Forth Five Islands Cruise

Report by Derek Finlayson

Sunday 3 June 2001 saw a cool crisp dry morning as I made my way towards the quay where BALMORAL was berthed. She looked beautiful berthed in front of the former royal yacht. And offee small. I mused to myself that she must be one of the smallest passenger ships I've seen docked at the Ocean Terminal quay.

The last time I saw her she sported a green and white hull. Gosh, was it that long since I last cruised on her? Shame on me! It was strangely quiet that morning. Maybe because it was a Sunday. I joined about 100 passengers and, as we left the quay for the entrance lock, I gazed back at the BRITANNIA framed with the skyline of the city of Edinburgh. The port of Leith was full of potential, but a great dis-appointment as far as ships go as usual. Lots of empty quays. I saw only 2 cargo ships and 1 tanker in the docks as we entered the entrance lock, Everards ANNUITY, the Dubrovnik registered PLITVICE of about 3000 tons and hidden almost out of sight at the far end of the Imperial dock, the German ATAIR of about 1500 tons.

Onboard, I recognized a few shipping stalwarts, Donald MacDonald from the Firth of Forth Branch, Ian Somerville from the West Highland Steamer Club and "Mr Waverley", Mr Iain Quinn. Walter Bowie welcomed us aboard, more of him later.
BALMORAL developed a strange fixation with the north wall of the entrance lock when it came time to leave. She would drift back into it every time we tried to leave. I smiled watching one of the crew hang a fender over the side as she drifted back into the side of the lock again, then as the fender caught and rub along the chains of the wall, the acrid smoke of metal rubbing on metal hung in the air and he would dive headlong into the nearest stairway until the fender released itself. I smiled until I realized why he was fleeing out of the way and how close I was to the fender, then I beat a hasty retreat too!

Leaving Leith, we scooted upriver to Rosyth. Forth Ports' new pilot tender FORTH PANTHER gave us a demonstration of her maneuverability skills. What a show-off! No tankers were at the Hound Point oil terminal or at Braefoot Bay, much to my dis-appointment. Saw MAID OF THE FORTH near Inchkeith Island heading out for a trip round the Bass Rock on charter to the RSPB. She's doing 3 cruises on charter to them this year.

At Rosyth we loaded what appeared to be a double-decker busload of passengers, amongst whom was our former secretary John Ives. He expressed his delight at the photo opportunities he got in Rosyth. I saw the following vessels there:-

  • the bunkering tanker FULFORD, registered in London and owned by C Crawley Marine
  • the coaster MARI, registered in Naantali
  • the two Dog class tugs COLLIE, pennant no A328 still in RMAS colours and the DEERHOUND sporting a black hull and blue superstructure
  • also alongside was HMS ATHERSTONE

Next, we headed for Burntisland. Just the usual Briggs boats were in the dock along with the dumb barges BULKHANDLING 5, BULKHANDLING 6 and BC 6099. We loaded a goodly number of passengers here.

I noticed about 5 tankers anchored in the Kirkcaldy anchorage and I was keenly looking forward to photographing them on our way passed. But, no. Instead, Mr Quinn's dulcet tones informed us that we would head straight for the Bass Rock. So, we skooshed past the anchorage, just temptingly out of camera range and over to the Bass Rock. We got superb views of the coastline from Edinburgh to Dunbar and maybe, even beyond. The Musselburgh small ships anchorage and the Aberlady anchorage were both gloriously devoid of any shipping whatsoever(!).

The wonderfully pungent smell of rotting birds droppings informed the uninitiated that we had arrived at the Bass Rock. That, and the sight of thoosands of gannets circling over the Rock. It really is quite a sight and if anyone reading this has never taken a trip round the Bass Rock, I thoroughly recommend it. Marr still operates landing trips to the Bass Rock from North Berwick on SULA II and you can get the telephone number from the tourist information centre in North Berwick.

