12th October 1965:

12th October 1965:
Vecta as built.

After her short trial running on the Bristol Channel for P & A Campbell, the former Red Funnel Vecta set off from Cardiff on Tuesday 12th October 1965 for the yard of Cosens & Co at Weymouth for a major overhaul.

During this three week period she had performed admirably mostly running on the Cardiff/Weston ferry. She closed the season the season the previous day, Monday 11th October, on which she made three round trips across the Channel first leaving Cardiff (9.45am) for Penarth (9.55am) to Weston (11.10am) and then on to Barry (12.10pm); then from Barry (4.15pm) for Weston (5.15pm), Cardiff (6.30pm) and Penarth (6.40pm) and then back to Weston (8pm). After giving her passengers more than three hours drinking time in the p;ubs ashore she finally left Weston (10.20pm) for Penarth (11.30pm) and Cardiff (11.40pm).

Vecta sailing bill 27th September 1965.

During this period she undertook one down Channel trip on Monday 27th September (a date with favourable tides with her both ways) starting at Cardiff (9.30am) for Penarth (9.40am), Weston (10.45am) and Ilfracombe (.145pm). She then ran an afternoon cruise from Ilfracombe (2.30pm – 5pm) to the Scarweather Lightship, six nautical miles west of Porthcawl before setting off again from Ilfracombe (5.30pm) for Weston (8.25pm), Penarth (9.40pm) and Cardiff (10pm).

Bristol Queen. // Keith Abraham

Bristol Queen was scheduled to bring passengers down from Bristol to connect with this departure from Weston (10.45am) and then to spend the rest of the day on the Cardiff/Weston ferry but she was out of action having damaged her port paddle wheel at Minehead the previous Friday evening.

Cardiff Queen. // Keith Abraham

So it was Cardiff Queen, hastily recommissioned after ending her season on 22nd September, which actually made the link between Bristol and Weston..

Westward Ho ex Vecta alongside Cardiff.

As well as other refit work that winter Cosens plated up Vecta’s forward car deck to make her more suitable for Bristol Channel work and after dry-docking in Cardiff in March 1966 she emerged renamed Westward Ho.

For 1966 she partnered both Bristol Queen and Cardiff Queen giving the Bristol channel a three ship service for the first time since 1958. This turned out to be too good to be true with Cardiff Queen being withdrawn at the end of the 1966 season and Bristol Queen the following year.

Balmoral at Weymouth 1970 for refit by Cosens. // John Megoran

Westward Ho was joined by Balmoral in 1969 and the two sailed together until the end of the 1971 season when she too was withdrawn.

After that and subsequently renamed North Westward Ho, she spent a dozen or so years as a restaurant in Manchester before moving to London and the Medway to lay up. She was eventually scrapped in Plymouth sometime around 1997.

Tiny Point of Detail 1: The berth opposite Cosens’ workshops in the Weymouth Backwater was quite shallow alongside. This didn’t matter for the paddle steamers as their sponsons kept their hulls off the quay wall and sufficiently out in deeper water so that they stayed afloat throughout the tidal cycle. It did matter for Vecta and Balmoral which would have grounded and taken a list at low tide. So to prevent this happening Cosens manufactured a tiny pontoon to fit between their hulls and the quay wall to keep them out just enough in the slightly deeper water and so stay upright.

Tiny Point of Detail 2: When Vecta arrived from her Bristol Channel trials in Weymouth on Wednesday 13th October 1965 I went down to watch her come in and followed her progress backing up the harbour and through the Town Bridge to berth head out outside Cosens’ workshops in the late afternoon. One thing that particularly surprised my then 14 year old self was how young her master, Captain Ray Hardcastle, was. Of course there is absolutely no reason why a captain can’t be young. But in my childhood, and up to this point in 1965, all the captains I had ever seen were old men or at least men who looked old to my young eyes. So Captain Hardcastle came as a shock to me as he berthed Vecta faultlessly alongside the quay.

Tiny Point of Detail 3: Another former P & A Campbell master was also there that day to watch Vecta arrive. Captain Neville Cotman had sailed as mate and later master of the Bristol Channel paddle steamers in the 1950s and had the misfortune to be in command of Glen Usk the day she was set aground on the Horseshoe Bend in the River Avon on 27th August 1959. He left the company after that and subsequently obtained employment on the Weymouth/Channel Islands mailboats. At that time he was second mate on Caesarea. She was alongside in Weymouth that afternoon. So he walked along the quay to say hello and greet one or two of Vecta’s crew who he knew from his past association with P & A Campbell.

Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 12th October 2020.