Save Hythe Ferry! – Updated 16th July

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.

New Forester laid up

New Forester laid up

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.
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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.
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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.

End of the pier 2008

End of the pier 2008

End of the pier 2014

End of the pier 2014

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End of the pier 2015

End of the pier 2015

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.
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They’ve had problems though and ended up hiring other vessels to cover themselves when one or both were out of action.
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Solent Rose

Solent Rose

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Hotspur IV, Ashleigh R and Wild Rose

Hotspur IV, Ashleigh R and Wild Rose

Ashleigh R and Hotspur IV

Ashleigh R and Hotspur IV

Hotspur IV and Wild Rose

Hotspur IV and Wild Rose

Solent Rose in place of Great Expectations which broke down alongside

Solent Rose in place of Great Expectations which broke down alongside

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.
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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:

GENERAL DETAILS

Vessel Type
– 60 passenger fast ferry
Hull Type
– Trimaran
Gross Tonnage
– 31.84
Maximum Speed
– 18 knots
Engine Type
– Scania DSI 14
Power Output
– 620 BHP
Consumption
– 70 litres per hour
Built
– 1999
Builders
– Lay Construction Ltd
Clifton Slipways
West Street
Gravesend
Kent DA11 0BW
Hull and Superstructure Material
– GRP construction
Dimensions
– Length 17.64m
– Max Beam 5.55m
– Draft 1.68m
Equipment
– 12 individual aircraft style seats in passenger saloon along with bench seating.
– Radar
– VHF
– 2 x Life raft, 6 x life rings and 56 life jackets.
Special qualities
– Low wash design
– Annual hull and safety inspection
– Alternative use as corporate launchor hotel tender
Lying
– River Thames, England
Price
– £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.”
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Update 12th June – Great Ex had a trial today and will be running tomorrow.
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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
http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/13333950.Ferry_s__unpredictable_service__is__unacceptable/

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.

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5 Responses to Save Hythe Ferry! – Updated 16th July

  1. R. Whitelaw. says:

    As someone from outside the area who has used the ferry from the 1950s I am very disappointed for all the locals at the decline in standards that seem apparent over recent years. I share your comments about the Hotspur IV but I also had the pleasure to sail upon her sisters the Hotspur II and III. I must admit that I thought the cruises offered on Southampton Water were superb but I only had experience of these with the Hythe Hotspur. The New Forester was only used for one return trip but I can imagine her attractions for the regular commuter. I cannot say I have any enthusiasm for the Great Expectations and as for the Uriah Heep I think I will pass on that experience. Properly marketed and with improved facilities I would have thought that the Hythe Ferry could have been a great tourist attraction in the area and of major benefit to local inhabitants.

    • Robert, check out Hythe ferry on Trip Advisor. There’s a recent comment about Uriah Heep. He’s a bit wrong because it replaced Hotspur IV and Great Ex is in refit but a very interesting read nonetheless. And after what I heard today about their plans in August I fear the ferry service is doomed unless something is done now.

      • stevejonesy says:

        Sounds ominous.

      • It could be. The staff are worried and White Horse have lost a lot of business already plus the outlay to Blue Funnel and Waterside Tours. They’re not closing it or anything like that but the way things are going, they may end up doing just that. I’m not holding my breath for the council to step in. After all, if a couple of Liberal councillors REALLY “had concerns” about Uriah Heep since before the election they could have done something by then. I’m amazed it got its certificate after watching it run for cover whenever anything bigger went past during trials and if things carry on like this it’ll be nicknamed Scrap Heep.

  2. Steve Boyce says:

    I miss the Hotspur IV, if I had the money, I would have bought her, then restored her to her blue and white colours, I would have made sure she was free from rust, like Hotspur II and III, they were the best, I always looked forward to going below deck of the Hotspur III, where I would lay there looking out of the port holes, I enjoyed the ferry so much, I would forget to get off to Southampton

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