1940 Seymour Castle
Type: Passenger boat
Beam: 14ft 8ins
Draft: 3ft 6ins
Displacement: 36.93 tons
Engine: 2 x 6 cyl Ford
Construction: Pitch pine on oak
Builder: Ferris & Blank, Old Mill Creek.
When she served at Dunkirk, the 60ft. Dartmouth excursion boat Dartmothian was called Seymour Castle. She was taken on her 200-mile journey to Ramsgate by Cyril Roper, one of the River Dart Steamboat Company's skippers. It was a company with a long tradition in a popular holiday area. Formed in 1834 to operate steam tugs and the local barges, they began a river passenger service to Totnes, Devon, in 1856 at the suggestion of the Duke of Clarence. Although the company closed in 1974, River Dart trips to Totnes have remained an enjoyable feature of holidays in the area since their mid 19th century origins. Dartmothian continues this tradition.
In 1940 she set sail for the Channel with the GWR's The Mew - an old railway ferry boat which operated between Kingswear and Dartmouth, and whose job she occasionally took over. This was the longest sea voyage ever undertaken by the Seymour Castle since she was built by Ferris and Blank, Dartmouth, the previous year and no Dunkirk Little Ship came from further west. A whole fleet of boats was brought together from nearby Exmouth and Lympstone and taken to Dartmouth, where they stayed overnight to be returned unused the next day! Not so with Seymour Castle; after Dunkirk the Admiralty kept her on in the Folkestone area for towing the portable Mulberry Harbours. This was the cover name for pre-fabricated floating harbours towed across the English Channel and placed off the Normandy beaches when allied troops returned to the continent of Europe in 1944. These would have saved many lives if they had been invented four years earlier.
Seymour Castle was built by Ferris and Blank at Old Mill Creek, Devon. One of a similar pair of passenger boats, she was the largest vessel these specialists in pulling boats and small motor yachts ever made. Victor Ashton, who worked for a rival firm of boatbuilders, designed her privately as a favour, and the builders made her frames from local oak trees, cut up on the pitsaw. (One man stood in the pit below, whilst another guided the long pitsaw to cut lengths of timber from above). She was built to take 210 passengers and crew - now reduced to 141 for reasons of safety and comfort -and given a Gleniffer engine.
In 1945 she came back to the River Dart as a passenger pleasure craft, and later took holiday-makers up and down the Tamar for a Plymouth operator.
For some years she was owned by the naturalist and writer Tony Soper, who gave her a new wheelhouse and equipped her saloon for lectures. As Wildlife Expedition Ltd.'s floating field centre, he used her for natural history tours out of Plymouth and later from Dartmouth. That is where she is now, again sailing on the Dart as one of the fleet of Red Cruisers of G.H. Ridalls & Sons.
She was used on wildlife spotting cruises from Plymouth and Dartmouth, including a number of six-day cruises under charter to the National Trust, with passengers spending nights ashore in hotels. In 1977 she returned to conventional cruises, based out of Plymouth, for KT Bridge, under the name MV Southern Comfort of Plymstock.
In 1982 she returned to the Dart, under the ownership of G.H. Riddalls and Sons, was renamed MV Dartmothian, and resumed her Dartmouth to Totnes sailings and circular cruises from Dartmouth.
Following the introduction of the MV Dartmouth Princess in 1994 and the MV Dittisham Princess in 1995 she saw little use, and was sold to KJ Bridge, and renamed the MV Devon Belle, resuming the "dockyard and warships" cruises from Plymouth Hoe.
In 1999 MV Devon Belle was sold to Thames River Cruises of Caversham, Berkshire, near Reading on the River Thames. She underwent a major restoration, during which she returned to Dunkirk as part of the 2000 Dunkirk reunion.
In the same ownership, she is is used for trips to Mapledurham House and circular cruises.
As of Spring 2018, following a three year refit, she has had her front deck replaced, saloon and new wheelhouse fitted, engine room and upper deck awning refurbished.
She is due to be back in action for the summer boating season, and her owners are looking forward to the 2020 return.