Old Maid prepares for new lease of life

By David Allison
BBC Scotland News

media captionMaid of the Loch could sail again

The summer of 2018 could see the last paddle steamer built in Britain sailing once more.

The Maid of the Loch has been out of use for 35 years.

But enthusiasts working towards a multi-million pound restoration of the vessel believe it could be cruising Loch Lomond again.

They are aiming to raise £1.7m by the autumn which, they believe, could release twice as much again in lottery funding.

As you go on board via the gang plank you are stepping into another era, 50s Britain with a hint of art deco - a whiff of Festival of Britain modernity, but also a bit of post-war making do.

The steering mechanism, for example, is war surplus from a landing craft.

The Maid of the Loch entered service in 1953, the same year as the Queen's coronation.

But the Maid fell on hard times as passenger numbers dwindled and the ship was eventually mothballed in 1981.

While the ship did remain watertight while moored at Balloch on Loch Lomond, copper piping and artefacts disappeared.

Robin Naysmith, who used to be Scotland's diplomatic representative in Washington, chairs the charity restoring the maid.

He said little was done to look after the Maid: "There was no security, it just sat next next to the pier, it was tied up a bit like a car left in a car park, and not surprisingly anything that was worth stealing disappeared.

"But as the campaign has gathered momentum, surprisingly some quite interesting artefacts have started to reappear. The ship's bell is a good example."

The Maid is rather used to being taken apart and put back together.

When she was built on the Clyde she was immediately dismantled to be shipped in railway wagon-sized chunks to Loch Lomond.

It was a technique called up and down, usually used to send ships across the globe for local assembly.

Conservation expert Jim Mitchell says one other thing makes restoration easier.

"We have been extremely lucky in that lots of the builders' drawings have survived," he explained. "So we have things like pipework layout drawings so we can put all the copper pipe back in the engine room pretty much as it was, because we have the great gift of those drawings."

Overseeing the engineering side of getting the maid sailing again, tasks such as sourcing and installing a new boiler, is John Beveridge.

He said: "From our point of view this is the real unique bit about a paddle steamer.

"You've got the engines that everyone can see going round, the engineer working the controls, you hear the sounds and the smells, and you can see the paddles turning.

"You can't do that in any other vessel, everything is hidden. This is the showpiece of the ship."

Engineers on that other famous Clyde paddle steamer, the Waverley, have offered technical support.

While the Maid is about three-quarters of the size of the Waverley, the Loch Lomond Steamship Company charity's Robin Naysmith says it is easily big enough to be financially viable in terms of passengers and special events.

"It's substantially bigger than you expect it's going to be," he said.

"It is bigger in height and bigger in width.

"We hope to be offering good quality Scottish catering, bar facilities and learning and development facilities that allow not just school children but tourists and anyone who is interested to understand the history of shipbuilding on the Clyde, how a paddle steamer works and the work which has been done to get this one back to being shipshape."

If the fundraising drive over the spring and summer is successful, that would release £3.8m of heritage lottery cash.

If all goes to plan, the Maid could be sailing by late summer next year.

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