Tuesday, 5 September 2023 / Posted in
I'm Matthew O'Donnell, a Graduate Marine Engineer at Marine Design International.
I graduated from The University of Strathclyde with Bachelors of Engineering in Civil Engineering in 2023.
I'm passionate about the Marine Industry and I'm excited to share my experiences with you in this blog post.
Recently, I spent a week volunteering at The Maid of the Loch, and it was an eye-opening experience that taught me a lot about the industry.
The Maid of the Loch was built in 1953 by A. & J. Inglis of Glasgow, then taken apart and reassembled on Balloch slipway. A 63m paddle steamer, she operated on Loch Lomond providing both transportation and leisure cruises.
The Maid is famously known as the last paddle steamer to be built in the United Kingdom and the largest paddle steamer to sail Loch Lomond where she was licensed to carry 1000 passengers. During her 28 years on the water, she hosted three million guests.
For decades she played a vital role in Loch Lomond’s tourism industry however in 1981 was decommissioned and neglected.
Originally owned by the British Transport Commission, she is now owned by the charitable organisation – Loch Lomond Steamship company.
In 1996 the dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers of the Loch Lomond steamship company undertook a rescue mission with an end goal of returning the ship to sailing.
Currently she sits on the slipway at Balloch Pier where the volunteering crew work tirelessly to restore the historic paddle steamer. Several large tasks have been completed in the last couple of years by the team such as a new carriage, the survey of the hull and lots of painting!
Currently the charity is funded by a small shop, guided hard hat tours as well as profits from a nearby café at Balloch slipway. The Steamship Company raised £1.7 million in 2015 with the hope of receiving further funding from Heritage Lottery. Unfortunately, Heritage Lottery did not award any monies to the Maid of the Loch. An estimated £2.6 million is still required to repair the Maid to her sailing state again.
As a Civil Engineering graduate working with Naval Architects, my boat knowledge needed a bit of ‘hands-on assistance’. Lucky for me Simon Cormack, Managing Director at MDI is also on the board of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company and came up with the idea of deploying me for a week to familiarise me with the industry and gain on the tools experience in a marine setting.
Upon arrival at the Maid, I was introduced to volunteering foreman Jim who would be my mentor over the week and set me out on different tasks.
I spent my first day with Ronnie, a retired electrician. Ronnie and I deburred brackets that would be fitted to the paddles. We then assisted retired engineer and perfectionist Robert in positioning brackets and drilling holes on paddles so they could be fitted on the starboard side.
The second day of my time on the Maid; myself, Jim, and John (retired former Merchant Navy and PS Waverley Engineer) sanded the superficial rust off the upper starboard side so that it could be primed and painted.
My third day on the Maid, I assisted retired electrical engineer John installing electrical equipment into the boiler room from the engine room before further construction begins.
On my fourth day, I was assigned to work with Robert who is probably the most meticulous person I have ever met. Together we measured sizes of brackets and lazy brackets and began the assembly of the next paddle.
After cleaning the faces of some brackets, Robert showed me how to use an internal micrometre, discussed types of clearance and taught me a little bit of imperial lingo. Following this, Jim would give me a picturesque view of the Loch with the assistance of the Genie (cherry-picker).
My time at Maid of the Loch was thoroughly enjoyable, largely due to the individuals who dedicate so much of their time there but also because of the tremendous amount of knowledge I gained in such a small period. I would recommend volunteering on the Maid to anyone as the skills gained are invaluable and there is a tremendous sense of community onboard!
I have already asked for a day a week out of the office to volunteer, decision pending...