On Monday 29th May 1967 Embassy was tied up at the shipyard of the Van Heyghen Brothers’s scrapyard in Ghent.
1966 had not been a good season for Embassy running from Swanage and Bournemouth. The weather had not been great. She had suffered a major breakdown off Hurst Castle in late July which put her out of service for almost two of the peak weeks. Whilst she was being repaired the unlicensed passenger boat Darlwyne sank with loss of life in Cornwall which produced lurid tabloid headlines nationwide. This did nothing to encourage passengers to go afloat on excursion trips. Added to that the Board of Trade was starting to make noises about Embassy’s fifty five year old hull plating and wanted the cement wash to come out of the bilge before the next survey. So Cosens put her up for sale.
A small group of PSPS members visited Embassy to say our last goodbyes before she left for the scrapyard. Many of you will recognise some of the faces here including PSPS stalwart Peter Lamb on the left holding up a souvenir he had just unscrewed. My sixteen year old self is in the middle of the group next to my school friend Richard Green. Jack Surfleet, pictured second from the left, was, as many of you will remember, for many years chairman of the Wessex Branch.
Embassy was towed through the Town Bridge on Wednesday 3rd May under the command of her former mate Eric Plater who turned her in the Cove to berth her head out and port side to alongside Custom House Quay. So he was Embassy’s last master for this short trip. If things had turned out differently he might very well have been Embassy’s longer term last captain too. He was exceptionally experienced and much more so than others who overtook him working for Cosens. As a Lt Cdr in the war he was master of P & A Campbell’s Glen Gower so he had been a paddle steamer captain. However in civilian life he needed as a minimum a Home Trade Master’s ticket to assume command which he didn’t have. In the 1950s his cousin Captain Defrates offered to give him tuition for this and loaned him some books but it never happened. As one captain after another left Cosens’s employ as the years rolled on others with far less experience than him were promoted above him.
Embassy left Weymouth on Thursday 25th May under tow by the tug Fairplay II with a passage plan to have her in the scrapyard by the following Monday.
On the other side of the harbour from Embassy in May 1967 was the steam yacht Medea which was being prepared for a summer season running week long cruises with up to 12 passengers from Weymouth in an area bounded by the Isle of Wight, Dartmouth and the Channel Islands.
However whilst it might have looked good on paper the business model for this service had the flaw that these waters can be a bit rough even at the height of summer. Passengers paying a lot of money for a luxury cruise are not so keen on experiencing the hurly burly of a rather less than flat calm sea, where their gin and tonics might have minds of their own sliding around on the saloon tables, and even less keen on paying good money to be seasick. The proposed service had few takers so Medea set off for calmer waters.
Medea did have one other paddle steamer connection. Her master that summer was none other than Capt Harry Defrates formerly captain of the paddle steamers Embassy, Victoria, Consul, and Princess Elizabeth. By 1967 he was 72 years old. He had no pension from his work as a paddle steamer captain and so was forced to keep on working as long as he could to help keep himself and his wife Elsie solvent.
I popped aboard quite often during that period to have a chat and had one trip on her under tow down the harbour from Trinity Wharf to the Pleasure Pier. I recall Capt Defrates having particular concern when canting off astern not to clip the bowsprit which stuck out quite a long way ahead of the vessel.
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 May 2021.