On Saturday 16th December 1989 we put Kingswear Castle on for a Christmas Buffet Lunch cruise leaving Strood Pier at 12 noon due back at 4pm sailing down the Medway past the Historic Dockyard, Upnor Castle, the Napoleonic Forts at Hoo and Darnet Ness and then on to the tanker berth at Oakham Ness.
According to the Passenger Return for this day we carried 89 passengers at a fare of £12.95 (around £33 in today’s money) to include the buffet. With onboard sales of tea, coffee, wines, beers and spirits plus souvenirs taking a further £226 (£567 today) that gave an overall take for the day of £1,379.55 (£3,500 today).
Apart from the board of trustees in the background, Pat Bushell who helped in the office part time, Stafford Ellerman who looked after the accounts part time and my small crew on the ship augmented by the occasional volunteer there was just me sitting in the office most of the time running the business, doing the marketing, taking the bookings, organising the refits and everything else as well really. And the everything else as well really included organising the buffets.
I generally ordered and picked up the food myself from Cash and Carry and/or, as they developed, one of the supermarkets, brought it all back to go into the refrigerators in the office and then down to the ship later. As often as not over the years I got stuck in helping to lay it all out as well. After that I went off to drive the ship.
I recall that my ordering was on the basis of four slices of cold meat and 6 ounces of salad per person. This included sliced ham, beef, pork and turkey or chicken plus coleslaw, potato, Waldorf, tomato, rice and pasta salads and bags of green salad leaves. Expecting 90 for this cruise I always over ordered by at least ten covers in case too many people ate more than their fair share aboard so for this trip that amounted to an order of 400 slices of the various meats and 40lbs of salad plus the bags of green leaves. To that I usually added several Cash & Carry vegetarian quiches, which came in 12 portion boxes, and sometimes poached salmon fillets plus of course all the necessary garnishes to make it look nice including cucumbers, tomatoes, spring onions, red onions and herbs as well as mayonnaise and various pickles.
Then there was the cheese and biscuits to follow and gateau too. That was easy. Cash and Carry sold a variety of first-class gateaux and cheesecakes already divided up into 12 portion slices. So that was nine gateaux to buy for this cruise plus the cheese and biscuits as well.
Then when we got back after the trip there was all the washing up to do, all the clearing away, the hoovering, the wiping down of surfaces, the filling up of black refuse bags and then lugging them ashore to be put in what a later Government’s new catering and alcohol legislation insisted on describing as “Garbage Reception Facilities”. They looked like rubbish bins to me but there we are.
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 16th December 2020.