On Christmas Day in 1953 Embassy started to sink at her berth in Weymouth Harbour.
Since 1948 Weymouth has hosted a swim across the harbour every Christmas Day. In this current age it is a much policed event with all the paraphernalia of modern health and safety in attendance including the provision of plastic slopes to make it easier for swimmers to get in and out of the water and so on, hosts busying themselves with this and that and checklists never far from sight. Back in 1953 that all lay in the future and people were largely left to their own devices to take decisions about their own lives themselves.
It has always been, and remains, a popular event which draws out the crowds with those swaddled in overcoats and mufflers generally being in the greater majority than those brave enough to dive in. Those friends and family who have not taken the plunge want a good view of those who have and what better grandstand than one of Cosens’s paddle steamers laid up for the winter and moored nearby.
For Christmas 1953 best views were from the decks of Embassy so a vast army of onlookers climbed aboard her any which way they could, and without the provision of a welcoming gangway, crowding over to one side of her to better see and cheer on their friends and family members in the water. This gave Embassy a list.
Down in the engine room Embassy’s condenser had been opened up for survey and attention with the ends off it. The pipe which returns the cooling sea water overboard from the condenser was also off and not connected to the ship’ side. That had seemed not to matter during the refit in Weymouth Harbour as the shipside discharge valve was above the waterline. However with all the crowds aboard giving such a list to the ship on this day it ceased to be above the waterline and so water started merrily to come in through it into the engine room.
From the start of the proceedings for the swim to the end of it usually takes a good hour and a half or more and in that time quite a lot of water flooded into Embassy’s engine room. And when the crowds had gone and Embassy returned to an even keel so much water had been taken aboard that now the discharge valve was still underwater with ever more water continuing to flood in.
It was not until later that afternoon that someone spotted that Embassy was down on her marks and floating rather lower in the water than she should have been. The fire brigade was summoned. Senior management from Cosens arrived on the scene having put aside their Christmas festivities. Pumps were called for and the process of pumping her out started. But by then there was a lot of water to pump out and it was not until the early hours of the following morning that Embassy returned to normal.
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 25th December 2020.