Whatever Happened To…The White Horse Ferries

With the excellent news that Blue Funnel Cruises took over running Hythe ferry in Hampshire from the 21st April 2017, I thought I’d do a piece about the ferries the former owners, White Horse Ferries Limited, actually built and owned as well as the ones they bought.

The Lay brothers have been busy over the past decades and created a few companies for their inland waterways business, as well as having multiple mortgages and deeds of covenants.

White Horse Ferries Limited was formed on the 31st January 1991 and is still going. They took over the Tilbury-Gravesend run in 1991 until 2000 and later Hythe Ferry in 1994, beating Blue Funnel Cruises in the bidding. They bought everything from what the 1994 Debenture said was from General Estates in Prospect Place including all the buildings, slipway, pier, train and 1946 ferry, Hotspur IV. General Estates used to service their own boats but sold out to Southern Coastcrafts Limited in 1980, who then sold to Waterfront Ferries. White Horse Ferries sold New Forester as well as the buildings and slipway, preferring to use the services at Saxon Wharf for refits.

There have been a couple of incidents during their ownership. In 1999, one of the mates fell overboard at Town Quay from Hotspur IV, hitting his head. Despite working part-time for three years, he had never received training in handling mooring ropes. He was also wearing his own, normal shoes, since White Horse didn’t provide approved, non-slip footwear, which was a maritime regulation that year.

In 2001, a section of Hythe pier failed a safety check due to concerns over the ironwork structure beneath the train track. The pier remained open but train halted. A year later, a freak gust of wind caused Hotspur IV hit the pier, bending on of the main supports. Hotspur was in the news again in 2003 when vandals cut her mooring ropes, causing her to drift across Southampton Water. Meanwhile, in 2011, Great Expectations had a prang. They did their own patch up job which caused the MCA to withdraw her passenger certificate until it was repaired. She was laid up alongside Hotspur while Ashleigh R, from Blue Funnel, did the run.

The dredger, Donald Redford, famously collided with the pier in November 2003, resulting in it being sliced in half and causing a £300,000 repair bill, which was mainly paid by the dredger’s owners.

Over the years there were complaints about losing business due to various factors, including car parking charges in Hythe with claims they suffered a significant drop in trade for the first time since 1994. This was just three months after the pier reopened from the Donald Redford incident, which they also said lost them business. Then there were Labour’s planned business rate hikes in 2005, causing their bill to rise from £1,459.20 to £12,257.25.

The business received annual council subsidies as well as a £450,000 grant over 5 years in 2007 to restore the pier, which continued falling into disrepair right up until Blue Funnel’s takeover.

White Horse Fast Ferries Limited began on the 29th August 1997. In June 1999, they launched the Central London Fast Ferry between the Embankment and London Bridge City, including Canary Wharf on weekdays. The following year it was due to be extended to include the London Eye, Blackfriars and the Tower of London but it only lasted 6 months before being withdrawn. They had been awarded the riverbus service from the Cutty Sark to the Millennium Dome, running two ferries from 1st January 2000, so concentrated on that and would not return the other service until they had completed their commitment on that route.

A month later they reduced the service to one boat and, due to the Dome’s failure, they closed the service on the 10th October 2001. They also ended other services, having only made a profit when it opened. They put assets, including vessels, worth £1.6 million up for sale, blaming outside issues, such as not being able to erect signs advertising the service or put up ticket machines. A petition was made on the 12th March 2001 to wind the company up, and the process began on the 17th May. An Order of Court was made on the 14th June, finally being dissolved by Begbies Traynor on the 14th July 2010.

White Horse Fast Ferries Holdings plc ran from the 2nd June 1998. A creditors meeting was announced on the 4th July 2001, entering voluntary liquidation until being wound up by Begbies Traynor the 27th December 2002.

International Fast Ferries Limited began on the 4th October 1991 as Tamesis Boats Limited and is still active.

