The Kingswear Castle, an award-winning paddle steamer and one of only two of its kind in Britain, has left the River Medway.
After 30 years, the coal-fired ship which has ferried thousands of passengers on the river from her base at Chatham Historic Dockyard, is returning to her birthplace, the River Dart in Devon.
The demise of the heritage vesssel has been blamed on spiralling costs of keeping her ship-shape and dwindling numbers - the same reasons she was nearly destined to the scrap heap in the 1960s.
During this period the traditional day at the British seaside was beginning to wane and one by one paddle steamers were withdrawn from service.
In 1965 she was acquired by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society for just £600 which set up a separate trust to initiate a restoration programme. Much of this work was carried out on the Medway under the guidance of paddle steamer expert John Megoran, from Weymouth.
She was towed back by tug to the West country on Tuesday morning. Her departure has saddened tourist chiefs and maritime experts in Medway.
Wilf Lower, who works for European Maritime Events in the dockyard, said: “She’s upheld the long tradition of pleasure trips down the river, but the difficulties of keeping such operations afloat - in financial terms, have to be recognised.
“Medway doesn’t attract the number of tourist visitors that are needed to sustain a ‘trip’ boat or a river bus.
“Heritage ships, be they sail or steam, create enormous interest, but few who watch, photograph or take trips on them rarely appreciate just how much it costs to keep them afloat and in a seaworthy condition.
“Few surrvive without the dedicated skills of recognised experts and the help of enthusiastic volunteers. The Kingswear Castle has been fortunate enough to have had both.
“The Kingswear Castle will be sorely missed on the Medway, but hopefully her future will be assured on the Dart.”
Kingswear Castle trustee John Megoran said after years of talks “it was in the best long term interest” to return her to her “home” on the River Dart.
In a statement from the trust he says facilities to keep her maintained are better on the Dart and she would also be housed in undercover slipway.
It added: "We understand that this move will be sad news for all our friends and supporters on the Medway who have gicven us so much help in so many ways and who have sailed with us over so many years."
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