In issue number 14 of Paddle Wheels ex army officer Captain L G A Thomas, then a stalwart of the Wessex Branch, recounted a day out he had almost forty years earlier on a trip from Hastings to Boulogne on P & A Campbell’s paddle steamer Ravenswood on Sunday 23rd August 1925.
I was on holiday in the country about ten miles outside Hastings.and on visiting the pier I saw that Ravenswood was advertised to visit Boulogne. As this was a rare event I decided to go on the trip and immediately paid my 12/6 (about £40 in today’s money) at the office. The steamer sailed at 11am and arrived back at 11pm which presented difficulties as transport to country districts was very meagre on Sundays in those days. This meant that I had to cycle over some shocking hills to get into and return from Hastings.
On Sunday morning I set out at 8.30am and caught the ship as planned. I soon found out that all the tickets had been sold with the British Legion and Toc H having reserved most of them and hundreds of would be passengers were being turned away.The day was gorgeous with no cloud in the sky and quite windless which is such a rarity these days.
The crossing was quite uneventful with visibility so good that Cap Gris Nez was clearly visible whilst still in Rye Bay and both coast lines could be followed with the naked eye. The surface of the sea was of an oily texture which is most rare in these waters.
Five and a half hours were allowed ashore the town being “en fete” and decorated for a large religious procession. The Devonia arrived from Brighton and Eastbourne about an hour later packed with people and sailed before our departure time of 7.45pm. This trip was the last cross Channel trip undertaken by Ravenswood.
I have heard it said that a paddle steamer with a low foredeck like Ravenswood would not get a cross Channel passenger certificate today. Of course that might be the case depending on how the vessel was constructed but I do not believe that this is of itself the determining factor.
More important is that the foredeck would need to be above the minimum freeboard required by the MCA and have the necessary watertight integrity to keep out green seas from the body of the ship’s hull itself. And remember that on sea going paddle steamers the deck to which the freeboard is measured is the main deck, where there are openings in the ship’s side for access to the sponsons, and not to the promenade deck above it.
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 23rd August 2020.