Hythe Ferry Limited was created on the 2nd February 2015, although they didn’t bother informing their employees for a further 6 months. Now they have sold it to Blue Funnel, who have already incorporated Blue Funnel Ferries Limited on the 6th February 2017.

So, what happened to their many boats from all these companies?

Let’s begin with the current main Hythe ferry, Great Expectations. Built by Lay Construction in 1992 for the Gravesend-Tilbury route, she was transferred to Hythe in 1995 and replaced at Tilbury by Martin Chuzzelwit. In 2017, Great Expectations’ 9 day refit ended up taking three weeks due to the many issues they kept discovering after years of neglect. As a result, it will take a couple of years to bring her back up to standard, although improvements have been made such as being a smoother, quieter ride. She has been renamed Hythe Scene and at some point in the future, will undergo a major revamp to include heating and new seats.

Martin Chuzzlewit was the first of six identical ferries built by White Horse Ferries at their Gravesend yard. Entering service in 1995 and still on the route when White Horse went bust in May 2001. During the administration period, the boat maintained the route. Five months later, the Lower Thames and Medway Boat Company took over but broke down on 10th April 2002, leaving passengers without a boat. She has operated as Thames Swift, first for Thames Luxury Charters and from 2nd May 2017 Jetstream Tours of Chatham and is back on the Tilbury-Gravesend run.

Wilkins Micawber followed a year later. On the 24th January 1997, the boat was destroyed an an engine fire while carrying about twelve passengers. They wanted £315,000 for her in September 2000. She ended up in Sierra Leone for Allied Marine running a service alongside Daniel Quilp from 20th November 2009.

Philip Pirrip was built in 1999 but laid up at the White Horse Ferry yard at Gravesend from 2000 for years before being moved to Faversham. They wanted £378,000 in September 2000, reducing it to £161,000 and was eventually sold in 2017, minus wheelhouse and canopy, to be a houseboat for £4000.

Daniel Quilp was next as they churned them out like sausages during 1999. By 2000, she too was up for sale at £433,000. She ended up on the Tyne and Inverness in 2007 before going to Sierra Leone to begin a new service for Allied Marine from 20th November 2009 alongside Wilkins Micawber.

Uriah Heep was also built in 1999 and laid up at the White Horse Yard at the Railway Pier, Gravesend at the same time as Philip Pirrip. A year later they were asking £433,000 for her, reduced to 187,000 three years later. After several years she was moved to Faversham Creek. In 2014, they decided to resurrect her for the Hythe ferry run to Southampton, replacing the much-loved and much-neglected Hotspur IV.

From the beginning there were problems with steering, as well as having problems coping with the wash from regular passing traffic. How on earth the MCA were satisfied enough to give out a passenger certificate is a mystery to this day. There were a couple of kisses with the dock at Town Quay but the end came when she hit the pier, wheelhouse and canopy being sliced off. It was bloody lucky no one was killed.

They had intended to repair her but in the end she was towed initially taken to Hamble for repairs but then taken to a yard in Portsmouth once there was no chance she would return to service. There were whispers they would resurrect Philip Pirrip but it never happened. Uriah Heep is currently for sale, complete with new wheelhouse and canopy which need fitting, plus a set of moulds, for £45,000.

Abel Magwitch was the last in 2001 but by then White Horse Fast Ferries had stopped doing the route but it didn’t stop them putting her up for sale with her sisters for £420,000. Instead she was operated by Thames Clippers on the Hilton Hotel-Canary Wharf run until October 2004.

Now the ones they inherited.

Hotspur IV was a classic boat, designed by General Estates for the Hythe ferry run, and built at Rowhenge Ironworks in Southampton. She had a bar on a lower deck with extra seating and used to operate trips. She was unpopular with the Lays, who were rumoured for years to be trying to offload her, and they closed off the lower deck. She ended up on the National Historic Ships Register so they kept her but ran her into the ground with deliberate neglect.

