From Paddle Wheels No. 95
When it was realised during the summer of 1983 that most of the major restoration would be completed serious thought had to be given to a date for trials. The first choice was the 6th October but this proved to be too optimistic and so the 4th November was decided upon instead. The main delay was caused by the recent introduction of more stringent requirements for the clearance to be tolerated in the fitting of the boiler manhole doors. Although the doors were only a couple of years old they now had to be built up with skilful welding and then ground to the new size. When this had been done the standard gaskets would no longer fit and so the engineers had to make specials. Eventually the doors were back in position and the boiler could be filled and slowly warmed.
As the great day drew nearer, the team received support from Waverley. Experienced officers advised our novice crew. The first requirement was insurance cover for the vessel to operate on the river and their expertise was most welcome. Additionally 20 life jackets were loaned by WSN.
In Their Own Words – From Paddle Wheels No. 95 – Abbreviated version of report by Colin Harrison and Chris Smith
Although we had no intention of steaming at night we still needed navigation lights. More expense! Fortunately a neighbour had a set of oil burning lights which he let us have for a modest sum. This meant that lamp-trimming joined the list of traditional skills being used on KC. This skill improved a couple of days later when we found that newspaper is more effective for cleaning lenses than cloths.
With a week to go we had everything we needed except for one item – the coal. This was to come from Wales from the same firm who supply the Haverstreet Railway on the Isle of Wight. We were expecting the delivery· on the Tuesday but because of an accident the coalman was not able to come until Thursday. The coal finally arrived and was dumped as near to KC as possible which still meant it had to be carried in buckets for a hundred yards along cat walks and gangways. Friends and neighbours joined the crew in forming a human chain and in six hours six tons of coal was bunkered. We now really were ready to go and all we needed were two bits of paper to say that we could. The first was from the boiler inspector. He came as arranged on the Wednesday, he examined the boiler doors and was entirely satisfied. One bit of paper in hand one to come. This was from the insurance surveyor. He had completed most of his survey over a period but still had a few further checks to carry out when KC was in steam. The surveyor, Mr. EC Wilson, had not realised that the ship was intended to go out on trials on the 4th. He had been booked we thought for the 2nd. It turned out that he thought he was to come on the 3rd, a date he had to postpone until the 4th. To find out what had happened was very difficult. He had been away from his home and office and it was Nick Knight who eventually made contact. He was told that there was little chance of KC being allowed to go down to Gillingham as the underwriters would only insure to operate in the area recommended by the surveyor.
It was only after having seen his report that they would give her cover at all. At this stage Mr. Wilson appeared to think that it would be unwise to take KC downstream of Rochester Bridge. That evening the telephone lines were buzzing as calls were made to find a way through what looked like a major impasse. Despite this there was only one way forward and that was to wait for Mr. Wilson’s verdict on Friday morning. The suspense was nerve racking for the crew and- there was a growing sense of anticipation amongst all our neighbours in the Marina.
Friday dawned cool land misty but calm – the fore taste of a perfect day for trials. Breakfast was soon over and by 0900 all hands were busy preparing KC for her anticipated departure before high tide at midday. Shortly before 10.30 Mr. Wilson arrived. The moment of truth was almost upon us. He was soon deep in conversation with the skipper and then carried out his necessary checks on the steam driven pumps and firefighting apparatus. So far so good. We could proceed on limited trials. Mr. Wilson was happy to come with us and agreed to complete his written report whilst we were underway. By now the surplus mooring ropes and chains were being removed and the main engine was being slowly turned as she was warmed through. A number of interested folk were gathering on the shore including several who in the past had stated that the old paddler would never go again. They were about to change their minds. The shore-goers disembarked, the gangway was removed — we were ready to go! “Let go aft,” “start heaving in the anchor,” “Watch your fenders on the starboard side…” It was all beginning to happen. The telegraph rang. Slowly the engines moved ahead and gave some slight relief to the sweating deckies slaving at the winch. The seemingly endless anchor cable slowly crawled through the hawse pipe. What was on the end of it was anybody’s guess. It had been sunk in the mud for ten years at least and it didn’t want to be disturbed. The skipper finally freed the anchor by going slow ahead then astern. This had given Ken Blacklock the opportunity to get the feel of the engines and our own engineers had watched in admiration and amazement as he skilfully operated the controls in response to the succession of orders from the wheelhouse. Later we were told by some of the observers ashore how impressed they had been by the whole departure sequence. At last the anchor – an enormous plough type – appeared from out of the murky water and then KC was free. The skipper rang down full ahead and with a toot of delight and smiles from all on board she was off. A cheer from the spectators ashore wafted over the sunlit waters. Waverley’s little sister was on the move.
Half a mile down river we did our first turn Hard a port – easier said than done with a wheel the size of KC’s and with no steering engine to help. She responded immediately. Half way round the engines were stopped. She continued to swing and the engines were put slow astern. As soon as the way was off – ‘Hard a starboard’ was the order, much puffing and panting was the result. Soon we were pointing back up river and so ‘full ahead again’ and off we went towards the new motorway bridge. The first manoeuvre had gone smoothly and the surveyor seemed to be impressed. At Cuxton we turned again but on completion of the turn the skipper continued going astern for a couple of hundred yards then with a twinkle in his eye he brought us gently alongside the river walk. “ls that good enough for you” he asked and we all agreed it was. At that point my eyes were on the inspector and I think it was then that he realised the skill of the skipper, the potential of the crew and the high standard of KC herself. Mr. Wilson then went to the tranquillity of the aft saloon to complete his report aided by a beer from the newly created ship’s bar. Until the surveyor’s report had been finished and presented to the underwriters in London, KC could go no further. We moored alongside the fuel pontoon at the marina.
