PICTURES OF THE MONTH - May 2019

Paddle Steamer Consul Starts 1964 Season

 

After dry-docking in Southampton, Consul returned to Weymouth on 14th May 1964 to start her new season of sailings with a completely new colour scheme from the rather eccentric shades of 1963. Gone was the primrose paint on the funnel, replaced by bright yellow with a black top and white band. Gone was the bottle green hull which reverted to black. Gone was the pale green inside the bulwarks much favoured by her 1963 master Capt Harry Defrates, who thought it more restful on the eye looking down from the bridge. This was replaced by more traditional white.

In her first season in private ownership in 1963 Consul had been subject to a brutal survey regime from the Board of Trade, costing more money than her owners had to hand and leading to delays setting back the start of her season until well past the middle of July. For 1964 the BOT had fewer additional requirements but the survey still came with a sting in the tail. Consul's Passenger Certificate limits were curtailed restricting her basically to Weymouth Bay and her passenger capacity was slashed from over 400 to just 230.

 

Consul's first sailing was on Whit Saturday 16th May leaving Weymouth at 2.15pm for a forty five minute trip round Portland Harbour followed by a one and a half hour cruise round the Bay and into Portland Harbour. Capt Cyril Holleyoak was in command, Arthur Drage was mate with Mr Julien Chief Engineer, bringing together the same team of key crew members who had been on Consul for Cosens at Weymouth in 1961.

My thirteen year old self was also aboard for that second cruise and my journal of the time records that we left Weymouth on time at 3.15pm with a return at 4.45pm. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and I clearly recall my pleasure at being aboard Consul once again in steam and the prospect of a summer season with two paddle steamers based at my home port.

 

Capt Defrates on the bridge of Princess Elizabeth taken around 3pm on 1st July 1964 alongside the Weymouth Pleasure Pier.

Consul had been withdrawn from Weymouth after the 1962 season with the gap filled in 1963  by the Princess Elizabeth under the management of Cdr Edmund Rhodes. As you may imagine he was not best pleased to see Consul return to take him on in competition for 1964.

Mr McGinnity thought that he had an advantage in that Consul could go into Luworth Cove and land her passengers onto the beach over her bow which Princess Elizabeth could not do. But he didn't have a booking office at the shore end of the pier which the Lizzie did which meant that Cdr Rhodes could pick off passengers and get tickets into their hands before they ever saw Consul. Those who did make their way down the pier without tickets then had to run the gauntlet of the super magnetic charms of Bob Wills, who operated the 50 seater launch Topaz from a pitch near the end of the pier, and who was ever eager to fill his own boat up first. It was a crazy situation with two paddle steamer operators plus Bob splitting what was in any case a diminished market. Tempers were quick to flare on both sides. Accusations were flung about willy-nilly. And all vestiges of goodwill were noticeable by their complete absence.

The two ships struggled on throughout the summer with Consul first to be withdrawn before the end of August. This was her last season carrying passengers. Princess Eiizabeth carried on into September and managed just one more season at Weymouth in 1965 before being withdrawn herself. By then cash flow was really tight. So tight that during her 1965 refit Cdr Rhodes could only afford to paint one side of the ship. So for 1965 the starboard side, which habitually berthed alongside the Weymouth Pleasure Pier, looked great whilst the port side didn't.

As it happened 1964 was also the last season that both Capt Holleyoak and Capt Defrates sailed as paddle steamer masters. Capt Holleyoak left Consul in August after a BOT surveyor counted 246 passengers going ashore at Weymouth where Consul's newly restricted PC permitted only 230. That year Capt Defrates turned 70 and he found that at that age Trinity House revoked his all pilotage certificates. Instead of standing on a paddle steamer bridge, he therefore spent the summer of 1965 in Beirut with his son, who was based there for his work as High Commissioner for Refugees for the United Nations and his son's wife, Mohana Cabral, who was an Indian film star. There never seemed to be any shortage of money with the son whereas Capt Defrates and his wife Ethel lived modestly in a rented flat over the RAF Association in Weymouth's Bond Street not far from the harbour.

New book just out by John Megoran: South Coast Passenger Vessels

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