On Friday 9th July 1948 Embassy ran aground in Poole Harbour on a falling tide whilst turning on a morning cruise from Bournemouth.
The paddle steamers ran up and down Poole Harbour on a daily basis to and from their overnight berths alongside Poole Quay but were rarely required to turn round on a cruise within the harbour. Generally, but not always, they berthed head in alongside Poole Quay. Sometimes they swung on the berth with the tide helping them round. More usually they backed away from the quay down the Little Channel turning the stern westwards at the Stakes buoy so that the bow was heading in the right direction to set off full ahead towards either the Diver or Main Channel outward bound. Turning round in one elsewhere in the harbour was a real challenge for a paddle steamer given the large turning circle of about one and a half a cables required for such a manoeuvre and given the narrowness of the channels. On this day, and on this cruise, Embassy tried to do it in one and ran aground in the process.
The 128 passengers were brought ashore by Harry Rose on his tug Wendy Anne and there Embassy remained stuck fast until she floated off later in the afternoon. Her master that day was Capt Harry Defrates making his first appearance in command of a Cosens’s paddle steamer relieving Embassy’s permanent master that season, Capt “Pony” Moore who for some reason was off.
I remember Capt Defrates telling me about this incident years later and saying with a wry smile that it was “the mate Eric Plater who had put me aground”. It was the usual practice for the mate of Cosens’s paddle steamers to be on the wheel in Poole Harbour. Eric Plater, who did not have a master’s ticket, was Embassy’s mate at that point. Also I think that we need to remember that it can be difficult for a relief master to come aboard and handle a ship when his mate has been aboard her day in and day out over an extended period and therefore has had considerably more experience of the ship and her vagaries than he has. A wise man should be careful of overruling a more experienced man’s advice. But there again the more experienced man may not always be right. It can be a difficult call.
Capt Defrates joined Cosens as mate of the Monarch at some stage after the war and would have to wait until 1951 to get his first permanent paddle steamer command as master of the Victoria.
After this incident Cosens discontinued advertising sailings which required their paddle steamers to turn round on a cruise within Poole Harbour.