CHEERS of “hip hip, hooray” went up from the shoreline as crowds gathered to watch the unique Maid of the Loch being pulled out of Loch Lomond last week.

At around 10.30am, the Maid cast off slowly from her home at the Loch Lomond pier, with both a team on deck and on land communicating with each other throughout the operation.

A dinghy full of anxious volunteers watched on from the waters. At around 11am, she was onto her carriage, ready to board the slipway.

The Maid, which normally sees crowds of people aboard its decks for parties, weddings and celebrations, will receive vital repair work which it wasn't possible to do while she remained on the loch, as the charity which owns her takes the next step on the journey which – they hope – will see the much-loved paddle steamer return to service, taking passengers on cruises up and down Loch Lomond for the first time since 1981.

Holding a dear place in the hearts of both locals and visitors, crowds of people formed at both the near pier and across at Loch Lomond Shores to watch the Maid move its way up the 120-year old Balloch slipway.

Wednesday’s operation was the climax of more than two years of planning, following an unsuccessful winching operation on a rainy January day back in 2019, which saw the original carriage at the category A listed slipway fail and the ship slip back into the water.

As the four-hour effort got under way, chair of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, Iain Robertson, told the Advertiser: “I’m very pleased with the progress.

“The incident in 2019, in some ways, did us a favour. It exposed some of the frailties of the carriage that we had before, and the new one is built primarily of steel.

“So we expect that carriage to last for 50 or 60 years. We can now pull the ship out the water with a degree of confidence that the carriage will be sound going forward.

“Preparations have been really good. Surprisingly, our fund-raising has been good.

“We’ve got the benefit of Historic Environment Scotland, who have put £95,000 into this, Architectural Heritage put another £10,000 into the carriage project, and we’ve put in a substantial amount of our own funds into it.

“Until we do an ultrasound on the hull and we get a definitive answer on how good the hull is, we will not know the extent of the repairs that are required.

“Once we know that we’ll start to commission work to repair the hull.

“The object of the exercise is to get this ship into a position that it will be able to carry passengers sometime in the future.

“This is a very critical moment in this charity’s life.”

In the second stage of the day’s operation, and with everything lined up, the steam-powered winch began working to pull the boat onto the slipway.

Centimetre by centimetre she moved, with the nervous crowd watching on in anticipation as the Maid edged closer and closer to the shore.

Eventually, with most of the boat out of the water, operations ceased briefly as the final piece of apparatus was fitted by volunteer workers on the slipway, ready to take her all the way to her final resting area.

And then, with the Maid’s bow standing above everyone, a lead team member picked up his megaphone and turned to the watching crowd to ask them to show their appreciation of a job well done as the 100-tonne haulage rope thundered into action again.

Three cheers went up from the shoreline.

One volunteer, Glynis Morgan, who had been manning the merchandise stall, told the Advertiser of the day trips she took on the Maid as a child.

These special memories of the times she had aboard the ship is what drove her to volunteer to help return the ship to its original purpose.

“It was a very exciting day trip from Glasgow as a child,” Glynis said.

“You’d get the train up here and then you’d walk across onto the ship.

“She’s always been there. She’s iconic.

“I just thought anyone could go work in the park, or whatever or volunteer in a library or at the hospital, but the Maid of the Loch is something special, it’s a one off. It’s unique.

“We believed in 2018 that she would sail in the next year, so I learned all the stories and I got my Maid guide certificate. It was brilliant. But without funding we couldn’t get her going.

“However, a huge amount of work has been done since 2018.

“There’s no doubt that at a minimum she can be a fantastic static attraction, but we don’t want her to be a static attraction - we want her to sail.

“I want my grandchildren to come and have the fun of going on the boat and sailing up the loch.”

Jim Mitchell, project manager and the Maid’s engineering director, said the day went “really well”.

He said: “It was a fantastic turnout from the volunteers, and we had all sorts of specialists - people that look after the winching side, the steam engine side, looking after the boilers. Quite a sizeable team.

“I’m 100 per cent confident the ship will get back out into the water.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to do, money permitting, is we’re going to put the ship back to its original colour scheme.

“We’ll be making it a white ship again with a yellow funnel, instead of it looking like a CalMac ferry.

“We feel really good about what we’ve achieved.

“We could not have done the job without all these volunteers.”

Now on the slipway, the Maid of the Loch will host a programme of activities throughout the summer, including creative and industrial craft events and workshops for visitors.

There will also be specially guided hard hat tours aboard the paddle steamer, as well as events to celebrate the opening of the new visitor centre.