As soon as the report was completed it was studied with intense relief. It stated that we could indeed go to Gillingham and to more open waters for us to continue our trials. The race was now on. Could we get the report to London before the close of business? Our messenger was to be Pat Bushell who was already armed with the address and as soon as the gangway was in position the document was transferred to the car where Sister June was waiting to take her to the station. Once there Pat was soon on the train and on her way to London Bridge. Whilst Pat was travelling the rest of us were waiting. We eventually received a message from the broker which put us out of our state of uncertainty. Now we had to finalise our plans for proceeding down river. The bridge was the hazard. With limited space below the arch it was essential to choose the right time. To avoid being swept down upon the bridge we had to go through when the tide was flooding and for sufficient clearance for the funnel it had to be three hours before high water. It should also be daylight. Bearing these factors in mind it was decided to spend the night near the bridge and pass under about 0900 on the Saturday morning. The ideal mooring for the night was the Rochester Queen –formerly the Queen of Scots. The skipper made contact with his former command which stood in for Waverley several years ago and permission was granted for us to lie alongside overnight. At 2000 we left the marina and with our lamps unexpectedly in use we steamed cautiously down the narrow channel to our temporary lodgings. Patrons of the dining room on Rochester Queen peered out of the windows with looks of incredulity as this living reminder of the past bore down upon them and yet berthed so gently that not a ripple was caused in the soup.
We were pleased to celebrate our day with a meal in the elegant dining saloon of his vessel, compliments of the management. Saturday 5th November started off very misty but by 0800 it had cleared sufficiently for us to prepare for our trip to Gillingham. We slipped quietly away from the Rochester Queen at 0852. Our ropes had been cast off by Nick Knight who has been a continual source of inspiration (and realism!) as the years of restoration passed by. He had provided the slip for use by KC but would always spot any unsatisfactory work. He has been heard to shout at volunteers who were unused to work on ships, and who tended to get in the way. His happy smile showed that all was now forgiven and the ‘blundering idiots’ had actually pulled it off.
Fifty-two minutes later we were alongside at Gillingham. We remained there for a couple of hours receiving many local enthusiasts on board and also a few reporters with their attendant photographers. At 12.18 KC was off again with our own engineers handling the controls. They like the rest of the crew were learning fast about paddle steamer operation. To show KC off for the benefit of the photographers and other admirers who were lining the quay wall the skipper ordered maximum speed and then made several “passes” at the pier steaming as close in as possible. After lunch, the next trial took us up river to Chatham where we turned but the mist was thickening and so it was straight back to the dock wall where we secured at. Throughout Saturday evening and Sunday morning a constant watch was kept on the mooring ropes…
Sunday was a much brighter and clearer day. Our departure was delayed because of the movement of large vessels on the river. So it was not until 12.10 that KC set off on further trials. The first exercise was for the skipper to investigate the currents in the approaches to the Bull’s Nose entrance of the dockyard. It is here that Waverley will be berthing during her visit to the Medway this year. As KC edged close in to the dockyard, then the paddle wheels thudded astern and away we went. An essential exercise was that of securing to a mooring buoy. So during our first sortie up river the skipper brought us up to the buoy and we had to try and pass a rope through the ring on the top of it. It looks easy but as the buoy bounces and twists and the mooring shackle weighs a ton or so it was obviously a manoeuvre that needs practice.
After tying up to the pier the crew settled down for their lunch only to be roused to meet the challenge by the skipper. “It’s your boat. You should be taking her out”. No sooner said than done and with Colin Harrison in the wheelhouse we departed from the pier without incident. Now for a go at a buoy. The end one of row seemed easiest. Slowly the bow of KC edged closer. The foc’sle hands were poised to grab the buoy and secure a rope. Nobody realised that the buoy had a length of thick mooring rope left behind by a former occupant. At least not until it had leapt into life and grabbed our port paddle wheel. As soon as it was spotted the engines were reversed and slowly turned stopped. Unfortunately it had got a good hold. The wheel was inspected and slowly turned astern and the rope freed itself and returned to its lair. Colin said that he would do the manoeuvre again. This time all went well and so we returned to Gillingham, remaining only long enough to take on the inevitable water for the thirsty boiler we prepared for our return journey to the marina.
At 1550 we left Gillingham and set off up the river. The tide was ebbing and so we needed all our power if we were to get back in daylight. Unfortunately there was a lot of clinker in the boiler and the pressure was a bit low. The fireman Roger and been stoking for days and the strain was beginning to tell. It was harder work than anyone had realised. The skipper was glad to be able to go and lend a hand with a shovel and so did other members of the engine room crew. The pressure picked up but we still found ourselves needing to light our navigation lights. On the way back those members of the deck crew who still hadn’t done a spell on the wheel were able to do so. It was a lovely feeling to be taking KC back to her mud berth after a successful week-end of trials. As we passed Rochester Cruising Club a salute of horns and cheers broke out from the boats and their owners. We repeated our procedure of mooring at the fuel pontoon at the Medway Bridge Marina and remained there waiting for the high tide. Then at 01.35 KC was slipped quietly back into her cosy mud berth.
Here we must leave the story, as the focus now shifts to KC’s new operational life on the Medway which is detailed on the Kingswear Castle Trust website here.