THE much loved coastal cruising steamer Balmoral has been noticeably absent from the Bristol Channel since her last season of operating in 2012.
For a combination of reasons Balmoral was withdrawn from service and has been laid up in Bristol Inner Harbour.
Originally launched in 1949 as Flagship of the Red Funnel Fleet she sailed for some twenty years on the Southampton to Cowes service and excursions, mostly around the Isle of White. In 1969 she was transferred to the Bristol Channel and became Flagship of the famous P&A Campbell White Funnel Fleet. Although based in the Bristol Channel she made occasional visits to other parts of the UK. Her days under Campbell management came to an end in 1980 when she was sold to become a floating restaurant in Dundee. Then in 1985 Balmoral was bought by supporters of the Waverley, the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer and after major renovation triumphantly re-entered service in 1986 to act as consort to Waverley.
Since 1986 Balmoral has been based on the Bristol Channel making regular calls at Penarth, but has also cruised from all areas of the UK coast carrying over two million passengers, keeping alive the great tradition of coastal day excursions. She is a valued member of the National Historic Fleet and is officially recognised as a ship of national historic importance.
The Balmoral Fund Ltd was founded in January of this year and a small group of people came together to try to save her and enable her to sail again in 2015. A lot was needed to be done, what repairs were required, would she pass her five year MCA (Maritime Coastguard Agency) tests and above all how would these be paid for? An appeal was set up and supporters of the Balmoral from around the UK have pledged and donated some £150,000 to the cause. After two years without moving, Balmoral left her berth in June and sailed majestically to the Sharpness Shipyard and Dry Dock. Here she had a host of tests and work carried out. She was checked over from stem to stern by the MCA and is recognised as being sound and ready to be re-certified for passenger sailing. Now a smart and newly repainted Balmoral is back in Bristol and optimism is high that she will sail again in 2015. However it has taken £150,000 to get to this stage so the coffers are again empty.
A new cruising and educational future is being planned. Balmorals flexibility and manoeuvrability will allow passengers to visit and explore many rivers, estuaries, ports harbours and piers that are not accessible by other vessels. Cruises long and short are being planned to suit all ages and in particular maximise the great educational opportunities the ship presents for new generations to view and understand the importance of our coastal and maritime heritage from the sea.
But it is also recognised the social and economic benefits Balmoral can bring to our seaside communities. It cannot be underestimated the importance of her bringing upwards of 600 people to board or unload at a pier or jetty. Penarth’s splendid Victorian Pier is the typical example of what a pier is all about. Fully restored and rightly winner of many awards it is a wonderful asset to the town and its surrounding community. As Paul Doubler, communications officer of the Balmoral Fund said: “A pier has many uses and positive advantages and pleasures for the enjoyment of its many visitors, but the original and principle use of a pier surely is to gain access to a pleasure steamer. To take and enjoy a fun day out. It is part of our cultural and maritime heritage, it’s what we do it’s in our blood, Balmoral represents one of the few opportunities for people to do it.”
The aim, working with the help and support of the likes of the Penarth Civic Trust and many others is to have Balmoral calling at Penarth Pier often in 2015. But before this exciting prospect there is still much to do. Significant funding is sought for upgrading passenger and crew accommodation. A large investment needs to be made in replacing equipment for navigation and passenger safety. Operating Balmoral on behalf of a charity will need a commercial company to be established and a crew employed. It is estimated that a further £200,000 is needed for Balmoral to sail again in 2015 - This is daunting in these difficult and austere times but with help from local authorities, various grants and funding being sought and above all the support of ordinary members of the public – it is now possible. The wonderful sight of a much loved classic coastal cruising steamer at the end of Penarth Pier, landing folk from Clevedon and collecting hundreds to go down channel to the likes of Minehead and Ilfracombe could be seen again next year.
For further news and to be kept up to date with Balmorals progress, but above all to make a donation large or small – go to www.mvbalmoral.org.uk and click on the “My Donate” facility.