A Southampton Flagship
The projected cost of constructing a new ship came to £154,750, with the order placed on December 11th, 1947. Launched on a hot June day in 1949, she entered service in December of that year. She had an attractive appearance, with her lines closer to those of a private luxury yacht than those of a car ferry.
Characteristically, she was now capable of providing a dual role of passenger ferry services between Southampton and Cowes on the Isle of Wight. However, since she was also designed to carry out a wide range of wonderfully scenic coastal excursions around the Isle of Wight, she did so during the summer.
Balmoral instantly became a famous ship on the Cowes ferry service and soon had an excellent reputation for speed, comfort, and cleanliness on her cruises around the Isle of Wight. Many select sailings enlivened her special excursions.
Initially, this was temporary, but in 1950 the paddle steamers Solent Queen and Lorna Doone started to develop boiler trouble. As a result, the Balmoral was called on more increasingly. It led to Balmoral inheriting the popular cruises around the Isle of Wight, allowing her to gain an excellent reputation for comfort, cleanliness, and speed. Passengers saw the vessel had that ‘special sparkle,’ the hallmark of a great, successful pleasure steamer.
It was standard practice for the Balmoral to revert to ferry work during the winter periods and operate pleasure excursions on peak Summer days.
Special sailing days were scheduled, with occasional calls to Bournemouth and Swanage, even after Red Funnel visits had officially eased.
Balmoral was present at the 1953 Coronation Naval Review.
Once again, in 1958, the Balmoral brushed with royalty, as she welcomed Her Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh aboard. She was chartered to open a new lock at Shoreham in Sussex, where she was to steam through the passage, cutting through tape across the lock.
In 1967 the Balmoral bid farewell to the RMS Queen Mary as she left Southampton for her final voyage in September 1967.
Sadly, in the late 1960s as car traffic to the Isle of Wight developed apace, it was clear that Balmoral did not fit into Red Funnel’s plans for the future. People were increasingly taking the car on holiday to the Isle of Wight. In the future, car ferries with higher capacity would be needed to operate frequent services. It was also apparent that the tradition of coastal cruising was changing.
In 1968 she was quietly withdrawn, her last scheduled ‘Round the Island’ cruise being cancelled due to severe weather conditions. Shortly afterwards, she moved to Weymouth for lay-up. After twenty years of operation, her days operating as the flagship of the Red Funnel fleet had ended.