By the time she failed her 2014 inspection, her hull was porous and she needed tens of thousands of repairs, including a new engine bed. She was eventually sold in 2016 for £2000 to become a houseboat but at the time of writing nothing has happened except she has deteriorated further.

New Forester was the last newbuild of the old guard and entered service in 1982 using the engines originally in Hotspur III. A completely modern vessel and sleek, she had limited outdoor space at the back but inside the seats were comfortable and the boat had heating for winter. From 1995 to 1999 she was laid up while Great Expectations and Hotspur IV were solely on the route.

She was sold first to River Dart Cruises and renamed Baltic Star. She has been operating on the Thames as a party boat since 2006 for Capital Pleasure Boats under the name Golden Star. She also does a tour Mondays-Thursdays.

So, will the Lays pop up again running a ferry service? Who knows? What we do know is all of their prior services have new people in charge so the future is looking good for regular passengers and tourists.

If anyone has any further information about the former White Horse Fast Ferries Tilbury-Gravesend boats, please comment below.

Posted in General, London, Southampton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Busy Weekend in Southampton

While four and five cruise ships have become the norm in the Port of Southampton over the past few years, it’s very rare to get six in one day or even seven but that is what will happen over the weekend of 2nd June.

In the old days of the liners, it was a pretty normal occurrence as ships turnarounds were a few days, instead of usually in and out the same day as they do today.

The first six ships in port in modern times was the 5th January 2011. Then there were two Cunards (Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth), two Fred Olsen (Black Watch and Balmoral), one P&O (Arcadia) and one Saga (Saga Ruby).

Arcadia, Saga Ruby, Black Watch and Balmoral

Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria

Six months later, on the 16th July, there was another one. Then Balmoral was part of it again but joined by Celebrity Eclipse, Grand Princess, Artania, Crown Princess and Ventura.

Ventura, Grand Princess and Balmoral

Grand Princess and Artania

Crown Princess, Balmoral, Artania, Celebrity Eclipse, Ventura and Grand Princess

Saga Ruby was an unscheduled part of another six on the 10th January 2013 due to having engine trouble, delaying her final world cruise, so was in berth 40 to be repaired. That day, Queen Mary 2, Black Watch, Ventura, Queen Victoria and Rotterdam.

Queen Victoria, Rotterdam, Black Watch, Saga Ruby and Ventura (from Queen Mary 2)

Queen Victoria, Rotterdam and Black Watch

Ventura, Saga Ruby and Queen Mary 2

Balmoral and Black Watch became part of another gathering on the 17th May 2014, the third for each. The others being Independence of the Seas. Aurora, MSC Opera and Oceana.

Oceana, Black Watch and Balmoral

Aurora, MSC Opera and Independence of the Seas

The only time in recent years there have been seven ships, was for P&O’s Grand Event on the 3rd July 2012, which celebrated their 175th anniversary.

Ventura, Arcadia, Aurora, Oriana, Oceana and Adonia

Ventura, Arcadia, Aurora and Oriana

Azura, Adonia and Oceana

And so one of the busiest weekends of the year which includes two debuts – Silver Explorer and Seven Seas Explorer. Seven Seas Explorer is the newest and most luxurious ship in the Regent Cruises fleet, entering service last year. Silversea Explorer has had many names since entering serving in 1989, After being bought by Silversea in 2007, she was first known as Prince Albert II, after Prince Albert of Monaco, and is an expedition ship usually calling at Portsmouth.  Meanwhile, Queen Victoria would be returning from refit where she had cabins added to the stern.  She would occupy the QEII Terminal after Seven Seas Explorer departed.

