At the end of the 1965 season P & A Campbell bought Red Funnel’s Isle of Wight excursion vessel and Southampton/Cowes ferry Vecta to join their Bristol Channel fleet. She ran her last sailings from Southampton on Saturday 18th September and on the Monday left for Cardiff calling at Ilfracombe and Swansea on the way for berthing trials.
Still in her Red Funnel colour scheme, Vecta made her first Bristol Channel sailings on Friday 24th September running on the Cardiff/Weston ferry service leaving Cardiff (9.10am) and Penarth (9.20am) for Weston (10.40am) before crossing back for Barry (11.40am) passing close to Steepholm on her way under the command of Captain Ray Hardcastle. She was then away from Barry (3.15pm) to Cardiff (4.15pm) and Penarth (4.25pm) before setting out for Weston ( 5.35pm) and then returning to Penarth (6.30pm) and Cardiff (6.45pm).
Meanwhile on this day Bristol Queen ran a day trip from Cardiff (8.45am) to Penarth (8.55am), Barry (9.30am), Lynmouth (11.10am), Ilfracombe (11.55am) and on to Lundy Island (1.35pm – 4.10pm) returning via Ilfracombe (5.45pm), Lynmouth (6.15pm), Minehead (7.30pm) and back up Channel. Her scheduled arrival times were for Barry (8.50pm), Penarth (9.25pm) and Cardiff (9.40pm) but unfortunately she damaged her starboard paddle wheel while leaving Minehead on the return leg and after that could only make half ahead rather than full so her passengers had a very late arrival back.
With the imminent arrival of Vecta, Cardiff Queen was withdrawn from service to be laid up for the winter on 22nd September but Bristol Queen’s paddle wheel damage necessitated her return to service pronto to take her quasi sister’s place on the day trip from Cardiff to Ilfracombe the following day Saturday 25th September.
Accordingly she was hastily flashed up and made ready but whilst making her way down the Avon to be in Cardiff first thing to take over from Bristol Queen she was set ashore on the notorious Horseshoe Bend by the tide. Fortunately she managed to free herself but not before various tree branches had damaged some of her deck light fittings and caused minor damage to one of her paddle wheels which necessitated getting welders out of their beds bright and early to fix it all in time for the Ilfracombe trip.
There were those in the enthusiast community who did not welcome the arrival of Vecta on the Bristol Channel fearing, rightly as it turned out, that she might displace one or other, and perhaps both, of the two remaining paddle steamers.
There was talk around the decks of how unsuitable a screw driven ship was for the Bristol Channel and that she would never last. It was therefore a tad ironic, and a plus point for her, that she had successfully completed her first day in service on the Bristol Channel undamaged on a day when both the paddlers had been in the wars and required costly repairs themselves.
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 24th September 2020.