Published: 00:01, 30 October 2017
A new ferry called the Spirit of Sheppey could be taking sightseers between Kent and Southend as early as next May.
Since Dave Wilcock’s successful pilot voyage from Queenborough to Southend Pier during the summer he has been trawling the UK for suitable vessels.
On Friday he travelled to Wales to view his latest find, the 197-seat £130,000 Dame Shirley which is currently berthed in Cardiff.
He said: “It was just what I wanted so I put down a £20,000 deposit.”
The boat will need to gain a safety licence to operate in the Thames Estuary but if all goes according to plan Mr Wilcock, from Blue Town, is hoping to sail it to Sheppey in the new year ready for sea trials.
He said: “It would be great to launch the service over the May Bank Holiday. That gives us six months to get everything in place.
"It will be a race against time but I am hoping everything will come together.”
His Island Cruises company now has 2,337 “friends” on Facebook. A website is expected to be ready shortly where would-be passengers can book tickets.
It is expected day returns will cost £20 per person with discounts for members of a soon-to-be-launched travel club.
He envisages mid-week excursions to Faversham, Whitstable, Red Sands Forts and around the wreck of the American bomb ship the SS Richard Montgomery.
Mr Wilcock, 52, has also decided to apply for Round 5 of the government’s Coastal Community Fund to help buy and run a £1.5 million hovercraft between Sheppey to Southend – a crossing which would take just 12 minutes.
He added: “The government grant would help both sides in not only providing jobs and access to jobs but would also help greatly in the areas of regeneration and tourism.
“This is a win-win situation for both Kent and Essex.”