On Tuesday 19th April 1966 Embassy was out of the water on the Admiralty slipway at Portland for survey and underwater painting where she had arrived under tow from Weymouth on Thursday 7th April under the command of her regular master from 1963 – 1966 Captain John C W Iliffe.
It was a refit in which the Board of Trade started to make noises about the state of her hull which was by then 55 years old and at which they laid down a marker that if a Passenger Certificate was to be granted for the season after 1966, for 1967 and beyond, then they would require the cement wash in the bilges to be removed for a closer inspection of the hull plates.
My 15 year old self was there in Portland to watch her come off the slipway later in April and be made fast to the Admiralty tug which tied up alongside her aft saloon with her bow right up to the aft end of the starboard sponson to push her along. Off she went and I set off on my bicycle peddling furiously by road to try to beat her back to the Weymouth Harbour entrance which I did. Just.
The plan of campaign was to berth her first alongside the Pleasure Pier and then transfer the tow to two local launches to take her on up the harbour and through the Town Bridge to berth outside Cosens’s workshops in the Backwater. With the Admiralty tug made fast on her starboard side she could not therefore berth head in alongside the Pleasure Pier so she was swung round to be head out and berthed port side to. And so being that way round she was towed up the harbour stern first. I had never seen it done that way before.
It required only a little detour from my usual route to school to pass Embassy each and every day which I did and so took a great interest in the progress of the refit as May wore on. It was the year that a change in the navigation light regulations necessitated the fitting of a main mast which had been fabricated in the workshop and lifted into place with a crane. It was also ever fascinating to watch the daily progress with painting her. The bottle green boot topping looked so fresh and clean after coming off the slipway. Only a thin strip of the black hull paint above that had been painted on whilst out of the water to keep the shipyard costs down. The rest was done from a boat in the Backwater with Embassy afloat. I remember watching Captain Iliffe with a pot of white paint in his hand daubing the ventilator at the forward end of the promenade deck just before a torrential shower of rain so fierce that it made little dents in his new and only half-dried paintwork. These remained visible for the rest of the season.
One of the last bits to be painted was the green on the little steam engine for the fan to make the induced draught up the funnel which was sited just abaft the wheelhouse on the starboard side. Last of all was the silver paint on the railings. Silver rather loses its bright sheen as the months go on but when freshly applied it looks a million dollars and induces such a wow factor to a ship. And then on the day of trials up went a brand new bright red ensign in the stern. That final touch just set Embassy off to perfection.
Unfortunately 1966 was to be Embassy’s last season. She would sail again no more after that. Here she is in the spring of 1967 not long before she was towed away to be scrapped with rusty streaks on the white of her hull giving testament to her basic structural condition.
But on 19th April 1966 that was a year away. We still had a lovely season of trips aboard her to look forward to. And the thought that Embassy might be withdrawn and scrapped only one year later just did not occur to my fifteen year old self back then.
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 19th April 2021.