The ships will be as follows:

Friday 2nd June

Aurora (7am-4.30am – berth 106)
Marina (5am-6pm – berth 38/9)
Navigator of the Seas (5am-4.30pm – berth 101)
Norwegian Jade (6.30am-8pm – berth 46)
Silver Explorer (arrives (6am for an overnight stay – berth 104)
Silver Whisper (arrives 7am for an overnight stay – berth 102)

Saturday 3rd June

Crown Princess (7am-5pm – berth 38/9)
Independence of the Seas (5.15am-4.30pm – berth 101)
Queen Victoria (arrives 6.45pm – 38/9)
Seven Seas Explorer (6.30am-9pm – berth 106)
Silver Explorer (sails 5am – berth 104)
Silver Whisper (sails 10pm – berth 102)
Ventura (6.30am-5pm – berth 46)

Sunday 4th June

Azura (6.30am-4.30pm – berth 106)
Black Watch (4am-9am – berth 102)
Britannia (6.15am-6pm – berth 46)
Celebrity Eclipse (5.30am-4.30pm – berth 101)
Queen Victoria (sails 4.30pm – berth 38/9)

Bring on the ships!

Posted in Celebrity Cruises, Cunard, Fred Olsen Cruises, General, Northern Europe, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, Ship Stalking, Silversea Cruises, Southampton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hythe Ferry Progress Report 3

The original intention for Blue Funnel Ferries Limited was to have Great Expectations back in service on the 11th May, making the refit last just 9 days. Due to finding more issues after years of neglect (which would take a couple of years to bring up to Blue Funnel standard), she was due to be put in the water on the 15th May with the MCA inspection the following day. She was beginning to look much better despite a lot of obvious rust, and made poor Hotspur look tatty in comparison. Compared to the previous week, it had become more crowded around her which made getting photographs a little harder.

However, they got behind with so much extra work so the MCA survey was put back a week. Meanwhile the new name of Hythe Scene was announced on the 15th instead.

A week later things had progressed a bit more but still no name on the hull while Hotspur was just as unloved by her new owners.

Meanwhile, the football season drew to a close. Blue Funnel put on a special ferry from Hythe Pier to Ocean Village on Ocean Scene. They were also laying on extra ferries due to Common People.

Hythe Scene returned to Hythe Pier on the 23rd May but there was still much to do before re-entering service, which she did successfully on the 26th. Despite a lot of work still needing to be done to fix the years of White Horse Ferries neglect, she was already feeling like a brand new vessel. The crossing was smooth with no vibrations, racket or diesel fumes in your face. I was never a fan of Great Expectations but now she’s had some long overdue love, it was finally a pleasure travelling on her.

My dad, who took me on the ferry as a kid in the 1970s and 1980s.

And so the new chapter in this centuries old service continues and all the signs are good. Already Blue Funnel are listening to the passengers and utilising the boats for popular events. We’re still awaiting the standby ferry, which is currently undergoing refit. Onwards and upwards!

Posted in Blue Funnel Ferries Limited, General, Southampton | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Parade of Sail 2017

The inaugural event took place on the 27th May, during Southampton Sailing Week. Unfortunately, after a glorious week, the weather changed but at least it had stopped raining. The schedule of events went like this:

12:15pm – An announcement over radio channel VHF Channel 14 will ask all River Itchen Marinas to prepare for departure. This should allow for those heading from Kemps Quay and Saxon Wharf to file in behind those exiting Shamrock at approx.

12:30pm. The Mayor will lead the parade from Shamrock Quay, all vessels berthing here shall follow the parade route.

12:20pm – Town Quay and ABP berths set off to meet the parade at Dock Head following marshal boat

12:25pm – The Mayor passes Ocean Village Marina, those departing this marina should depart and join the parade following the marshal boat.

12:30pm – Larger vessels meet the parade at Dock Head, please note that normal traffic will be in operation so please communicate with VTS on VHF channel 12 before crossing.

12:40pm – Parade passes Dock Head and a Svitzer Tug will now lead the parade with its fire equipment engaged – PLEASE DO NOT GO NEAR OR ATTEMPT TO OVERTAKE THE WATER FLOW FROM THE TUG AS YOU WILL SINK.

