Medina was launched at the Woolston yard of John J Thornycroft & Co at Southampton on Tuesday 6th January 1931. She was to be a twin screw vessel powered by diesel and so might be thought to be outside the scope of the world of paddle steamers. But she was the first vessel built for the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, better known in subsequent years as Red Funnel Steamers, not to be propelled by paddle wheels and so merits a mention as the harbinger of the winds of change.
She was almost the first propeller driven vessel to be built for the Isle of Wight ferry crossings but not quite being pipped to the post for that particular accolade by the Southern Railway’s Denny built roll on roll off ferries Fishbourne, Wooton and Hilsea which were designed for the Portsmouth Fishbourne vehicle route and delivered in 1927, 1928 and 1930 respectively.
At 143 ft LOA, Medina was conceived to be small enough to be economic to run on the Southampton to Cowes ferry in the dark days of winter when traffic was not so prolific. In theory she was to be able to take excursions in summer and undertake tender work to visiting liners as well.
However the unusually pronounced flair in her bow made her rather unsuitable for work alongside piers where at certain states of the tide, if her bow fell in, parts of the forward section of the hull made contact running the risk of causing damage. As a consequence, whilst she did visit Ryde from time to time over the years, for the majority of her service for Red Funnel she ran on the Cowes ferry.
With opinions divided on their new diesel ferry, Red Funnel returned to the paddle wheel for their next new boat Gracie Fields which was built in 1936 also by John J Thorneycroft.
However any cheering in paddle steamer circles was short lived as for the boat after that Red Funnel commissioned John J Thornycroft to build for them for delivery in 1938 the Vecta which was initially to be powered by the state of the art space age wonder propulsion system designed by the Voith Schneider factory in Austria which enabled the ship to do without rudders as the propellers could push her in any direction giving her a manoeuvrability hitherto undreamt of.
Medina came to Weymouth for overhauls by Cosens in the late 1950s and that is where I first encountered her. My eight year old self spotted her alongside Custom House Quay from the top of the number 22 bus so at once dragged my Mum away from her proposed shopping expedition in town to take a closer look. The next day I dragged Dad down with me to see her again this time accompanied by my rudimentary box Brownie camera which I had just received as a welcome Christmas present.
Medina was sort of like the Cosens paddle steamers I knew and loved but was smaller and without the paddle wheels and as such seemed to my young eyes to be a bit special. I also fell in love with her deep rich red funnel and cream upper-works which seemed a little bit distinguished compared with the more bland buff funnel and white upper-works of the Cosens fleet I knew so well. Sort of Fortnum and Mason versus Debenhams if you see what I mean.
In March 1962 Red Funnel had delivered their second roll on roll off vehicle ferry Osborne Castle built to replace Medina which was put up for sale and against expectations sold for further service in Gibraltar under the name Mons Abyla. She returned to the UK ten years later and spent the 1970s in a variety of static roles in London, Lymington, Ramsgate and Brighton before being sold for scrap to a yard in Newhaven late in 1982.
Unaware of this final development in her career I spotted her in the scrapyard on my way to visit an Auntie in Brighton that Christmas. I stopped to have a look and felt downcast at what I saw. Gone was the Medina I had fallen in love with in 1959. By 1982 she had lost her spirit and looked almost a different ship. I drove away despondent quietly wishing that I hadn’t seen her in that dismal state.
This article was first published on 6th January 2021.