‘EVERYTHING is unique about the Waverley, there really is nothing quite like her,” beams Captain Dominic McCall as we steam out of Oban Bay for a day sailing the Hebrides, paddling back through the years on a ship whose very survival is a continual surprise to me. And an utter joy.

The Waverley, after all, is the world’s last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer, a source of immense pride not just for all who are involved and sail on her, but for Scotland too.

As he steers a course away from the CalMac ferries and honking horns of Oban, McCall tells me: “People come on board the Waverley to enjoy themselves. No other vessel offers the coastal cruising experience she offers today around the UK’s waters. She used to be a working ship, but today she is just in the business of making people happy.”

And make people happy the Waverley does. I go back a long way with her, since my sailor dad used to heft us aboard for days out “doon the watter”. Since then, I have been back aboard to continue the tradition with my own kids. The unmistakable thrash of her paddles and the grease of her pistons transports me back to a simpler, less hectic time; as she does for passengers looking for voyages that are not just a rush to a destination.

The Waverley may have been built in Glasgow as the embers of the Second World War had barely settled, but she has enviable speed that is a match for Scotland’s newer ferries. Hand-built in large parts, she was built to last – and has. Her survival is largely thanks to Douglas McGowan. I meet him on board today. I joke that when I see the Waverley is sailing for another season, I’m both excited and surprised. He quips: “Me too.”

It’s only half a joke from McGowan as it takes a herculean effort to literally keep the Waverley afloat. He bought her for a princely £1 in 1974 and everyone thought he was daft. She then set sail as a leisure craft on my third birthday in 1975. Today she is the pride of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society, who rely heavily on donations and appeals. They somehow fashion spare parts when none exist and work with constantly changing standards, costs and rules.

The National:

I learn from the information boards dotted around the ship that this Waverley is actually the 16th Clyde-built incarnation. Her immediate predecessor was sunk in action at Dunkirk. The current Waverley has been repainted to look much as she would have in 1947 when she worked the “Three Lochs” route from Craigendoran.

By spending money onboard today, you are contributing directly to the continued existence of the Waverley. And it’s worth spending money in the restaurant – who do a mean fish and chips – and in the gift shop. They have all manner of souvenirs, including a stylish Waverley-themed bottle of gin from the ace Isle of Cumbrae Distillery.

I’m not here to drink gin, but to savour the PS Waverley and appreciate the glorious scenery she opens up. She delivers. We make the Waverley’s first call at Craignure for almost 40 years and then cut south in search of Scarba and the entrance to the legendary Gulf of Corryvreckan. En route, Mull’s mountains glower and the surface calm is split only by the spirit-soaring sight of a minke whale.

Corryvreckan is the world’s third largest whirlpool, but the tide is slack so the Waverley just graces through, letting us enjoy views of Jura and Scarba, through treacherous waters that almost claimed the life of George Orwell, which would have denied the world the novel he wrote on Jura, 1984.

The shallow draught Waverley is also ideal for getting close to myriad smaller islands – we sail right up to the Garvellachs and the Slate Isles. We enjoy ringside seats of a quartet of lochs: this is billed as the “Four Lochs” cruise, tying back into the Waverley’s “Three Lochs” heritage.

The National:

We cover a lot of ground at a relaxed pace, meaning we get to appreciate constantly changing scenery, including two passes of the Isle of Kerrera, which seems within touching distance on the run back into Oban.

As we head back I chat to Paul Semple, a man who could scarcely be prouder of working with this old maritime dame.

“The best way to preserve the Waverley is to sail on her, “ he smiles. “And we can all play a part in that by coming aboard. And teaching future generations about her too – who knows the wee boy or girl you bring aboard might one day be an engineer or captain.”

I reluctantly leave the Waverley and my childhood ghosts tinged with a warming nostalgia. This time I had my cousin Douglas aboard whose head and heart are full of Waverley dreams too.

I often hear friends say they’re keen to get on, or get back on the Waverley. I fully understand why, but would caution that her future is never guaranteed, so I would encourage you to book a trip down memory lane that helps secure the future of a Scottish icon was can all be proud of.

See www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk for information on the Waverley’s cruises, which leave from a growing number of ports all over the west coast