headed to Rothesay, where a fish supper was provided for all involved.

One week later, on April 10th, official trails were run from Glasgow to the Tail of the Bank. Later, at 20:15, the Balmoral departed Glasgow and steamed South for the Bristol Channel.

The following morning she passed the Isle of Man. It had taken eleven years to complete (including two long periods of being laid-up). However, this journey marked Balmoral joining a small number of vessels that had successfully circumnavigated the Coastline of Britain.

All onboard enjoyed a grand arrival voyage. By that evening, the Balmoral arrived back in the Bristol Channel. She arrived under the command of Captain Steve Michel and entered Barry Dock on April 12th for much of the day.

Later that evening, the ship left at 19:00 to steam for the River Avon. She was to make her way to her new port of registry, Bristol.

Arriving at dusk, she was greeted in the drizzle by over two hundred people. Spontaneous applause erupted as the ship arrived, doubtlessly reflecting the pleasure, heritage, and indeed pure disbelief that the Balmoral had successfully returned.