​Why Worthing retains its love for paddle steamer Waverley, despite its run-in with Worthing Pier some 16 years ago

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​​The south coast has had a long relationship with the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer and Waverley remains a firm favourite in the hearts of many, despite its run-in with Worthing Pier some 16 years ago.

In fact, there was a time when Worthing had the only pier in Sussex where the steamer could tie up. Now, you can sail from Shoreham and Eastbourne when the Glasgow-based vessel visits in September.

Waverley is named after Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. She was built to replace the 1899 Waverley, which was sunk by enemy action on May 29, 1940, at Dunkirk.

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Built for the route up Loch Goil and Loch Long from Craigendoran and Arrochar in West Scotland, her maiden voyage was on June 16, 1947.

Passegers boarding the Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2009Passegers boarding the Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2009
Passegers boarding the Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2009

In 1974, at the end of her working life, Waverley was gifted for £1 to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and then began a second career as one of the country’s best-loved tourist attractions.

This year, Waverley was awarded the prestigious status of National Flagship of the Year by National Historic Ships UK. The award recognised the breadth and geographic coverage of Waverley’s sailings in addition to the extended sailing programme planned for 2024, including Sussex.

In 2003, a £7million heritage rebuild was completed, returning Waverley to the original 1940s style in which she was built. With the beat of her paddles, the sound of her whistle and the aroma of hot oil in her engine room, the Waverley comes alive as she takes passengers on a nostalgic journey through the water.

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For years, passengers would queue along Worthing Pier for just a glimpse of the steamer, alongside those lucky enough to have a ticket to travel.

The paddlesteamer Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2008The paddlesteamer Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2008
The paddlesteamer Waverley at Worthing Pier in September 2008

But at 239ft long and with 693 tonnage, Waverley proved too much for the pier on September 15, 2008, when wind whipped up just as she was docking. Hundreds of passengers were left disappointed when a bollard and timber gave way on the landing dock.

Worthing Borough Council said at the time that mooring lines attached to the bollard put it under a great deal of pressure and it gave way when an offshore wind caused a slight swell.

The Waverley was winching in to allow the passenger walkway to be put out when the incident happened. People had travelled to Worthing from far and wide for the day trip to Lulworth Cove but it sailed away without anyone being able to board.

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The following year, the paddle steamer made one successful visit to Worthing but its second docking on September 24, 2009, was cancelled as the waves proved too choppy and at the last minute, coaches were brought in to transport passengers to Portsmouth – an arrangement that remains in place to this day.

Crowds on Worthing Pier for the Waverley visit in September 2008Crowds on Worthing Pier for the Waverley visit in September 2008
Crowds on Worthing Pier for the Waverley visit in September 2008

Waverley's sturdy lines, immaculately varnished decks and distinctive funnels were worth the journey. Built on the River Clyde, the paddle steamer barely left Scotland for decades but it has since become something of a national icon.

There are plenty of fascinating scenes to explore onboard, not least of which is the opportunity to watch the glistening, mesmerising engines chugging away. Initially powered by coal, they give off the heavy aroma of the oil which helps propel the massive, 18ft steamer wheels to speeds of more than 14 knots.

Worthing master joiner Tony Horn worked on the woodwork, having volunteered his services. He has loved ships since childhood and made the staircase, bar and windows on the paddle steamer. In the early days, he travelled to Glasgow to precisely measure the Waverley’s different windows and draw up templates.

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Last year, Waverley made its inaugural visit to Shoreham and the large crowd that stood on Kingston Beach on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, to watch it making its way in and out of harbour was visibly moved by the sight – describing it as amazing, stunning and emotional.

Inside the engine room on the WaverleyInside the engine room on the Waverley
Inside the engine room on the Waverley

People spread out across the beach and a similar crowd gathered across the water on Shoreham Beach, waiting patiently by the National Coastwatch Shoreham tower and along the harbour arm.

A mandatory shuttle service carried passengers to the vessel and supporters watched patiently as one after another offloaded across the harbour. Waverley was half an hour late leaving but a cheer went up as the horns blew and in no time she was out into the open sea and turning west to head towards Worthing.

The cruise, which was sold out, took 650 passengers to Ryde. Some disembarked to visit the Isle of Wight, some took a trip on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, and some stayed on board for an extended cruise through the Solent, taking in the Needles Rocks and Lighthouse, before disembarking at Yarmouth and returning to Shoreham by coach.

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Shoreham Port told of the excitement surrounding the inaugural visit and everyone is looking forward to Waverley's return in three months' time.

The first glimpse of the beloved historic steamship will be on the evening of September 12, when Waverley is due to arrive at 7.45pm following an evening sunset cruise from Eastbourne.

This sailing will be another first, as Waverley is returning to Eastbourne for the first time in more than two decades, with cruises to view Beachy Head and the White Cliffs of Dover.

Tony Horn working on the window of the WaverleyTony Horn working on the window of the Waverley
Tony Horn working on the window of the Waverley

Waverley will leave Shoreham on September 13 for Ryde, Yarmouth and Freshwater Bay, with a coach connection from Worthing. You can also travel from Worthing on September 5 and 25, with a coach to Portsmouth for sailings to Lulworth Cove.

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Paul Semple, general manager for Waverley, said: "We are delighted to be able to further expand and develop Waverley’s sailing programme when she returns to the South Coast in September.

"The 2023 season saw record numbers stepping aboard for a truly unique day out on our famous steamer. This year we will be operating Waverley along the entire south coast from Penzance to Folkestone as we work to give as many people as possible the opportunity to sail on a paddle steamer.

"I am thrilled that once again we will be able to return to Shoreham following her first ever visit to the Sussex port last year.”