I wondered whether we were going to head for the Isle of May next on our 5 Island cruise. But, no. We had just covered three of them, Fidra, Craigleith and the Bass Rock. Actually, we also got very good views of Inchkeith and Inchmickry on our way to Rosyth so it ended up being more than a 5 island cruise. Instead, we headed back upriver, making our way to Inchcolm Island and as we did so, we hugged the south bank of the river rather well much to the chagrin of at least two members of the traveling public, me and John Ives. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth especially when we saw
another 2 tankers arrive in the Kirkcaldy anchorage along with one minesweeper, ATHERSTONE. And here we were, cruising about as far away from the anchorage as we could possibly get!

As we approached Inchkeith, DALMENY passed downriver heading for the approaches to the Kirkcaldy anchorage. Oh good! That could only mean one thing. One of the large tankers was imminently coming out for Hound Point. Right enough, a great big orange hulled beastie swung differently from the other vessels and headed into the main channel. Now, the question was would be able to get good pictures of her? John reckoned we would, I was not so sure. We circumnavigated Inchcolm, giving good views of the abbey for those not interested in shipping. As we sailed down Mortimer's Deep, how I wished there were gas tankers at Braefoot. We sailed right past empty quays. As we approached Burntisland to off-load those passengers again, the large tanker was in the main channel north of Inchkeith heading inbound. CRAMOND joined her off Burntisland and the three vessels were ahead of us when we left Burntisland for Rosyth. Magic! We passed Teekay Shipping of Norway's CLARE SPIRIT inbound with the BP tugs CRAMOND and DALMENY strapped to her starboard side. John Ives' comment was that the whole trip had been worth it for this vessel alone. She made a fine sight.

From Rosyth, we headed back downriver to Leith. As we approached the Oxcars lighthouse, I saw another vessel rapidly approaching inbound. Would I get an opportunity to photograph her? Through my binocular lens, I discerned the name HAJO on the bows. She's a German-owned container ship on the FEEDERLINK service. Then Mr Quinn's voice came booming over the tannoy describing the vessel approaching us. The captain was none other than Captain Michel, formerly master of both WAVERLEY and BALMORAL and would we all gather on deck and wave to him as he passed by? Fortunately, I was standing near the bridge of Balmoral at the time and Iain, along with the officers on watch all came out and waved to Captain Michel as he sailed past. Captain Michel stood on the bridge wing of the HAJO waving back as we passed, both vessels saluting one another over the ships whistle. A lovely touch at the end of a wonderful day.

During the cruise, I enjoyed a lovely meal in the cafeteria. I was quite impressed at the standard and quality of the food available and complemented the catering staff on a job well done. On the way back to Leith, Ian Somerville informed me that the Purser wanted to have a wee word with me. Why? What had I done, or not done, I wondered to myself? With some sense of trepidation, I approached the purser's office and Ian introduced me to Walter Bowie. Walter grinned at me and explained that Colin Smith had told him I'd be on board and to look out for me. Oh, I apologized for not introducing myself to him sooner and explained that I'm actually rather shy at introducing myself to people I don't know. He understood, said he was the same, and asked me what I knew about him? Only what Colin and W A V Castle had told me recently. He talked about some of his experiences in Calmac and Waverley Steam Navigation. He clearly is a man who is doing a job he really loves and I warmed to him immediately. He was a bit dis-appointed at the loadings for the day. 99 passengers got on at Leith, 321 were on-board for the 5 island cruise from Burntisland. So far, 9516 passengers have enjoyed sailing in BALMORAL this season already.

And me? I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. It was a great trip. The rain that threatened to spoil the afternoon never materialized. And now I look forward to my cruise on Thursday from Leith to Newcastle. Some kind nameless wonder onboard informed me that the forecast was for a strong northerly. Ahhhh! Bisto!. I hope not, I don't have a very strong stomach, I'm afraid. Anyway, here's hoping.

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