18th September 1964 Princess Elizabeth

On Thursday 18th September 1964 Princess Elizabeth made her last trip of the season leaving the Weymouth Pleasure Pier at around 4.30pm for the short run under her own steam up the harbour and through the Town Bridge to her winter lay-up berth in the Backwater where she arrived at about 5pm. The bend above the Town Bridge is quite tight for a paddler and with lots of small boats and fishing vessels moored either side she had assistance from two work boats, one on the bow and one on the stern.

1964 had been a difficult summer season with Consul running in competition with her on local trips from Weymouth for what was then a much diminished trade. On Wednesdays and on three Fridays in the peak weeks the Lizzie got away from that by running day trips from Weymouth to the Isle of Wight, something which Consul was no longer able to do by this stage in her career. For this, her owner Cdr Rhodes was advised that he should put in a call at Swanage as she went by and that the trip should terminate at Totland Bay, as had been the case with Cosens's  Consul, in earlier years. It was said that there was a market from Swanage for a direct sailing to the IOW and that going only as far as Totland Bay shortened the journey time and avoided passing through the narrow bit at Hurst Point where the tide can run very fiercely indeed. All of this was true.

However, Cdr Rhodes disagreed with this advice. His view may have been a tad coloured by remaining background issues from his season running the Lizzie on the Bournemouth/Swanage service in 1962 and of course Swanage also charged good money in landing fees for two calls, one outward bound and the other on the return, thereby eating into the day's revenue. And calls at Swanage would have added half an hour onto the voyage time each way. He also thought that Totland Bay was not up to much as a day trip destination and in that he was right. There was the pier, the beach and a steep hill up to a hotel with a bar but that was about it. Was that good value for a whole day out from Weymouth? Conversely he thought that the pretty little town of Yarmouth a bit further on was a much superior attraction and by avoiding the detour to Swanage the hour that saved could be put to better use by sailing on to Yarmouth. This option also had the added advantage of not annoying the Weymouth passengers by adding an influx of newcomers at Swanage trying to pinch their seats and blocking their views. As with all such commercial decisions in the face of apparently wiser counsel Cdr Rhodes must have been a tad apprehensive that his idea would work. But it did. And these day trips from Weymouth to Yarmouth direct were nearly always a sell out for the Lizzie's capacity of 420 on her Class III BOT Passenger Certificate.

On other days the Lizzie ran a combination of a morning cruise at 11am, a run round Portland Harbour at 2pm followed by an afternoon cruise 3pm - 5.15pm either to view Lulworth Cove or to the Shambles Lightship where the ship usually exchanged gifts from the passengers with the lightship crew who usually reciprocated by passing back some freshly caught fish. In the evenings there were cruises at 8pm sometimes with some sort of music aboard under the banner "Melody Cruise".

By this stage in her career the Lizzie didn't generally provide any hot food so sometimes Capt Defrates's wife, Ethyl, met the ship at 5.15pm to walk back with her husband to their flat in town for a proper home cooked dinner in the gap before the evening cruise.

When Capt Defrates rang "Finished with Engines" on 18th September 1964 it brought to an end his career as a paddle steamer captain during which he had commanded the paddle steamers Embassy, Victoria, Monarch, Consul and Princess Elizabeth. He turned seventy that year and in those days and at that age Trinity House took away Pilotage Certificates. However he did keep afloat from time to time in the ensuing years. In February 1965 he took the Consul to Dartmouth for her new career as the base for a sailing academy. In the spring of 1967 he brought the passenger vessel Thornwick round from Bridlington to Poole in readiness for her first season running from Bournemouth in indirect replacement of Embassy. And in 1967 he was master of the luxury steam yacht Medea sailing on the South Coast and to the near continent.

Princess Elizabeth had one more season to go before her operational career was over too. After a subsequent nomadic life at Hayling Island, on the Thames and in Paris she is still with us today as a static attraction at Dunkirk.

John Megoran

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