THE chairman of the company behind the restoration of the Maid of the Loch says there will be no more attempts to haul her out of the water until an investigation finds out exactly how a dramatic incident on Thursday happened.

As a large crowd watched the operation to winch the historic paddle steamer on to the Balloch Slipway on Thursday, the sound of a loud ‘snap’ shortly after 1.30pm was followed by the sight of the famous vessel sliding ignominiously back down the Balloch Steam Slipway and back into the waters of Loch Lomond where she has spent virtually all her life.

No-one was injured in the incident, but some of the volunteers on the slipway had to jump out of the way as the 191-foot vessel slid back down into the loch after the cradle supporting the ship snapped.

The Loch Lomond Steamship Company, which owns the Maid, had invited the media and public to watch the ‘slipping’ of the ship – the four-hour operation to haul her out of the water for an extensive hull survey, using the steamer’s original winch house, as part of a £1 million refurbishment.

With only a few hours of daylight left after the incident happened, a decision was made to return the Maid to its usual berth to allow crew members to examine what went wrong.

John Beveridge, the chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, confirmed no-one had been hurt in the incident, but said he did not expect there would be another attempt to haul the vessel back on to the slipway until the charity found out what had gone wrong.

He said: “It’s not exactly what we were intending. She was over on the cradle and she was being pulled out the water.

“We were examining how the hull and the bow were on the cradle, and all of a sudden there was a loud noise. I had my back turned to it, so I didn’t exactly see what happened, but she ended up being pulled back into the water with the cradle.

“Nobody’s been hurt, which is great, and we’ve managed to secure the ship and she’s back in her berth at the pier. We now need to find out what’s gone wrong.

“We will be speaking to the people involved. We need to recover the cradle, because it’s in the water, and until we can do that it’s very difficult to know exactly what went wrong.

“We have the £1 million still to spend and getting her out of the water and examining the hull was just a small fraction of that money, so the majority of the money will still be spent on refurbishing the ship, doing up the engines [and] getting them working again with the steam.

“But then we’ll have to find out what’s happened and make an assessment. At this moment in time we just don’t know.”

Asked when another attempt might be made to haul the vessel on to the slip, Mr Beveridge said: ““It won’t be in the next few days [trying again].

“We’ll have to assess what went wrong and then see where we go from there.

“But at the moment, the ship is safe. Everyone else is safe. That’s the main thing.

“It’s entirely unexpected and frustrating when it was such an exciting occasion. We need to find out what caused it before we can think about slipping her again.”

Bystanders suggested the problem was with the cradle at the front, and questioned whether the ship had been put up correctly.

Just minutes before the Maid began to move in towards dry land, Mr Beveridge had spoken of his satisfaction that a day which had been more than two decades in the making had finally arrived.

He said: “We’ve only got one employee, but the large number of volunteers we’ve got have been working for 23 years to get to this point and it’s great.

“The turnout is fantastic and it just shows the level of support and interest there is for this old ship. If we can help do her up and get her sailing again it will be a tremendous benefit to the area and this interest shows that.”

The incident was the latest unexpected twist in a see-saw few months for the Maid’s owners.

A bid for £3.64 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the ship’s return to operation was turned down in October – a decision which Mr Beveridge said at the time had left the whole project in jeopardy.

But the Scottish Government confirmed last month that an award of £950,000 from its regeneration capital grants fund would go ahead, despite the HLF rejection.

Assembled at the yard of A. & J. Inglis at Pointhouse in Glasgow – builders of the Waverley, the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer – the Maid was taken apart and transported in pieces by road to Loch Lomond before being reconstructed and launched in March 1953.

She carried thousands of day-trippers on Loch Lomond cruises for 28 years before being decommissioned in 1981 due to falling passenger numbers.

After spending more than a decade languishing at Balloch Pier in an increasingly sorry state, the Maid was bought by Dumbarton District Council in 1992.

Four years later she was purchased by her current owners, who raised £1.61 million in cash pledges, plus £431,000 in volunteers’ time, towards the vessel’s restoration before the HLF turned down the charity’s funding application.

In addition to the Scottish Government funding confirmed in December, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, the Hugh Fraser Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation, and the Robertson Trust have all pledged financial support to the project in recent months.