Commonwealth Flotilla: Matt Hill



On Friday 25 July I stood in scorching Greenock sunshine and watched as over 250 leisure craft began mustering at James Watt Dock marina in Greenock preparing to take part in the Commonwealth Games flotilla before proceeding up the River Clyde to Princes Dock in Glasgow. This was to be the largest organised flotilla ever on the Clyde.

The following morning, I boarded at Gourock Pier the newest ferry in the Caledonian Macbrayne fleet, the hybrid Ro-Ro vessel Lochinvar, which had been temporarily relieved of her duties crossing Loch Fyne from Portavadie to Tarbert.

My brief from Flotilla control was for Lochinvar to proceed to Greenock and to take up a position and hold station mid channel abeam of Custom House Quay, from where the event was to begin, Lochinvar would then lead the Commonwealth Flotilla boats to Glasgow. I briefed the Lochinvar’s captains of the day’s plan and we slipped from Gourock with 120 invited guests and dignitaries on board to meet the rest of the flotilla boats at Greenock.

flotilla 1

As we arrived at Greenock the 250+ flotilla boats of varying types and sizes were all mustering in their designated areas awaiting the flotilla’s start. We slowly picked ourselves a passage through the flotilla craft until we were in position abeam of Custom House Quay.

Once all vessels were in position and the Clyde Marine passenger vessels Clyde Clipper and Cruiser were in position astern of us the signal was given to commence the 17 nautical mile passage to Glasgow. We were instructed to maintain a speed of between 4-5 knots so that all vessels, regardless of type, could keep close together to prevent the flotilla from spreading out during the passage.

flotilla 2

The river was lined with people at every possible viewing point – even some points that I thought weren’t accessible were suddenly lined with people cheering and waving as we headed up river. The air was filled with the sound of various ships’ whistles and horns saluting the crowds along the shore.

About nine miles into the journey upriver we passed the western entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal at Bowling, where more boats joined at the rear of the flotilla. These boats had been unable to make the muster point at James Watt dock the previous day due to an unforeseen problem with the lock gates, but thankfully all was fixed in time for them to join us as we passed them by.On the pontoon at Clydebank, 13 miles into the journey, the old Clyde puffer Vic 32 and the small replica puffer Wee Spark were waiting for us, and after more whistle and horn blowing they joined on astern to proceed up to the city.

Another mile further upriver the paddle steamer Waverley, a familiar sight to most on the Clyde, was berthed at BAE Scotstoun waiting for us to pass. As usual there was more whistle blowing, cheering and shouting as the flotilla passed by the Waverley and her passengers.

We eventually arrived at Princes Dock in Glasgow at 1330, where we berthed the Lochinvar beside the Glasgow Science Centre tower and disembarked our passengers. Clyde Clipper and Cruiser, who had followed us all the way upriver, berthed in front of us. Over the next two hours all the flotilla boats slowly arrived and berthed in Princes Dock, where they would remain before proceeding back downriver over the coming days. It was a very impressive sight to see the river lined with people. I had really not expected the public to embrace the flotilla in this way and turn out in such numbers – it was certainly very different to the usual pilotage trips upriver to Glasgow. Photographs don’t really do justice to this day: it was one of those events that you really had to be there to fully appreciate!

Matt Hill is a Clyde Pilot. All images courtesy of River Clyde Photography.


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