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Paddle Steamer Ryde | by Norman Atkinson
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Paddle Steamer Ryde

 

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Commissioned by the Southern Railway in 1936 to replace the elderly Duchess of Norfolk on the company's Portsmouth to Ryde service, the Ryde was built by the renowned Clydeside shipbuilder William Denny & Bros of Dumbarton at a cost of £46,000.

 

Like her elder sister, Sandown, she would be powered by triple expansion engines and her design would present a modern yet graceful profile, drawing on decades' experience of Solent paddlers. Launched on St George's Day 1937, Ryde was soon undergoing her sea trials in the Firth of Clyde, achieving 14½ knots over the Skelmorlie measured mile.

 

With the trials behind her, she now made the long voyage south, through the Irish Sea and around Land's End to her new home on the Solent. But after barely two years in service and with Europe again menaced by war, the new ship was requisitioned by the Royal Navy along with Sandown and converted into a minesweeper.

 

As HMS Ryde she would serve in the Dover Straights and the North Sea. During the sisters' time as minesweepers, German propaganda broadcasts frequently made menacing references to them. On more than one occasion the Germans even claimed credit for sinking the vessels.

 

After two years as a minesweeper, Ryde was refitted as an anti-aircraft ship, carrying a variety of quick firing weapons. Joining the Thames Local Defence Flotilla in 1942, her first duty saw her anchored out in the muddy wastes of the estuary as a guard ship. But she was soon transferred to Harwich, her base until May 1944 when she sailed to Portsmouth to join the great invasion fleet gathering for the liberation of Europe.

 

Safely arrived off the Normandy coast, Ryde took up position on the western side of the Mulberry harbour at Omaha beach. Having weathered a severe storm that gravely damaged the temporary harbour, she received the signal: "If you have enough coal, return to Portsmouth, if you do not have enough coal, run the ship onto the beach!". Fortunately, such extreme measures proved unnecessary; Ryde made it back to Portsmouth, although her crew were sweeping out her bunkers.

 

Following a short spell anchored off Bembridge, she was finally returned to the Southern Railway in August 1945, after nearly six years at war. At last she could at last exchange her guns for the holiday crowds that she had been built to carry.

 

During 1941, the Southern Railway steamers Portsdown and Southsea had been lost to enemy mines. Now, new motor vessels were ordered to replace them. By the time MV Southsea and MV Brading entered service on 1 November 1948, the Southern Railway had been absorbed into the nationalised British Railways.

 

In 1951, with the success of these large yet economical vessels, they were joined by a third sister, Shanklin. Now that three motor ships were in service, the remaining three paddlers, Whippingham, Sandown and Ryde became relief and summer only vessels.

 

With her size and accommodation, the Ryde was also a favourite choice for excursions and charters around the Solent. She saw the homecoming of Sir Alec Rose after his single-handed circumnavigation of the world, and finally, in 1968, went to the Thames in 1968 to become an Edwardian Gin Palace for Gilbeys Gin, complete with Pearly Kings and Queens and jellied eels!

 

Since Sandown's withdrawal in 1965, the writing had been on the wall for the Solent's last paddle steamer, and on 14 August 1969 the Ryde made her final sailing to the Isle of Wight. At this point, it seemed her next destination would be the breakers' yard.

 

However, local entrepreneurs AH and CB Riddett stepped in at the eleventh hour, and in September 1970 took her to Island Harbour where she became one of the Isle of Wight's most popular nightclubs. But public tastes can be fickle; although she survived a serious fire in 1977 and was repaired, the nightclub's popularity waned and closure followed. By the mid 1990s, the Ryde lay derelict, ravaged by thieves and the elements.

 

Now, 60 years after her D-Day service, she has been examined and a full rebuild to incorporate all the modern maritime safety requirements is viable. with the ownership and formation of a society she could steam again and carry passengers on charters and excursions for many years to come.

 

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Taken on April 28, 2008