On Sunday 17th December 1989 Kingswear Castle ran a Santa Special leaving Strood Pier at 2pm back 4pm and Chatham Sun Pier 2.15pm back 4.15pm.
Targeted at families with children we bought a present for each child and therein lay the rub. For a one-off trip like this how many toys should we buy. Buy too many and you have too many left over at the end which knocks into the profitability of the fares. Buy too few and. Well you know what that would lead to with excited children eager to get their gift.
We hired a Santa suit and dressed up one of our volunteers in that. The first year we ran this sort of cruise in 1986 our Santa was a bit on the thin side and not as portly as a good Santa should be. I recall hearing one child complaining to his mum “That’s not Santa. Santa is fat.”
The Passenger Return for this day records that we carried just 26 passengers including the children, took £135.90 (£350 today) in ticket money and a further £59 (£148 today) giving a total take for the afternoon of £195 (£490 today). These one-off Santa Specials never seemed to draw out the crowds as they do on the steam railways and were never as good commercially as the Christmas Buffet Lunch Cruises.
Two days later on Tuesday 19th December 1989 we ran a two-hour charter over the lunch period to a medical supply company with another one of our sliced meats and salad buffets followed by gateau. That turned in a revenue of £1,553 (£4K today). That’s eight times as much as we earned on this Santa Special for the same amount of steaming. I took a lesson from that.
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 17th December 2020.