The Golden Years
The experience gained by the operation of Prince Ivanhoe in the Bristol channel in 1981 had suggested that a market existed for an excursion vessel in the Summer period if that vessel was of a suitable size and speed.
Prince Ivanhoe’s reign had been tragically brief. Nevertheless, when Balmoral returned in 1986 to her old home port of Bristol, she picked up where Prince Ivanhoe left off.
In the first few days after Balmoral made her comeback in 1986, she squeezed her way up the ship canal from Sharpness to Gloucester and back. It was so tight that Balmoral managed to clip over a road sign.
Her very first sailing, on April 13th, 1986, and her official maiden voyage, on April 26th, 1986, were both on the traditional day trip to Ilfracombe. This remains one of the most popular still offered, especially on Saturdays, whenever tides permit.
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 achieved by sending her around the UK to open up new areas of operation.
By 1989, Balmoral had established an exciting ‘Round Britain’ timetable, 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 throughout the season.
In 1993 the fiftieth Battle of the Atlantic was celebrated. Marked with a Fleet Review of the coast of Anglesey, the Balmoral reverted to having a “Red Funnel” look. However, there was 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.
Balmoral travelled to celebrate the Tower Bridge Centenary in 1994
During the 1995 season another change was presented to the funnel, this time her scheme reverted back to the prior colour of cream, but kept the black top.
In 1996 she had a “Sherwood Green” hull when she was unusually dry-docked on the Mersey for a prop change. Balmoral also made one of her rare foreign trips – to Boulogne – in June.
On September 1st, 1999, the new pier was brought into use at Lundy Island. It was brought into use as the Balmoral proudly drew alongside, joining the regular Lundy Packet vessel Oldenburg. Until recently, traditionally vessels landed at the island by motor launch, and before that, rowing boats.
Later that year, the Balmoral’s 50th Anniversary was marked by the cutting of a large cake at her Winter berth of Princes Wharf in the heart of Bristol.
This major event, attended by numerous local dignitaries, including the city’s Mayor, attracted considerable attention and reminded the public of the strong link between our ship and her home port.