South Coast Passenger Vessels by John Megoran
Growing up in Weymouth in the 1950s and 1960s I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the South Coast coastal excursion paddle steamers. We sailed on them as a family. When I was old enough (and in those days old enough meant from the age of 9) I went on them on my own. They laid up in Weymouth harbour each winter. I cycled past them on my way to school. I got to know some of the captains and crews and watched the progress of their refits. My boyhood dream was to go to sea so that one day I might become captain of one of them but sadly that dream began to look a little thin as my teens wore on and one after another the paddle steamer was sold for scrap leaving a huge void in South Coast cruising.
Fast forward fifty years to 2019. Look around the South Coast today. Want a boat ride? You are spoiled for choice. Ok so these vessels are not quite like the paddle steamers of yesterday but they are boats, they go places and they do still get you afloat.
Mostly they offer shorter cruises of an hour or two in length and can carry between 12 and 250 passengers. Many are based on the principle of an open top deck to get the best of the sun when it is shining with an enclosed saloon below serving drinks and light snacks for when it rains. Most are under the command of Boatmasters, rather than sea-going captains, and have tiny crews of between two and four which make them very economical to operate.
There are tiny ones like the rowing boats, ferrying eight at a time across the Harbour at Weymouth. There are the bigger launches which enable you to sail past the Portland Harbour Breakwaters, along the River Frome from Wareham or from the beach at Swanage. Sail through the tranquillity and shallowness of Christchurch Harbour on one of them or take a trip from Alum Bay or Yarmouth close up to get stunning views of the Needles. Jump aboard one at Southampton, Portsmouth and Cowes for trips in the Solent. Cross the Hamble River in ferries painted lurid pink. Take a ride across Chichester and Langstone Harbours on a converted lifeboat or a solar powered craft. And what about Brighton Marina from which you can take a short coastal cruise or a tour of the windfarms.
Then there are the bigger vessels, some of which can carry over 300 passengers on excursions in the Solent, around Poole Harbour, dropping off some of their passengers at Brownsea Island, on to Swanage and Durslton Head. And let’s not forget the Isle of Wight ferries which offer opportunities for all who think that it is the size of ship that matters. For those who like it really big then there are the cross-Channel ferries from Portsmouth or Poole to take you on a day trip to France or the Channel Islands.
I spent last summer visiting all the current operational South Coast passenger vessels and was astounded and impressed by the sheer quantity and diversity of the boats I found. In an area bounded by Weymouth in the west and Newhaven in the east there are currently well over eighty of them operating with Maritime and Coastguard Agency Passenger Certificates. That’s a lot of boats. That’s a lot of trip options. That’s a lot of boat rides.
“South Coast Passenger Vessels” is the result of my tour last year and includes details and colour pictures of all of them. Frankly I didn’t know that many of these boats even existed before I started out. Now that I do know I hope that this book alerts you to their existence and encourages you all to find out more about them and to seek them out so that you too can enjoy them and see from the water some of the most spectacular scenery in this beautiful part of Britain. If you get as much pleasure from it as I did last year, you will not be disappointed.
John Megoran's new book South Coast Passenger Vessels is available for purchase now.