AN HISTORIC Loch Lomond paddle steamer has taken a step closer to sailing again.

Maid of the Loch re-opened for visitors yesterday, October 7, following a £1.1m project.

Patron Lord Smith of Kelvin fired up the ship’s engines for the first time in nearly four decades at its berth in Balloch.

The historic ship, launched on March 5, 1953, has undergone a major refit to restore her appearance back to the original 1950’s style.

More work is required before she will sail again, but her engines and paddles are now back in working order, allowing visitors to enjoy the vessel ‘in steam’.

The promenade aft deck saloon, originally known as the deck bar, and the main deck saloon aft have both been renovated.

These spaces now house an education facility for hosting school visits and a main room for holding functions and events.

A lift has also been installed to provide assistance between decks.

There’s also been significant structural work to make sure it meets 21st century marine safety standards.

The biggest transformation has taken place in the engine room, where work has included professional overhaul of the engines, installation of new pipework and a mobile boiler plant erected on the pier.

Two-boiler feed pumps, donated by Summerlee Heritage Museum and identical to the Maid’s original pumps, have also been installed; a critical piece of equipment in getting the ship sailing once again.

John Beveridge, chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, said: “It has taken us 23 years to achieve this progress, the biggest boost of which has been the successful award of the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund.

“We are still some way from achieving our aim of her sailing again but are more determined than ever to succeed.

“Our fundraising efforts will continue, and, in the meantime, visitors can come and see the Maid in her former glory and enjoy the spectacle of seeing the ship in steam once again.”

Lord Smith of Kelvin added: “Since 1996 the Loch Lomond Steamship Company has worked tirelessly to save and maintain this beautiful ship, and everyone involved deserves huge congratulations. I know there have been many disappointments along the way, but now to have a real live attraction and newly refurbished rooms is a real achievement.

“Equally important, is the legacy which this ship can offer. Scotland needs icons like the Maid of the Loch, and I share the charity’s hopes that we will see this wonderful ship sailing again.”