THE Maid of the Loch is set to be hauled out of the water later this week in a major step forward for the restoration project which could see the historic ship sail on Loch Lomond again.

The iconic paddle steamer is to be ‘slipped’ on Thursday, an operation that will involved the 555-ton vessel being winched onto the Balloch Steam Slipway, itself a Category A listed building. Spectators are invited to view the slipping which will start at 10am and is expected to last four hours.

The slipping will be carried out by Mackay Boatbuilders Ltd, and will see the Maid, the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain, taken out of the water for only the second time in 40 years, the last occasion being in 2006.

Once on the slipway, a full ultrasound survey overseen by classification society Bureau Veritas will be carried out on the ship’s hull to provide a definitive report on its current condition, before the major refurbishment takes place.

The aim is to fully restore the Maid, which was launched in 1953 and sailed on the Loch for 28 years, to her former glory as the largest vessel to sail on any inland water in the UK.

Work set to take place includes the restoration of the aft deck saloon to 1950’s style, the creation of an education suite and total rebuild of the main saloon aft to 1950’s style with replica wood panelling and central heating. A complete overhaul of the original engines and machinery will also be carried out to restore them to working condition, with steam set to be supplied by a package boiler on the pier.

In a sense, the slipping will see the Maid go back to her beginnings. After being assembled in the Glasgow shipyard of A&J Inglis, she was then taken apart, transported to her new home in Balloch on rail wagons and finally rebuilt on the Balloch Slipway before her launch into Loch Lomond on Thursday, March 5, 1953. Licensed to carry 1000 passengers, she was the largest and last paddle steamer to sail on Loch Lomond and was host to royal guests and celebrities as well as three million day-trippers during her years on the water.

Work commenced before the new year in preparation for the complicated manoeuvre. The Maid has been emptied of all furniture and fittings, and the Balloch Steam Slipway has received new kneel blocks, added new guide wires and ordered essential equipment. The campaign to restore the Maid and return her to a fully operational steamship was last month boosted after the £950,000 capital grant awarded by the Scottish Government was confirmed along with £50,000 from the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, taking the work package to £1 million.

The Maid currently operates as a static tourist attraction and hopes to gain industrial museum status for the ship and steam slipway as a growing number of artefacts are collected and restored to working condition.

John Beveridge, Chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, said: “The Maid coming out of the water will be a terrific start to the New Year for the Loch Lomond Steamship Company.

“The procedure is expected to take up to four hours to complete, and really is a ‘must-see’ spectacle that the charity’s volunteers have worked tirelessly to see happen.

“The ship will dwarf everything around her, and the ingenuity behind pulling a 555-ton paddle steamer out of the water is an ‘impossible engineering’ feat that requires great care.

“This is a huge step forward for us; to be able to spend £1m awarded by The Scottish Government is fantastic and will transform her into an exciting visitor experience. We will be able to recreate her original 1950’s Elizabethan style, and to be able to see her engines turning again after 38 years will be magical.”