All things considered, I think it is fair to say that our ‘Steaming for Seabirds’ Cruise on the Shieldhall on Saturday 16th July 2005 was a great success, having raised a wonderful £960.
It was not without it’s fair share of hiccups though! Some three months after booking the cruise and after the advertising was sent out we were informed that it was not going to be possible to call at Tarbert due to insufficient water. Because of the draught of the Shieldhall, no other suitable piers were within range of our cruising time. As such we had no option but to cancel the Tarbert leg of the journey.
However, virtually everyone continued to support the amended cruise and on the morning of Saturday 16th July, the sun was shining and things were looking promising. However, the strong breeze caused problems for the Shieldhall to get off the berth at Greenock, and as a result delayed us by about 30 minutes. On leaving Greenock we were immediately passed by the MV Cruiser, our charter vessel from last year.
Before long we saw our first Manx Shearwaters near the Cloch Lighthouse. Arriving 40 minutes late at Fairlie we soon boarded the balance of our passengers for the amended cruise. However, small yachts anchored south of Fairlie Pier meant that the Shieldhall lost more time in departing. By now the weather was starting to getting noticeably greyer and the wind strengthening. Captain Stirling agreed to sail over to Lochranza before turning for home. However the headwind had reduced our speed to only 7 knots.
One highlight near Arran was watching the Royal Naval exercise with HMS Monmouth and a RN Merlin helicopter dropping a sonar listening device into the water. Biggest surprise though was when a submarine’s periscope appeared some 30 feet beside the Shieldhall! After turning a bit sooner than expected we headed over to the west coast of Bute and Dunagoil Bay before sailing round the south of the Little Cumbrae in a heavy drizzle and arriving back at Fairlie slightly early at just after 6pm. Berthing yet again took an eternity, but it wasn’t long before we were heading back to Greenock, where we disembarked at 9pm as originally planned. The Shieldhall was a wonderful ship, and the ability to visit the Bridge and Engine Rooms was certainly a welcome addition to the cruise.
Birds were noticeably absent throughout the day although good views of Common and Black Guillemots were seen along with numerous Gannets. A dolphin and several porpoise were also spotted. I would like to thank various folk for helping to make the day the success it was. Firstly to the rest of the committee who supported me behind the scenes in organising the day, particularly Susan our treasurer who managed to make sense of who paid what, and who was owed money! To Jim for the excellent publicity we received in the press. To Vall and John for organising the passengers at Fairlie. To the volunteers and crew of the Shieldhall – they were all so friendly and helpful. To the caterers on the day, the food was excellent and very reasonably priced. To Tony for his photography and to Alastair Goodman, my main contact with the Solent Steam Packet, for helping to liaise with the folks from Southampton. And to anyone that I’ve forgotten to mention!