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Dive Into the History of the Solent

From once-a-day sailing-boat crossings, to the innovation of steam, the history of cross Solent travel offers a fascinating glimpse into life before the introduction of the maritime technology Wightlink use today. John Hendy tells all in his book, Solent Seaways.

Wightlink have been bringing people together for over 160 years now and the way we cross the Solent has changed dramatically over the years.

In 1948 the Portsmouth – Ryde route gained a pair of quite revolutionary vessels – and they soon became very popular additions to the fleet.

The Revolutionary Twins

The twin-screw motor vessels Southsea and Brading were launched at Denny’s Dumbarton yard within half an hour of each other on 11 March 1948.

The first of the twins arrived at Southampton for trials by mid-October. With a length of 200 ft. and a beam of 47 ft. the new ships were exceptionally broad. They had passenger certificates for 1,331 in two classes, making them the largest ships ever built for this route. Each cost an estimated £160,000, that’s about £4.8 million in today’s money when accounting inflation.

The main picture is the scene at Denny’s Leven Yard at Dumbarton with the diesel-engine Southsea (right) and Brading both having just entered the water.


The Southsea proved her value very quickly, on the first day of November 1948, during one of the worst fogs seen in years.The Island would have normally been totally cut off from the mainland during these weather conditions but the fog was no match for the Southsea’s new radar.

The Southsea was the only ferry to attempt passage to the Island, adding to her increasing popularity.


The Brading entered service shortly after in December 1948, joining the Southsea on the Portsmouth – Ryde route. Pictured is a glimpse into the interior of the after lounge (starboard side) when new. The central partition was later removed to create one large area the full width of the ship. The deck below featured a First-Class refreshments lounge with dining tables and chairs, tablecloths and ashtrays.

Share Your Maritime Memories

Although maritime history is well documented, we know you probably have a wealth of history squirreled away in your old photo albums. Wightlink want to explore, discover, and share the rich narrative of our Solent. If you have any images, stories, memories - no matter how big or small, Wightlink would love to hear from you by email at

Solent Seaways

Explore the history of Wightlink’s three routes to the Isle of Wight and their intrinsic links to the Island we know and love today, with your own copy of John Hendy’s book, Solent Seaways, available via Wightlink. Contact Karen Woods for more information.

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