Published: 00:05, 12 July 2017
A new ferry service from Sheppey to Southend is being launched next month – and it could lead the way to more summer sailings.
It is the brainchild of Dave Wilcock, who is determined to bring water cruises back to the Island.
The first sailing – which is already sold out - will leave the Queenborough all-tidal landing on August Bank Holiday Monday at 8.30am.
More than 1,200 supporters have joined Dave’s Island Cruises Facebook page in the two months since he opened it in May.
He said: “I can’t believe the reaction I have had. So many people say they would love to take a boat trip to Southend, round the wreck of the Richard Montgomery or visit the Red Sand Forts.
“Many Southend people want to come to visit the Island, too. Jenny Hurkett of the Blue Town Heritage Centre is preparing to provide a round-the-island tour for visitors.”
The Island was once home to a twice-daily Olau Line ferry service to Holland from Sheerness Docks. Before that the Duchess M sailed from Sheerness to Southend between1997 to 2002 and in the sixties the Anzio I ran a similar service during the summer.
Dave has teamed up with Richard Bain of Medway firm Jetstream Tours to run the first trips to Southend using the seagoing Jacob Marley catamaran.
Dave said: “It is fantastic Richard has jumped on board. If it is successful we want to run many more.”
His aim is to set up a not-for-profit community company provisionally called Island Cruises and buy a boat. He already has his eye on some possible contenders.
He admitted: “I don’t know a lot about ships. The most I did was a bit of waterskiing when I was younger. But I can’t believe an Island like Sheppey doesn’t have regular sea tours. I have now made it my passion to try to get services going again. I just believe the Island needs it.”
After an appeal on Facebook he held an initial meeting of like-minded people at Blue Town Heritage Centre on May 13.
He said: “I set up the group to assess the feasibility of opening a water taxi or passenger ferry service to Southend and Whitstable operating from the Isle of Sheppey. I have been blown away by the response.”
He has been busy arranging for licences and landing permissions at Queenborough and Southend Pier. Caravan park owners have already been in touch saying their holidaymakers would welcome the excursions.
It is estimated the trip to Southend will take less than an hour compared to three hours by train and two hours by road.
Tickets went on sale on Friday and had sold out by the end of the weekend. The £20 return fare from Queenborough includes a £5 train ticket for Southend Pier. The boat carrying passengers from Southend is expected to land at Queenborough at 10.30am.
The project has the support of the Queenborough Harbour Trust. This week Dave was to have talks with Peel Ports.
Swale councillor Cameron Beart said: “I would love to see the return of services to Vlissingen, Holland, especially with the rekindled relationship between Queenborough and Brielle.”
Former Islander Jackie Cassell said: “This is exciting. I loved going on a school trip to Holland when I was at the Sheppey Comprehensive School where I learned that all Dutch speak four languages."
Queenborough is also home to the X-Pilot which runs trips to the Second World War Maunsell Forts. There is talk of getting the Balmoral pleasure cruiser to visit Sheppey next year.
Anzio I (1960-1963)
Anzio I was originally the David MacBrayne ferry Lochinvar. She operated on Southend-Sheerness services from 1960-1963 after which she was laid up on the Thames.
A connecting bus service operated around Sheppey and to Herne Bay, Canterbury and Maidstone.
Passengers had to catch a bus from Sheerness coach station which would take them into Sheerness Docks to board the vessel.
Anzio 1 was due to return to Scotland to run local cruises in 1966 but was lost with all hands on her delivery voyage in a storm off the Humber on April 3, 1966.
Olau Line (1974 – 1994)
Olau Line ran a passenger and freight ferry service from Sheerness to Vlissingen (Flushing) in the Netherlands from 1974 to May 1994 when it closed following a dispute with the German Seaman’s Union. It operated two large ships called the Olau Hollandia and Olau Britannia from a specially extended berth at Sheerness Docks and employed many Islanders.
Duchess M (1997 – 2002)
Diesel-powered Duchess M was built in 1956 as the Vesta for the Portsmouth to Gosport ferry service but bought by Arthur Green in 1978 and renamed. From 1997 to 2002 she sailed from Southend to Queenborough for Southend Water Pleasure.
She remains on the Thames running the Tilbury-Gravesend ferry for the Lower Thames and Medway Passenger Boat Co who also operate the Princess Pocahontas on cruises to Southend.
Her sister ship the Catherine is currently on the Tyne and is one of the ships Dave has in his sights as a possible full-time Sheppey ship.
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