Southsea The Last Classic Ferry
By Grahame Bowler (Dec'd) - Permission by Keith Bowler
It is nearly twenty years since the last paddle steamer crossed the Solent from Portsmouth to Ryde bringing holiday makers to the Isle of Wight. Today the only reminder that we have of a once familiar sight in the Solent is the P.S.RYDE which is now grounded on the river Medina having been converted to a pub and disco.
The ferries that finally replaced the paddle steamers were the M.V.'s SOUTHSEA, BRADING and SHANKLIN. All three ships being built by W.Denny & Bros. of Dumbarton, with the Southsea and Shanklin being launched within half an hour of each other on the 11 March 1948. Following the fitting out and sea trials at Skelmorie, Southsea was the first away from Dumbarton on the 22 September arriving three days later in Southampton. Nearly six weeks elapsed before Southsea commenced service on November 1st. Brading left the Clyde on the 10 November arriving two days later in Southampton and entered service on December 2nd.
With an overall length of 200 ft., a beam of 47ft., gross tonnage of 986, and a passenger capacity of 1331; these vessels were the largest built for the route.
Shanklin, the third ship ordered to join the 'twins'. Although intended to be the repeat of the first two ships some modifications were made. Following her launch at Dumbarton on 22 February 1951 she entered service on 18 June. For almost thirty years the Denny trio operated the Portsmouth to Ryde crossing, with cruises diagrammed to be shared between the three ships. For many years the three paddle steamers, WHIPPINGHAM, SANDOWN and RYDE, were also used at peak times and relief purposes, until their withdrawal in 1962, 1965, and 1969, respectively, as a result of a gradual transfer of traffic from the passenger route to the car ferries.
During 1978 problems were encountered with the Shanklin's port engine. At the end of the summer season the ship was taken out of service and repairs carried out. At about this time Sealink were beginning to question the need for a three ship fleet with the continuing decline in passenger levels. Also for some time consideration had been given to the possibility of replacing all three ships with smaller fast ferries. In the following months the Shanklin was again to suffer from engine failure which eventually led to her being withdrawn from service on 6 March 1980. Later that year Shanklin was sold to five supporters of the preserved paddle steamer the WAVERLEY, and on the afternoon of the 7th November left Portsmouth harbour for the last time. Shanklins new home became Glasgow where her damaged engine was repaired and her name changed to "Prince Ivanhoe"
A cruise program was drawn up for the ship in both the Firth of Clyde and the Bristol channel, alternating with the P.S. Waverley's schedule. After a slow start passenger levels soon picked up and by the end of July the venture was beginning to be considered a success. Unfortunately, on the 3 August 1981 disaster struck! Whilst cruising along the Gower Coast of South Wales she hit an uncharted object off Port Eynon and was holed. As a result the vessel was beached in the bay and subsequently had to be abandoned as a constructive total loss.
The privatisation of Sealink took place in 1984 and all of the ships were transferred to the new owners Sea Containers Ltd. Both the Brading and the Southsea were repainted in the livery of Sealink British Ferries, as a subsidiary of Sea Containers. At the same time an announcement was made that the new fast ferries would soon be operating on the Portsmouth to Ryde route. It was planned to keep the Brading in service until March 1986 when the first catamaran would be ready. On January 14 that year the Brading broke down and much against companies wishes, money had to be spent on repairs. Unfortunately, on February 21 she broke down again and because she was so close to retirement the decision was made to withdraw her from service. At the present time the Brading is still awaiting her fate in Pounds breakers yard.
Southsea continued in service on the route until August 9 when the second catamaran was introduced, at which time she was then relegated to just a relief ship status. 1987 Sealink realised the possibility of earning extra revenue by operating cruises with the Southsea. At this stage her appearance on the Portsmouth-Ryde route was restricted to busy Saturdays helping relieve the considerable pressure on the catamarans. It was about this time that the M.V.SOUTHSEA SOCIETY was formed with the intention to support and hopefully secure the future of the ship in the Solent. In September of that year the Southsea was chartered by Waverley Excursions Ltd., to operate the Clyde sailing due to the recent failure of the P.S.Waverley.
On March 11 1988 Southsea celebrated the fortieth anniversary of her launch from Denny's shipyard in Dumbarton. A cruise programme was devised for her Fortieth year which included visits to Cowes, Ocean Village Southampton, and Yarmouth for a visit to the Needles. Before the cruise programme got under way a special Fortieth Anniversary Cruise was arranged on June 14. Guests were by invitation only. It was a make or break season for the Southsea and Sealinks general manager, Mr Bill Gibbons, said that he could not make the case for the retaining of the ship unless it did not get sufficient support. Regrettably, only a few weeks later Sealink announced that this was to be the ships last cruising season as the pleasure trips had proved not to be a viable way of keeping the former ferry operational.
The M.V.SOUTHSEA SOCIETY supported the cruise programme throughout by supplying a number of display boards which were hung in Southsea's lounge and bar areas. Also a range of souvenirs were produced in celebration of her Fortieth birthday and these were available on board. During the cruise programme many admirers and supporters of the well loved ship joined the Society, proving just how popular this classic ferry has become to past travellers. Southsea, is considered 'a friend' and is a living part of the history of travel on the Solent.
Although Sealink have withdrawn Southsea from the Isle of Wight service a decision has yet to be made as to her future.
The society believes that there has to be a future for the old ship and that this is probably the last chance to save the last survivor from the Denny Yard.
If this very last opportunity is not seized then the Southsea could be lost forever!!This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:17:03