Bosses pull plug on Balmoral's summer cruises
PLEASURE cruiser the Balmoral will not be sailing in the Bristol Channel next year after a disastrous summer season plagued by bad weather.
Bosses at Waverley Steam Navigation Company, a registered charity, have pulled the plug on summer cruises on the Balmoral in 2013, blaming the wettest summer for 100 years.
The charity, which raises money through the excursions to maintain and preserve both boats, has been running cruises around the coast of Britain on the paddle steamer Waverley since 1975 and the Balmoral since 1986.
But poor weather over recent years has led to many cancelled or disrupted sailings on the Balmoral, which has had a significant impact on the ship's contribution to the charity's income. The Waverley operates most of her season in Scotland in the mostly sheltered waters of the Firth of Clyde, which protects her from the vagaries of the weather, spending only a short time in the Bristol Channel.
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Balmoral, which can take up to 750 passengers, operates mainly in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea, areas which its owners say are more exposed to the elements, resulting in an increased number of disruptions to the timetable.
During this year's season, 19,910 people sailed on the Balmoral, while 110,514 sailed on the Waverley.
Although details of all the excursions affected were not available last night, Waverley Excursions chief executive Kathleen O'Neill said "many" of this year's sailings had been cancelled or disrupted in a summer hit by storms and record rainfall.
She said: "Balmoral's operation has been hampered increasingly in recent years by extreme weather conditions.
"Clearly we are unable to predict the weather for 2013 but none of the forecasters are predicting a significant improvement over recent years.
"After taking a wide range of considerations into account, the company has reluctantly decided that it would be too great a risk to operate Balmoral next year and that doing so would increase the threat to the future of both ships."
At the moment the Balmoral is being maintained by volunteers in Bristol.
The charity hopes the ship will return to its programme of sailings again in 2014.
Mrs O'Neill added: "We are looking at alternative ways of utilising the ship in 2013 and over the coming months we will seek to identify a robust operating programme to offer the prospect of returning her to service in 2014 and beyond.
"Waverley will continue to serve communities in all the areas she has operated for so long.
"This has been a very difficult decision but we consider that it offers the best way in the current circumstances to ensure the Waverley's continued operation."
Each year an estimated 5,000 people visit Clevedon Pier for Balmoral cruises. Piermistress Linda Strong said the decision to cancel the 2013 season was "very disappointing".
"But because of the severe weather this year, which did hamper the number of times the ship could visit, I can understand why perhaps they have had to make the decision," she said.
The Balmoral underwent a major refit ten years ago, with £1 million spent to replace the engines and restore the ageing saloons and decks thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant.
A further £50,000 was won from the People's Millions fund in 2010 to renovate the ship's lounge.
Regular Balmoral crew members will transfer to the Waverley.