By Bill Heaney and Andy Galloway

The operators of the iconic paddle steamer Waverley are not giving up hope of the vessel visiting Argyll and Bute this year – but Helensburgh won’t be on the famous ship’s itinerary.

This news has been greeted with disbelief by Helensburgh people and fans of the beloved old paddler.

Anne Jeffery said: “We all love the pier for the Waverley or even Greenock shopping, college and so on.  My grandad who launched the Waverley way back years ago, was the pilot, John Gillies.”

She added: “Could we not do a ‘save our pier’ fund that we normal folks control.  We could save the pier and then leave it to the Council to maintain it.”

Waverley Excursions Ltd (WEL) has yet to release its timetable for 2020, or to allow potential customers to buy tickets in advance, due to the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But if sailings do prove to be possible at some point this summer, WEL plans to provide additional stops at Kilcreggan pier – with a shuttle bus service operating between there and Helensburgh.

The pier at Helensburgh, which is owned by Argyll and Bute Council, has been closed to all marine traffic since October 2018 due to concerns over its condition.

Talks have been held with the Helensburgh Seafront Development Project, a group of community volunteers, over the pier’s long-term future.

WEL had planned to substitute Kilcreggan calls for Helensburgh ones in 2019 before problems with the Waverley’s boilers forced the cancellation of its entire sailing programme last year.

“The ship is currently berthed in James Watt Dock, Greenock and now has her two new boilers in place.

“We are keeping plans for 2020 under constant review and waiting to see how and when government guidance evolves.

“Helensburgh pier remains closed to Waverley, but we plan to increase sailings from Kilcreggan, and operate a coach connection for Helensburgh passengers to join Waverley at Kilcreggan.

“We welcome all efforts to repair Helensburgh pier and allow Waverley to return to the town at the earliest opportunity.

“Progress to complete the boiler refit will be dependent on changes to the restrictions imposed to control the pandemic.

“What is certain, with her two new boilers, new generators and new switchboards now in place, and her annual dry-docking now complete – Waverley will steam again.”

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