On Tuesday 3rd December 1968 Balmoral made her last voyage for Red Funnel from the Royal Pier Southampton round the corner to lay up on the River Itchen at Northam and was put up for sale.
She had spent her last summer, as in previous years since she was built in 1949, running excursions from Southampton to Ryde, Southsea, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor. Sometimes she retraced her route back in the afternoons. A couple of times a week she continued on to give a trip around the Isle of Wight. And on the peak Saturdays she took her place boosting capacity on the Southampton to West Cowes ferry service on which she could accommodate a handful of cars on her open deck aft. In the winters she continued to take her place helping out on the Cowes ferry.
The first purpose-built car and vehicle ferry for Red Funnel’s Southampton to Cowes route was Carisbrooke Castle in 1959. She was followed by the broadly similar Osborne Castle in 1962, Cowes Castle in 1966 and Norris Castle in 1968 which had less passenger accommodation and more open space to carry extra high sided lorries on her foredeck than the other three. Her arrival displaced Balmoral and this marked the end of any regular excursion programme being provided by the company. From now on their ships ran between Southampton and Cowes. That was it.
Balmoral’s last advertised excursion for Red Funnel was for the 16th September 1968 from Southampton. I went along to try to take advantage of it but it was not a pleasant day. There was wind and heavy rain. Only a handful of passengers turned up so the trip was cancelled.
By 1968 Balmoral was nineteen years old and still had life in her. There was interest in her sale for further use but instead of being bought for service elsewhere she was taken on long term charter in March 1969 by P & A Campbell as running mate for her old Red Funnel compatriot Vecta, now renamed Westward Ho, to sail on the Bristol Channel.
During the late 1950s and the 1960s the Board of Trade took a very stringent attitude to elderly domestic passenger vessels changing hands and saw their sales to new owners as an opportunity to ditch grandfather rights and try to upgrade them to later standards. That is why, for example and amongst other things, an extra bulkhead had to be fitted dividing the lower aft saloon on the Princess Elizabeth when she changed hands in 1959. And so on elsewhere with other vessels throughout the 1960s.
Balmoral had, and still has, a large lower deck aft saloon which the then Board of Trade would have required to be fitted with an extra bulkhead dividing it up if P & A Campbell had bought the ship outright in 1969. However, by taking her on charter she was still owned by Red Funnel, had not technically changed hands, and so was not subject to these new requirements.
It was a neat way to sidestep this issue. By the time that she was eventually sold by Red Funnel to P & A Campbell around 1980 the Board of Trade, or whatever it was then called, had moved on and this bee in their bonnet surrounding grandfather rights had, for the time being, receded.
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 3rd December 2020.