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S. S. Sir Walter Scott

S. S. Sir Walter Scott
Photograph by Scottish Panoramic

Although it poured with rain, there was little chance of anything dampening the birthday celebrations for the grand old lady of the loch. It would have taken more than a seasonal Trossachs downpour to upset the plans marking the 100 years the steamer Sir Walter Scott has cruised Loch Katrine - through troubled times of two world wars and other catastrophes.

In any case those attending the event refused to let a drop of rain interfere with the proceedings. "Heck, I don't care about the weather", announced Betty Crowe, who flew in from Independence, Missouri. Betty's mother, Rachel McKinnon, sailed the steamer when the men were in the trenches during the First World War. During a break in the hostilities her father came on leave and fell in love with the Scots lass at the wheel. "It was all so romantic", says Betty, "and so in keeping with the feeling of the area!.

Rachel's father, John McKinnon, was the first captain when the 110-foot-long vessel was launched on the loch. In fact, the birthday bash was very much a family event. On board for the hour-long trip was a party of around 70 guests, invited specially for the historic occasion by West of Scotland Water, who own and operate the vessel as well as the other tourist facilities at the loch.

The guests included direct descendants of Captain McKinnon, three of whom came from America, and another from China where he is based with his business. Betty said: "My grandfather would have been proud to know that the vessel under his command was still sailing proudly onward and bringing so much pleasure to people after all these years. West of Scotland water is to be congratulated on the way in which the vessel has been looked after, ensuring that this unique example of Victorian steam heritage is preserved for a long time to come.

It was emotional, too, for Robin Denny, of the famous Dumbarton shipbuilding family who built the Sir Walter Scott. "I've been looking up my history books and there are only four or five other boats of this type and age still sailing on their original routes - mostly on the Swiss lakes", he informed. "It would be difficult to build another like her these days. The high quality of steel wouldn't be available, nor would the level of skill and craftmanship".

The Sir Walter Scott made her centenary voyage from the same spot where she has been the sole passenger-carrying vessel since 1900. Casting off from her berth at Trossachs pier, the smart white-hulled vessel showed that, even after a century of summer sails on the loch, she had lost none of her Victorian charm and grace.

In welcoming the guests aboard, Chairman Alan Alexander confided that West of Scotland Water is proud to own and operate "this remarkable vessel", the only surviving screw steamer in regular service in Scotland. "At its inception in 1996, the Authority acknowledged the vessel was a unique part of the nation's steam heritage in attracting many thousands of tourists every year, to the benefit of the area's economy", he said.

"Before the start of the sailing season each year we carry out a comprehensive programme of maintenance to ensure she is ship-shape to carry on this fine tradition. With the creation of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, our facilities at Loch Katrine will achieve even higher profile and the Sir Walter Scott will continue to play a prominent role in attracting visitors to thye area".

The vessel is fitted with a triple expansion steam engine receiving steam from two horizontal boilers, and a jet condenser is fitted. The launch trial was not covered by the Press, probably due to the fact that journalists of the day were pre-occupied by the ill-health of Queen Victoria, two military disasters in the Transvaal and the attempted assassination of the Prince of Wales.

Several changes made over the years include replacement of the original square windows with port holes and the change to smokeless fuels. Nowadays no bilge water is discharged into the loch, thereby retaining the water's purity. The Sir Walter Scott as originally steered from the deck although the vessel now possesses a small bridge forward of the funnel. In her day, she was in every way an up-to-date inland water steamer.

The steamer weighs 115 tons and cost the grand sum of 4269. That figure includes a delivery charge of 2028 and, overall worked out at 7.31 per ton. The contract price agreed for the construction was 4250 which was to be paid in cash installments.

The Sir Walter Scott received the Steam Heritage Premier Award in 1989. During the tourist season she takes passengers on a morning cruise between Trossachs Pier and Stronachlacher, lasting almost two hours, including a 15-minute stop over at Stronachlacher, and on shorter afternoon cruises lasting about one hour.  These cruises are as popular with locals as they are with tourists who visit from all parts of the world.



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