At 2pm on the afternoon of Tuesday 14th May 1985 surveyor Mr Ahmed arrived to conduct the final running trials for KC which if they went well would lead to the re-issue of the ship’s Passenger Certificates for the first time for 20 years. It was a tense moment.
The previous six months had been a busy time for everybody both completing the necessary work on KC as well as setting up the business model, opening an office, producing the publicity material and distributing it plus the thousand and one other things necessary to start up a business from scratch. Back then there was no internet or email. All the office equipment we had was a sit up and beg typewriter, a filing cabinet, two desks and chairs and a ‘phone which was obtained only after a hard fought battle with the Post Office who seemed at that time to like to ration them.
Perhaps most important of all was Malcolm Cockell and I meeting up with Sir Steuart Pringle, then chairman and chief executive of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust. That went well. We struck up a rapport and Sir Steuart offered us office and workshop space initially at no cost welcoming us into his newly formed Historic Dockyard which was also about to start its first season of operation as a tourist attraction.
In the run up to these final trials we had had several other visits from surveyors signing off this and that. There had been a heeling test the previous Wednesday 8th May to check KC’s stability. We had been out the day before swinging the compass. Now the big day had arrived and with it Mr Ahmed. I liked him a lot and learnt a huge amount from him both in the run up to getting KC going and in the ensuing years as for some while he was generally the surveyor who attended for us. He had started his career on small steamships in Bangladesh and so was a gold mine of information based on real practical experience.
This was of course long before the introduction of Safety Management Systems so the paperwork was definitely less then than it is now but the survey was nonetheless very thorough. Mr Ahmed went through everything thoroughly, put the crew through their paces in all details of their jobs and safety aspects and the safe operation of the ship, witnessed all the pumps in action and finally tested the two safety valves on the boiler.
Also as just another example of how the world has changed since those days 36 years ago, back then Class V Passenger Vessels were not required to carry life-rafts or life-jackets. The main lifesaving equipment was buoyant apparatus, which are large floating seats, sufficient for all the passengers and crew to hold onto the grab-lines around them after they had floated free.
I am pleased to be able to report that it all went well that afternoon. Mr Ahmed was content with KC and my crew and so signed the necessary docket. We were all set. But as another concession to that long gone age we could either wait for the Passenger Certificates to arrive through the post a couple of days later or I could go and collect them from Mr Ahmed’s office in Seething Lane in London the next day.
I chose that latter. I didn’t want to find that we got to the following Saturday of our first scheduled cruise and find that the certificates had been held up in the post meaning that we could not display them and therefore could not sail.
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.
This article was first published on 14th May 2021.