Balmoral, the second ship to hold the name of the Monarchs' Scottish residence, was launched on 27th June 1949 by Mrs C.B. Pinnock, wife to the chairman of Red Funnel Steamers. Built by I.J. Thornycroft & Co Ltd of Southampton, at a cost of £150,762, Balmoral is a twin screw motor vessel driven by two Newbury Sirron 'O' type diesel engines, and was licensed to carry up to 900 passengers and some 12 vehicles. Blamoral entered commercial service for Red Funnel Steamers on 13th December 1949.
Employed on the ferry routes between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, Balmoral also ran summer excursions around the island, and along the south coast. After the war the Red Funnel fleet mainly carried passenger traffic, but as more prosperous times arrived and car ownership increased, the need for purpose built vessels was realised. The 'car ferry' era was born, leaving the likes of the Balmoral to concentrate on the more leisurely summer excursions and dock tours, assisting with ferry duties only in times of need.
Her Red Funnel days were relatively incident free but, on 21st November 1961 whilst manoeuvring out of Cowes, Balmoral was caught in a strong current causing her to collide with the liner Fairsky and sustain substantial damage to her starboard side. On 21st January 1964 Balmoral was again in the news after running aground in thick fog, just 20ft (6m) from the passenger walkway. It took until the early hours of the following morning to float her free.
Ultimately replaced by the car ferry, Balmoral made her final journey for Red Funnel Steamers on 12th September 1968, and was then put up for sale. In the spring of 1969 Balmoral joined the Bristol based excursions group, P & A Campbell Ltd, where she worked for a further 10 years, but was up 'for sale' a second time in 1980. Eventually, in March 1982, Balmoral was purchased for use as a floating Public House in Dundee by Craig Inns Ltd. This was a venture doomed almost from its outset, and after only a few months she was boarded up and forgotten.
Her third and present sailing career began on 31st March 1985 when she set sail under her own power for the Clyde, having been purchased by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society to support their steamer, 'Waverley'. Following a major re-fit, she commenced her inaugural trip for PSPS on 26th April 1986.
We last caught up with her at Yarmouth pier for a wonderful day sailing along the south coast to Swanage and back, docking at several other piers along the route. It is an immensely pleasurable way to a cruise, whether it be along a gentle stretch of river or around a stretch of our rugged coastline. We should all remember, however, that to maintain historic vehicles, whatever form they take, requires a tremendous amount of money, and only with our continued support as paying passengers can they survive. This is particulary true in the case of MV Balmoral, which has been laid up in Bristol docks since 2012 undergoing extensive repairs.
In May 2015 ownership of the vessel passed to MV Balmoral Fund & White Funnel with passenger operations due to resume in the June. MV Balmoral will initially cover the Bristol Channel and west coast venues, with the aim of extending her sailing programme in 2016 to include the south coast.