13:25pm – First vessels are expected at Hamble Point Cardinal, please disperse and move away from the parade until all vessels have reached this point.

Shieldhall set off from berth 110 and hung around off Town Quay while the brand new Svitzer Adira would be the one leading. Shieldhall blew her famous whistle as the parade began towards Hamble Point.

For more information about Southampton Sailing Week on their website. http://www.southamptonsailingweek.co.uk/

Posted in General, Southampton | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome Back Norwegian Cruise Line!

Until 2008, Southampton only saw the odd ship. Norway was a semi-regular caller since 1980 and we also saw Norwegian Crown (now Balmoral), which I missed.

Dover was their UK home port so it was a surprise to get Norwegian Pearl in December 2006 fresh from her inaugural before heading across the Atlantic.

They decided to try Norwegian Jade out for three months in 2008 and 2009. She had not long been changed from Pride of Hawai’i only a few months prior.

They didn’t advertise it well so they didn’t do very well and they pulled out. It wasn’t just us either. They moved their ship from Dover to Copenhagen, reducing a Baltic cruise by 3 days. So we kept seeing new ones, beginning with Norwegian Epic in June 2010 followed by Norwegian Breakaway in April 2013 and Norwegian Getaway in January 2014.

Kevin O’Sheehan, doing a Q&A on the Breakaway transatlantic, ruled out ships going to China or Australia due to Star Cruises. He told me they wouldn’t return to the UK due to “sea days”, despite having them from New York, Florida and other ports, not to mention repositioning cruises. He goes and it is announced ships will be going everywhere he ruled out. Norwegian Joy was designed for the Chinese market. Meanwhile, back came the rest. Norwegian Getaway made a brief return during a repositioning to Copenhagen on the 12th May 2017. Due to weather, she was several hours late.

Two days later, on the 14th, Norwegian Jade returned to do northern European cruises from Southampton and Hamburg.

A the time of writing, Jade was scheduled to return in 2018. Meanwhile, before that, we see the brand new Norwegian Bliss in April followed by a brief return for Norwegian Breakaway in May and October.

Posted in Norwegian Cruise Line, Southampton | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hythe Ferry Progress Report 2

Well slightly sooner than intended for an update but that’s because I went to see some progress and also catch up with an old, much-missed friend.

Hotspur IV has been at Saxon Wharf for three years thanks to White Horse Ferries deliberately running her down to dispose of. She was sold in 2016 to be done up as a houseboat but so far the new owners pop in, do bugger all then disappear for months. She has a hole in the bottom of her hull and no engines. There is a rumour she could be a museum ship in Hythe but as much as I love her and don’t want her scrapped, some realism is needed. She needs a fortune spending on her for a start. Then there is the interest – or lack of it. Tourists won’t care while locals and ship nuts will soon lose interest once the novelty has worn off. The poor old girl will end up back where she is now and no one wants that. Doubtless I will be disagreed with but that is my opinion.

My dad who used to take me on the ferry as a kid.

Meanwhile a little bit along, Great Expectations was undergoing her annual refit. Another victim of White Horse Ferries terrible management, and they built her! This refit will be shorter than usual but once things have settled down, Lee Rayment of Blue Funnel has promised vast improvements to her.

It’s very sad that these two will never be side by side alongside Hythe pier any longer. For 20 years they were very much part of the scenery. 😦

Posted in Blue Funnel Ferries Limited, General, Hythe, Southampton | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hythe Ferry Progress Report 1

I’ve been posting about the Hythe ferry since 2015 so am glad the business has proper owners who care about the service.  These brief, occasional blogs will be updates with what Blue Funnel are doing.

With the imminent refit of Great Expectations, Blue Funnel were true to their word and brought across Jenny Ann to be the temporary replacement.

Posted in Blue Funnel Ferries Limited, General, Hythe, Southampton | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment