On Tuesday 29th July 2008 Kingswear Castle ran afternoon cruises and an early evening charter on the River Medway from her base at the Historic Dockyard at Chatham and from Rochester Pier.
This is how the day panned out:
7am: I called into Cash and Carry on my way in to collect all the ingredients for the evening buffet.
10am: Crew mustered to start getting the ship ready, polish the brass, clean everything, light the boiler and so on.
1pm: Ready to load for the first trip
1.30pm Depart Historic Dockyard for a Thirty Minute Trip targeted at visitors to the Dockyard to view Upnor Castle with 36 passengers.
2pm: Unloaded and set off light ship for Rochester Pier which was reached at 2.30pm.
There was insufficient space to turn KC in one above Rochester Bridge but on a flood tide the three point turn was helped by a back eddy on the north side of the river. After passing through the bridge I came round hard to starboard to put the bow into this eddy leaving the stern in the flood which twizzled me round just fine to come into the pier starboard side to.
Coming up to Rochester from Chatham on the ebb tide I generally berthed port side to. After that turning on an ebb tide to go back down river was harder as the ebb was of fairly consistent strength right across the river. It was important to go a bit further up river before turning to give me more space in case I couldn’t get her round so as to avoid being set down on the bridge if it didn’t work out. Again I usually turned to starboard and kept the swing on for as long as I dared to get the stern round as much as possible. Then it was off full astern with the helm hard to port and she usually came round well. Then dropping down onto slow astern somehow gave a bit of an extra kick round . Then it was off full ahead up to Rochester Pier starboard side to. The real difficulty came when strong easterly winds combined with ebb tides because then when backing the stern wanted to go the wrong way into the wind and I was in danger of loosing all I had gained on the first swing. I had a few nail biting moments when the wind was in the east.
Coming down from up river on an ebb tide, and so with the tide under me, I always stern fetched onto Rochester Pier although it was crucial to get the stern across the tide but not too much across the tide so that she set in nicely alongside the pier but didn’t land heavily.
Back to Tuesday 29th July 2008:
3pm Left Rochester Pier for a two and a half hour afternoon cruise to Darnet Ness with 96 passengers.
3.30pm Called at the Historic Dockyard and picked up another 18 passengers.
4.10pm Turned off the forts at Hoo and Darnet Ness
5pm Called at Historic Dockyard to drop off.
5.30pm Called at Rochester to unload then light ship back to the Historic Dockyard for 6pm
6.30pm Ready to load for the evening charter with cold buffet for 55.
7pm Depart Historic Dockyard for charter to Chatham Rotary Club down river to Oakham Ness.
10pm: Return to Historic Dockyard.
10.15pm: Passengers all ashore
11pm: Crew ashore having cleaned everything and I locked up the ship and went home.
Breaking down the revenue for this day, the ticket machine aboard KC took just £144; we sold £64 of tickets online; there were no tickets from the Rochester Tourist Information Centre and only £34 of sales from the Historic Dockyard. The biggest income was from coach parties on the afternoon cruise which brought in £495 and the evening charter a further £873.
In terms of onboard sales we sold £368 in drinks, £22 of KC books, no souvenirs at all and £21 of snack type food like crisps and chocolate. The big revenue earner this day from sales was the buffet for the evening charter which brought in £495.
All in all the total turnover for Tuesday 29th July 2008 was £2,517.20. This was pretty typical.
The best day for onboard ticket sales that week was Thursday 31st July when the machine took £397. The best day for online ticket sales was Wednesday 30th when £356 was taken and on that day the TIC sold a further £225 in tickets. The maximum the Historic Dockyard sold on our behalf this week was just £80 on Friday 1st August which again was pretty typical.
Amongst the very many hats I wore when I ran KC and the company, I designed and executed our marketing plan each year and spent a huge amount of time during the winters drumming up business from coach companies and group leaders for the summer to come.
I always took stands at the main group travel trade fairs organised by the South East England Tourist Board and others on which I was helped in the early years by Pat Bushell and later on by Stafford Ellerman who were both a great support to me. And without that pre-booked revenue KC could never have survived on the Medway in what is not a tourist honey-pot area and where there was virtually no passing trade.
The poorest day this week in 2008 for revenue was Saturday 2nd August when we sailed on a cruise targeted at the enthusiast market down to Sheerness and round the wreck of the Richard Montgomery. This attracted no group bookings and just 41 passengers, half of whom had Season Tickets, and produced a total revenue, including onboard sales, of just £821.05. Contrast that with Friday 1st August when the afternoon cruises, which were targeted at a wider range of market segments, plus an evening cruise with music, brought in a total take of £3,368.65.
All in all this week in 2008 we took £10,903.60 of which just £1,265 was from the sale of tickets aboard KC and with a mere £11.20 taken in souvenir sales. Every day except the Saturday there were at least two coach parties aboard and on the Thursday there were three. And this was by no means our best week that season.
The previous week ending Sunday 27th July KC had amassed a magnificent total income of £17,607.18. That’s how we did it all those years ago.
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 29th July 2021.