I CAN remember as a boy going over the River Clyde in the bus coming from Kilmarnock. When I looked down the river, it was jam-packed with ships.

That would have been in the late 1940s or early 1950s. In 1962, I got on the river in my kayak – that would have been near the Broomielaw. We – there were two of us in the boat – were heading for the Forth and Clyde Canal. We had only gone a short distance when a motor launch with policemen came alongside.

One of the policemen, a sergeant, enquired what we thought we were doing. (They say the polis are getting younger and wee-er; they weren’t in those days.) I started to explain that I was Leading Seaman McCluskey, Royal Navy, and that me and my mate were embarking on an expedition into the Forth and Clyde Canal and back to our ship at Rosyth Dockyard in Fife.

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The sergeant let me known that he was not interested in who I was or what I was about, but that I should get my “f***ing canoe aff the f***ing river, right now!”

And there we were, standing by the side of the road, in the middle of Glasgow, with 20 feet of dripping boat on our shoulders. But we weren’t out of luck all together. An artic low-loader truck came to our rescue – the lovely fellow took us to the canal somewhere in city.

I look at the Clyde now and see a ghost river. What has happened to the “wonderful Clyde”? Is that big polisman’s ghost still haunting the river, chasing amateur sailors “aff the river”?.

Where are the paddle steamers that took thousands of holidaymakers doon the water? More recently, I have taken my boat, not the kayak, up the Clyde from Irvine, into the canal, out the other end, across the North Sea, through Germany, the Netherlands, some of Poland, and into the Baltic Sea.

There are tourist boats on nearly all the rivers and lakes on the continent. You can’t get moving for boats. On one occasion, somewhere in Germany, a launch came alongside – Wasserpolizei. They wanted to know what flag? I gave them a right finger-wagging. “That’s the Saltire, the flag of Scotland.” “Welcome to Germany, sir.” Not like the waterpolis here.

What I saw over there amazed me. I had my boat in the centre of Berlin, just behind Wall Strasse – no charge. When I look at the Clyde, I think, if this was Germany, I would be able to sail up the River Leven, past Dumbarton Rock, and on up into Loch Lomond. (If Loch Lomond was in England, it would be the most famous lake in the world). In fact, I would be able to sail up the Clyde to the Clyde Falls.

Now I know someone will say “that’s because Germany has very little coast line”. No, it’s because they really utilise their inland waterways. (It is easier for them, as that part of the continent is pretty flat.).

I was sitting in a restaurant by the river in the centre of Amsterdam. There were boats and barges of all kinds going to and fro, and a giant cruise ship. The river police and the officers on the bridge of the cruise ship were keeping an eye on things as the cruise ship turned herself 180 degrees and tied up in the city centre – no tugs.

They have the Cutty Sark on the Thames – built in Dumbarton. They have HMS Belfast, not built on the Clyde, but in its heyday the Clyde built more warships than anywhere else in the world. I was a young sailor serving on board HMS Vanguard, the last and the biggest battleship built for the Royal Navy. It was Navy Day – we were open to visitors – but not on the Clyde.

I haven’t been up the Clyde in my boat as far as Glasgow for a long time – I kept it at Dumbarton and Greenock in the past. It has changed beyond all recognition. But it’s still a river, the River Clyde. Mindful of the developments it, I fear the next stage might be backfilling it.

TP McCluskey

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