Like many people in the Hythe, Southampton and New Forest area, this form of transport can be a lifeline if buses aren’t running, especially Sundays and Bank Holidays when the service is more frequent than by road. The service has been going longer than most of us were born. I remember when I was young, the Town Quay part being brick steps which were slimy with algae long before it was built on and became what it is now. I also remember a glorious waiting room on the pier which is now used for storage, and lots of love and care lavished on the pier and ferries. The New Forester was a great boat despite limited outdoor seating. In winter, it was heated inside and glorious.
But White Horse Ferries decided to get rid and she is currently the party boat Golden Star on the Thames. They replaced her with Great Expections, a Gravesend-Tilbury catamaran.
The star was Hotspur IV, built in 1946 and something the crew loathed because they had to work since she was a real boat and built for the route.
Sadly for far too long, the pier has been an embarrassment. I remember when there was a cafe, waiting room and toilets. Obviously with environmental regulations, the toilets had to go but the waiting room is now used as storage while the cafe was closed for so long before being turned into a ship tat shop-cum-waiting room. That’s fine but the end of the pier is a disgrace and has been for far too many years.
Both Great Ex and Hotspur have provided many years service and were both on the run when the QE2 left for Dubai. It was just a shame they decided not to lay on harbour tours or a sailaway cruise like every other company, despite talk of them doing just that. Hotspur would have been the ideal vessel for that with so much open deck and they would have made even more money.
They’ve had problems though and ended up hiring other vessels to cover themselves when one or both were out of action.
Sadly, due to years of neglect, Hotspur had her passenger certificate withdrawn in 2014 due to a perforated hull all over and corrosion in the engine bed and they refused to pay to repair her despite coughing up £50,000 to sort out Great Ex in 2008. The steel alone would be £70,000 with the cost of replacing the engine bed on top. Rumour had it they wanted rid years before but she is on the National Historic Ships register so got stuck. They didn’t even tell them she was buggered. It breaks my heart nothing has been done to save her despite their council subsidy so I’ll remember her in happier times.
In autumn 2014, they brought Uriah Heep from her 14 year lay up on the Thames to replace Hotspur. Is this ferry suitable for this sort of run with many vessels of varying sizes coming and going most of the day? These are the details of Uriah Heep from her sale notice (as well as Philip Pirrip) and videos I filmed of her sea trails so make up your own mind:
– 60 passenger fast ferry
– 18 knots
– Scania DSI 14
– 620 BHP
– 70 litres per hour
– Lay Construction Ltd
Kent DA11 0BW
Hull and Superstructure Material
– GRP construction
– Length 17.64m
– Max Beam 5.55m
– Draft 1.68m
– 12 individual aircraft style seats in passenger saloon along with bench seating.
– 2 x Life raft, 6 x life rings and 56 life jackets.
– Low wash design
– Annual hull and safety inspection
– Alternative use as corporate launchor hotel tender
– River Thames, England
– £37,500 ex VAT
She finally got her passenger certificate towards the end of May but wasn’t operating long due to having a snog with Town Quay. So currently they have no ferries and have to hire either Ashleigh R or Waterside Tours coaches which is going to damage the business.
I love the ferry. It’s good for workers and tourism as well as going to town on a gorgeous day instead of sat in a hot bus for up to 50 minutes and it would be a shame if it went but something really needs to be done to ensure its and the vessels survival. What do they spend that subsidy and profits on? The council and White Horse need to come up with a sustainable plan which includes repairing the pier completely and making a good profit which is invested in the business. As mentioned above, they could do special trips but don’t. Regain the pride which was once in the enterprise. The fencing and metal plates are not very nice for visitors to see as they arrive. If this carries on I dread to think where the ferry will be in a year’s time so perhaps publicity and the local MP, Julian Lewis is what’s needed.
Update 7th June – Great Expectations is expected to be back in service Wednesday but they have allegedly lost a lot of business because of no decent spare ferry. People don’t want coaches. It’s really no better than the bus. I’ve also heard you cannot go outside on Uriah Heep which takes her capacity down to a ridiculous 40 and no good for commuters.
Update 9th June – Waterside Tours are listed on the website as doing the route again for the 10th.
Update 10th June – Great Expectations has returned to the pier. However it will still be a coach service. From the website: “Thursday 11thJune, coach service will be in operation for passengers at the following times.”
Update 16th June – FINALLY Malcolm Wade, Liberal councillor, bothers doing something. He knew about the problems BEFORE the election. He and two others (now one other since the election) “had concerns” about Uriah Heep’s suitability and did nothing. I sent him a message on the 12th May and all I had in response was:
“Yes I have some concerns, as I want the service to continue to be run for the benefit of the people of Hythe and Dibden”
He read my own concerns, knew about Uriah Heep getting a passenger licence then the coaches when that had the prang and it still took him weeks to bring attention to it. Well if you’re reading this, Cllr. Wade, perhaps you’d like to find out about this too and what they spent it on: Southampton City Council 2015-3 GBP £62,250 Grants – Capital
Update 27th June – Just how naive or ignorant IS Cllr. Malcolm Wade about the ferry operations over the past few years? As usual the Daily Echo report what he has said on Facebook which is a load of old flannel, rather than investigate themselves. Malcolm Wade said this on Facebook:
“Then we discussed the future sustainability of the ferry and he advised of the plans to have both Great Expectations and Uriah Heap operational and further work to be considered to try and get Hotspur IV repaired and back in service so there would be 3 boats available.”
Which the Echo reported as:
“The talks also included plans to have all three boats operational which would see both the Uriah Heap and Hotspur IV repaired and back in service.”
Poor old Hottie has been knackered for more than a year and they clearly brought Uriah Heep out of 14 year lay-up because they weren’t going to fix her. You don’t get extensive damage to the hull or engine bed like that overnight. It’s years of cheap options and neglect. As far as National Historic Ships UK are aware, Hottie is finished. There was talk to replace the tug tender Calshot with Hotspur but nothing has come to fruition while they told me on Twitter last year nothing would happen to Hottie before spring. Malcolm Wade won’t do a thing. Facts are there all over the internet (including the accounts) but he knows zilch. He may as well be in Scotland for all the use he is. It’s a pity the Echo, once a great paper for local campaigning, is so toothless these days and no other local media give a toss about history.
Update 16th July – Uriah Heep returned to Hythe pier. So what next for Hotspur IV? Will they REALLY repair her? They should. After all, it’s not as if they don’t get enough subsidies.