The UK’s last built paddle steamship will be removed from Loch Lomond this week ahead of a £1 million project to transform the historic 191-foot-long vessel into an “exciting visitor experience”, it was announced yesterday.
The Maid of the Loch will be slipped from the water for only the second time in almost 40 years so that “significant refurbishment works” can be carried out.
The 555-ton paddle steamer, which currently operates as a static tourist attraction, will be hauled out of the water by the original winch-house and on to the Balloch Steam Slipway, a Category A listed building. A full ultrasound survey, overseen by classification society Bureau Veritas, will be carried out on the ship’s hull to provide a definitive report on its condition before the major refurbishment takes place.
It will be the first time any work has been done on the hull since 1981. Other work will include the restoration of the aft deck saloon to 1950s style, the creation of an education suite and total rebuild of the main saloon aft to 1950s style with replica wood panelling and central heating.
A complete overhaul of the original engines and machinery will also be carried out to restore them to working condition, with steam set to be supplied by a package boiler on the pier.
The campaign to restore the Maid and return her to a fully operational steamship was boosted last month when a £950,000 capital grant from the Scottish Government was confirmed, along with £50,000 from the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society.
John Beveridge, Chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company (LLSC), the charity that looks after the Maid, said: “The Maid coming out of the water will be a terrific start to the New Year for the Loch Lomond Steamship Company.
“The procedure is expected to take up to four hours to complete, and really is a ‘must-see’ spectacle that the charity’s volunteers have worked tirelessly to see happen.
“The ship will dwarf everything around her, and the ingenuity behind pulling a 555-ton paddle steamer out of the water is an ‘impossible engineering’ feat that requires great care.
“This is a huge step forward for us; to be able to spend £1m awarded by The Scottish Government is fantastic and will transform her into an exciting visitor experience.
“We will be able to recreate her original 1950’s Elizabethan style, and to be able to see her engines turning again after 38 years will be magical.”
Preparation work for the complicated manoeuvre took place at the end of last year (2018), when the Maid was emptied of all furniture and fittings.
The Balloch Steam Slipway has received new kneel blocks, while guide wires have been added and essential equipment ordered.
The Maid of the Loch is the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain, and the UK’s only remaining example of an “up and doon” vessel -- a ship that’s been built twice.
Assembled in Glasgow by A&J Inglis, the Maid was taken apart, transported to her new home in Balloch, Dunbartonshire, and reassembled before her launch in 1953.
The Maid’s popularity was at its height in the 1950s and early 1960s. But as the lure of affordable foreign travel beckoned, passenger numbers and funding dwindled.
Decommissioned in 1981, she was subjected to neglect, decay and vandalism.
The LLSC launched its ambitious rescue mission in 1996. Staffed by volunteers, the charity aims to bring the ship back to life and fully operational once again, some 38 years after it was decommissioned.
They hope to gain industrial museum status for the ship and steam slipway as a growing number of artefacts are collected and restored to working condition.
* Donations to return the Maid back to sailing can be made through a dedicated website, www.maidoftheloch.org/donate, with the eventual aim of offering cruises from Easter to October, and being open for events and function hire the rest of the year.