On Saturday 11th May 2011 Kingswear Castle ran a Thames Estuary cruise from her base at the Historic Dockyard Chatham. We were away at 11.05 with bacon rolls for sale on deck and fresh coffee brewing in the forward saloon.
Punching a strong flood tide we passed the Napoleonic forts at Hoo and Darnet Ness at 12 noon and continued on down the Medway past Kingsnorth and Oakham Ness to round up on an easterly heading in Saltpan Reach at 12.35.
We left the Medway at Garrison Point at 13.15 and headed up over the Cant where we swung around the mid Cant beacon at 14.15 before coming back into the Medway Approach Channel to take a look at the wreck of the Second World War Richard Montgomery still very visible in its derelict state and still containing its cargo of high explosives which went down with it. With the flood tide now under us we were back inside Garrison Point at 14.45 and passing number 12 buoy at 15.15. High water was at 16.01 so we were punching the tide once again after that all the way up from Darnet Ness back up to Thunderbolt Pier where we were alongside shortly before 17.00.
It was a nice day which drew many of our regular and loyal crowd of season ticket holders plus a handful of others for this the first day trip of the season. All in all there were 48 passengers aboard with the ticket machine on board on the day taking £456, advance tickets coming in at £116 and online tickets £144. We took £156 in sales of drinks, zero sales in KC books, £66.35 in souvenirs and £168.70 in food.
There was never any facility for providing hot food aboard KC with the exception of soup and the bacon rolls which we had delivered from a local supplier and most of what we sold in terms of food included snack type things with a long shelf life like crisps, chocolate and biscuits. To this we we added French sticks with various fillings, freshly made sandwiches and gateau according to circumstances.
The total take for this six hour day of steaming including all tickets and onboard sales came in at £1,107 (which scales up to about £1,400 in today’s money) or £185 (£230 today) per hour steamed.
Contrast that with our first afternoon cruise of the season the previous Sunday 1st May which involved just one and a half hour’s steaming leaving the Historic Dockyard at 3.30pm and back at 5pm. This drew a crowd of 116 passengers with the total take for the cruise coming in at £1,465 (£1,825 today) or £976 (£1,217 today) per hour steamed.
This graphically illustrates the financial realities. The day trips were fun to do and could sometimes do better than this. But they ever appealed to limited market segments and it was the regular afternoon cruises which appealed to a much wider range of people which packed in the revenue day in and day out throughout the season to keep the business afloat and KC operational and in steam.
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 7th May 2021.