Words & Photos by Jenny Watson
Built not once, but twice before her launch in 1953, the Maid of the Loch was the last paddle steamer made in the UK.
Carrying up to 1,000 passengers per sail, she was the largest steamer to voyage the waters of Loch Lomond and spent 28 glorious years being a vessel of memories until decommissioned in 1981.
Since then, the Maid’s story has been one of endurance and determination.
The volunteer-led Loch Lomond Steamship Company rescued her in 1996 and has been working to bring the steamer back to sailing standards ever since.
Anne Urquhart, volunteer Director, explained: “The ship is on the slipway and is likely to be there for at least another year while we repair all the steel which degraded over the past 70 years.
“The carriage she sits on was built during Covid by three of our guys: Jim Logan, George Gerc and Ross Bremner.
“They formed a bubble and worked away.
“It was put together within about five months which meant we were able to bring the ship out of the water successfully and repairs could continue safely.”
George said: “We formed a bubble of three and progressed the ship from there.
“It wasn’t easy. It was hard work. All the parts were made in Glasgow, they were delivered to us, and we built it on the slip.
“There were 90 tonnes of steel we had to manhandle.
“If there were more people helping, it would’ve been quicker but that wasn’t possible at the time and we didn’t want progress to stop completely.
“I love volunteering here. It has been a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone that wants to get involved.”
The Value of Volunteers
It is often said the value of volunteers is priceless and in the Maid’s situation she wouldn’t be where she is now without their dedication and motivation.
It is testament to their love and belief that she should and will sail again.
“We have 40 active volunteers helping with practical work and 12 volunteer guides in public facing roles,” Anne said.
The skills and talents the volunteers provide range from I.T expertise to divers.
Everyone pitches in where and when they can; from painting, to greeting visitors, to keeping social media updated.
Charles, their longest serving volunteer has been part of the team for 22 years. “I really enjoy being here. I come along about five days a week.
“When I first started we would be doing tasks to keep us going and get her ready.
“Now we are in the crucial stage.
“There’s something about the Maid that grabs you and keeps you going. I am nearly 80 and I’m hoping I live to see her sail again.”
The team would love more volunteers join them.
Not Just About The Restoration
Charli Summers, the only paid member of staff, said: “We’d like to get more volunteers and get younger people involved as well.
“The volunteers are so brilliant.
“It’s obviously a community thing, but it’s not just about restoring the ship, it’s also about social elements.
“I like to take them on day trips and do things together. We go to industrial and shipbuilding places of interest.”
Charli joined the team as Activities Coordinator, last year, to oversee an events programme to work alongside the commercial operations onboard.
She said: “They wanted a presence at the weekends to ensure there was still a bit of commercial stuff going on, but mainly to develop a programme for visitors to still feel engaged.
“We’ve been running the one-hour hard hat tours at the weekend, the winch house is open for visitors.
“We have the museum in our converted shipping container. Also this year we’ve had Lachie Stewart’s exhibition which has been popular.
“I’ve also been working with Balloch Primary P6 pupils to prepare a new social history display in the forward saloon. We’re hoping it will be on display next year.
“We have lots of plans, all of which are dependent on funding and the work going on in the ship.”
On my visit I learned a lot about the mechanics and parts being repaired, replaced and renovated.
The work being carried out is intricate and immense.
I was in awe of this beautiful piece of history but my favourite part of the day was talking to the dedicated community of volunteers and learning about their role in bringing the Maid back to life.
To keep updated on what is happening with Maid of the Loch, visit: www.maidoftheloch.org
You can also book ‘Hard Hat’ tours of the ship – visit www.maidoftheloch.org/public-events to find out more.
To volunteer email: email@example.com or phone 01389 711865 or 07484 918659.