On Saturday 3rd September 1949 Ravenswood returned to service after her day off on the Friday with a largely new deck crew, two new fireman and a new deck chair lady.
The previous Tuesday Ravenswood’s master, Captain Watson, sacked one of his deck crew for some misdemeanour or other. This did not go down well with some amongst the rest of crew. They formed a cabal which gave notice that if the seaman in question went then they would go too. The captain did not change his mind so they all walked off at the end of play on Thursday 1st September.
Fortunately Friday was Ravenswood’s day off. Replacements were available. They were signed on and the ship returned to service on the Cardiff/Weston ferry on the Saturday as though nothing had happened.
All managements want good crews with good skill sets who have the right sort of positive attitude as well as a willingness to work as part of a team. That goal is often reached. Sometimes it is surpassed. But occasionally there can be blips in a seasonal operation with crew employed for only a few months some of whom may turn out occasionally to be rather less ideal than you might wish for.
Then it can be a difficult call for a master to balance the need to have a crew member with a certain ticket aboard to make up the numbers on the ship’s Safe Manning Certificate or, if you can’t find a replacement for him/her at short notice, not sailing at all because you have to have that ticket aboard in order to sail.
Other sackings happened from time time time. I recall Captain Defrates telling me that one morning alongside Poole Quay when he was master of the Monarch one of the Embassy’s seamen came aboard first thing with the news that Captain Haines had just sacked him. As it happened that very morning Captain Defrates had lost one of his own deck hands who had walked off in a huff about something or other. So he had a word with this ex Embassy seaman, read him the riot act about the sort of behaviour he expected on Monarch, and promptly engaged him.
I recall this particular seaman telling me years later that Captain Haines’s “eyes nearly popped out” when he saw him working on Monarch later the same morning.
Captain Defrates was a quietly spoken man with a slight stammer when under stress. I remember another seaman who had received a telling off from him saying that in admonishing him the captain had called him “a very low ssssssssort of fellow”. It was a softly spoken rebuke but it hit its mark and was remembered many years later.
One man who became a volunteer at the Historic Dockyard at Chatham in later years told me that in his youth he had been sacked from his job as an able seaman on Medway Queen by Captain Horsham because he wanted to have the usual Friday off in a week when a charter had been organised for that day. Captain Horsham told him that he could take this particular Friday off if he wanted but that if he did then there would be no further work for him on Medway Queen. He took the day off and was sacked.
I also benefited personally from stepping into the shoes of someone sacked in similar circumstances in my youth. That opened a door of opportunity for me which might otherwise have remained closed for which I will be forever grateful. But that is another story for another day.
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 September 2020.