For two years she was one of Sheppey’s top tourist attractions.
Anyone who took a stroll along Sheerness beach would eventually have to take a ride on the Silver Queen 2. Now she could return.
This pleasure tripper from times-gone-by would take travellers around the Island and sometimes sail close to the wind by visiting Sheppey’s own bomb ship – the SS Richard Montgomery.
The fact the wreck was packed with explosives never seemed to worry anyone as they passed its barnacle-clad masts rising out of the water.
Now the ‘royal’ boat could be coming home. The Silver Queen, since renamed the Sheppey Queen and now with comfy living quarters and a custom-built luxury wooden bath, is looking for a new owner.
Alexandra ‘Alex’ Whittall has spent the past 16 years making the boat shipshape. But now she says its time to sell – for £108,000.
She said: “I would like to try to organise a trip to Sheerness beach with the Sheppey Queen. She is currently for sale but it is my feeling she should stay in local waters. She is a unique vessel with a wonderful character.”
The boat was built just after the Second World War by Raymond Wilson at the Sittingbourne Ship Building Company in 1946 as a ‘wooden pleasure yacht.’
She replaced two vessels which had taken part in the Dunkirk ‘little ships” rescue mission but which had never returned.
Alex said: “I met Ray, the original boat-builder, 10 years ago when he was 84. I don’t know if he is still alive but at the time he still lived in Sittingbourne.
“He stood under the Sheppey Queen and admired her while she was in the dry dock. He was astonished to find her in such a good state. It is testament to the quality of work that went into building her.”
The Silver Queen 2 was originally licensed to carry 120 passengers.
Her first owner was Nick Carter who put her to work between 1946 and 1948 sailing from Sheerness beach using a mobile landing platform. He wanted a boat to replace the Pride of Sheppey which had been lost at Dunkirk.
Alex said: “Apparently his family still lives on the island and has a host of photographs. I would love to meet them and see some of their pictures.”
She believes Reg Ablett also part-owned the boat and may have been its coxswain.
Alex thinks it replaced another boat lost at Dunkirk called Moss Rose. She said: “I understand Reg’s son John still lives on Sheppey.”
Alex added: “The Sheppey Queen is certainly a unique vessel and one of a kind. She was built to be strong. The Sittingbourne Ship Building Company also built harbour defence motor launches which inspired her design.
“She has worked hard all her life and, at the age of 70, is still in a very good condition. She is still running and will be happy to go back to work!”
As families discovered cheap foreign holidays, pleasure boating became less viable and the Silver Queen was sold to two Scottish boat-builders, James and William Ferguson, who sailed her up the east coast and through the Caledonian Canal to Holy Loch and Dunoon.
But when they tried to register her they discovered another Silver Queen already existed.
So in 1948, and in honour of the Isle of Sheppey, the canny Scots renamed her the Sheppey Queen. It also meant the big brass letters S and Q on her funnel did not have to be changed and could still be used.
In Scotland she was re-licensed to carry up to 150 passengers and made extensive journeys along the Clyde and around the neighbouring Scottish islands.
After Scotland, the Sheppey Queen journeyed down the west coast to Cornwall where she was bought by oyster merchant Henry Johns.
She was then bought by farmer Ralph Thomas on the Scilly Isles before being snapped up by RG Passenger Launches in Bexleyheath 55 years ago on December 7, 1961, to become the Ford ferry.
For 19 years she carried up to 150 workers across the river from Erith to the Dagenham works in Essex, 24 hours a day.
She then went through five other owners including a housewife from London’s Harley Street, a State Registered Nurse on the Isle of Wight (where the boat was licensed for 12 passengers), a wages clerk from Manchester and a naval officer from London before being acquired by Alex on October 26, 2000.
The boat has been lovingly restored and is now classified as a classic wooden motor yacht.
Alex said: “I have put her in the dry dock every five years to clean her hull and carry out repairs. She is still mechanically sound and her hull is solid.”
She added: “It would be so fabulous to bring her back to the Island where she started. It would be even better if someone from Sheppey could buy her and return her to her status as ferry boat – although I am sure she would never get a licence to carry 120 people as she did in the golden olden days!”
This Sheppey Queen, currently berthed at Faversham, is not to be confused with a smaller, open boat also called the Sheppey Queen which worked off Sheerness beach in the 1960s.
Alex said: “She is definitely a happy ship. I have spent a magical 16 years living aboard. She is a true pleasure yacht. Her acoustics are fantastic. Many musicians have played and even recorded on board.”
Alex added: “I would love to know more about the other Sheppey Queen and anything about Silver Queen 1.
“I’d like to hear from anyone who remembers travelling on her in 1946 and 47. Ultimately, I want to write a book about her as I have acquired a host of photographs and snippets of her story.”
If you can help, email Alex.