On Wednesday 25th September 1963 Consul was due back in Weymouth after a pretty disastrous season trying to run from Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings followed by a somewhat difficult week sailing on the Thames under charter to PSPS member Don Rose.
For the summer of 1963 paddle steamer sailings from Weymouth had been run by Princess Elizabeth which had finished her season on 12th September and then laid up in the Weymouth Backwater.
Boss of Consul’s then owners South Coast and Continental Steamers Tony McGinnity and his fellow director PSPS member number 1 Mrs. Eileen Pritchard, thought that with the Lizzie by then laid up for the winter they would try to run an excursion from Weymouth with their Consul to Lulworth Cove on Sunday 29th September to test the market.
Unfortunately on Wednesday 25th September and on Sunday 29th September Consul was still tied up to buoys on the London River. Her master Captain Defrates took the view that after a season of regular breakdowns she was not fit to be steamed back to Weymouth and instead should be returned under tow. Tony McGinnity could not afford a tug and so Captain Defrates left.
Tony McGinnity eventually managed to recruit the Princess Elizabeth’s master that season Captain Cyril Holleyoak and her mate Arthur Drage to come up to collect her and so she finally arrived back in Weymouth under her own steam on Thursday 10th October to lay up for the winter.
One of the issues that summer had been crewing. Although the team had been led by experienced paddle steamer master Captain Defrates he had not been well served by a generally poor standard amongst his crew.
For example he was used to ringing full astern at the right moment when berthing and had generally been blessed with engineers who could give him what he wanted when he wanted it. That summer slow responses to the telegraph were normal, engine sticking not infrequent and wrong way engine movements not unknown which resulted in Consul often landing heavily and doing damage.
In all my years with KC I generally had excellent engineers who delivered what I asked for when I wanted it but there were occasions, particularly in the early days, when less experienced engineers didn’t. The thing here is that captains and engineers must talk to each other and understand each other’s difficulties and so develop a rapport so that they work together as a team. Essentially it is a training issue.
If that doesn’t happen then I can tell you from my own experience that there can be few more heart stopping moments than when an engine gets stuck when you are coming into a pier or if you ring full astern and get full ahead instead. The thing to do in the latter case is to put the telegraph onto stop and blow down the voice-pipe to tell the engineer he has got it wrong but of course that takes time and for spot on manoeuvring a few seconds can be a long time and makes all the difference between landing smoothly and accurately and hitting something hard.
Consul’s 1963 season had not gone well and money was tight. Mr. McGinnity now knew the importance of having the right people in place to deliver the product. He had already lost Captain Defrates and he didn’t now want now to loose Captain Holleyoak so he decided to keep him on for the winter to prepare Consul for 1964.
That is entirely understandable and all well and good except that the company’s finances were by then in such a parlous state that there wasn’t really the money available to do it, a point made forcibly by fellow director Mrs. Pritchard. Mr. McGinnity wanted to keep Captain Holleyoak on. Mrs. Pritchard didn’t. And both of them were right.
In the end Captain Holleyoak was kept on for the winter and led Consul’s return to service in 1964. I am not sure though that the rift which this caused between Tony McGinnity and Eileen Pritchard ever fully healed.
For her last operational summer in 1964 Tony based Consul at Weymouth and recruited Cyril Julien, who had previously been Chief Engineer on Cosens’ Monarch and Consul to take charge of the engine room. It was another disastrous season financially with Consul losing money hand over fist running in competition with Princess Elizabeth. But the engine room was in good hands and the difficulties experienced in 1963 disappeared.
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 September 2020.