June 2016:
Paddle Steamer Embassy Starts Her Last Season 1966

June 2016:
Paddle Steamer Embassy Starts Her Last Season 1966

Half a century ago, 1966 was the Embassy’s last season in service.

Vecta in Red Funnel colours.

Cosens had a busy winter in 1965/66 re-fitting not only the railway ships at Weymouth but also converting Red Funnel’s Vecta for a new career with P & A Campbell as the Westward Ho. This included plating up the sides of her car deck forward to make a new saloon for her Bristol Channel sailings. Eventually the workforce got round to the Embassy which was towed from Weymouth on 6th April to Portland by an Admiralty tug for hauling out of the water for survey and painting on the Admiralty slipway at Castletown.

On return to Weymouth a steel mainmast painted brown was fitted to comply with a change in the navigation light regulations which required the white steaming lights to be displayed at a greater height above the deck than before. Previously the forward light had been hauled half way up the fore-stay and the second one hauled up a metal stick on the forward side of the funnel. This mobility of the lamps coupled with the close proximity to the hot gases coming out of the funnel to the second meant that oil lamps had been retained for these functions even though the side-lights and stern light had long since been electric. The new arrangement with a steaming light on each mast meant that all the navigation lights could now be powered by electricity.

Embassy left Weymouth on Saturday 28th May for Poole and started her season the following day. In the first part, until 9th July when a new steamer notice was issued, on Sundays Embassy left Poole around 9.30am for Bournemouth to take the 10.45am sailing to Swanage returning at 11.30am. She then lay alongside Bournemouth Pier until 2.30pm when she set off for Swanage again returning at 3.30pm. There was another round trip to Swanage at 4.30pm getting back to Bournemouth about 6pm after which Embassy lay alongside the pier until 7.45pm when she set off for an Evening Cruise with ‘Chris and His Accordions’ towards the Needles Lighthouse getting back at 9.30pm after which she sailed back to Poole finishing her day around 10.30pm.

On Mondays she was away from Poole at 8.30am for Swanage 9.30am and on to Bournemouth for a 10.30am departure to Totland Bay where she arrived about 12 noon returning to Bournemouth for 1.30pm. She then lay alongside Bournemouth Pier until 2.30pm when she set off for Totland Bay once again, getting back to Bournemouth at 5.30pm, Swanage 6.15pm and Poole around 7.15pm.

On Tuesdays she ran the same schedule as Monday except that the 2.30pm departure to Totland Bay gave passengers one hour ashore making her return time to Bournemouth 6.45pm, Swanage 7.30pm and Poole 8.30pm.

On Wednesdays she left Poole at 9.30am sailing directly to Bournemouth for a 10.30am departure to Yarmouth returning to Bournemouth by 1.30pm. She then ran the afternoon cruise to Yarmouth at 2.30pm with one hour ashore getting back to Bournemouth at 6.45pm with an hour there before setting off once again at 7.45pm with ‘Chris and His Accordions’ for another evening cruise returning at 9.30pm and getting back to Poole at 10.30pm.

On Thursdays departure from Poole was at 9.30am for Bournemouth at 10.30am for Totland Bay getting back to Bournemouth at 1.30pm followed by another afternoon cruise to Totland at 2.3pm getting back at 6.45pm and on to Poole for an early finish at 7.45pm.

On Fridays Embassy left Poole at 9.30am for Bournemouth 10.30am and on for an arrival at Totland Bay at 12 noon and Yarmouth at 12.30pm. She then lay alongside Yarmouth until 3.15pm when she set off for Totland 4pm, Bournemouth 5.30pm and Poole at 6.30pm. After 17th June Fridays were extended to include a call at Swanage outwards and inwards which necessitated a start from Poole at 8.30am and a return at 7.30pm

Saturdays were spent off service.

These were long days for the crew: thirteen hours on Sundays, eleven hours on Mondays, twelve hours on Tuesdays, thirteen hours on Wednesdays, ten and a bit hours on Thursdays and, after 17th June, 11 hours on Fridays giving a total of just over seventy hours a week not counting at least an extra hour each morning getting the ship ready and another half hour when she got back which brings it up to a grand total of around an eighty hour week.

And remember Cosens didn’t have any relief crews. Capt Iliffe, Mate Eric Plater, Chief Engineer Alf Pover, his assistant John Hill, bosun Sandy Rashleigh, plus three ABs, a deck boy, a greaser, two firemen, the purser, chief steward, barman, cook and two assistant stewards did the lot week in week out.

Embassy backing out from Bournemouth in 1966.

The early summer of 1966 saw the great seamen’s strike which left most of our ships tied up in port. Some of the few then remaining paddle steamer operators managed to get round this by arguing that they were operating financially marginal businesses with already short seasons of only around twelve weeks in length and that they would be likely to go bust if they could not run. Embassy was therefore allowed to sail and took advantage of all the tonnage laid up at Southampton by cancelling her lunchtime return from Totland to Bournemouth and carrying on to Southampton on three occasions in June and one in early July to see all the ships.

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.

John Megoran

John Megoran