Sunday, September 30, 2012

By Linda Asman

When this was taken 100 years ago boats were a common sight at Pembroke.

The River Rally
Once again I had the opportunity to join the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society on a voyage up the Pembroke River.  A couple of weeks ago on a grey and misty day it was on the occasion of the Seafair Haven, but this time it was to take part in the annual River Rally to Pembroke’s South Quay.

Henry VII (Peter Kraus) greets David James at Hobbs Point.

This time we were lucky.  The sun shone as I boarded one of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society’s crafts “Quest” on Hobbs Point along with none other than Henry VII himself (alias Peter Kraus, Mayor of Pembroke Dock).  As usual David James, Secretary of the Society led the way with “Supporter” to Crow Pool where we rendezvoused with other boats making their way from various points along the waterway to join the rally.  Already there was “Dashing”, Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse’s boat, the lead vessel carrying the Mayor of Pembroke Cllr Mel Phillips.

The flotilla headed by Cllr John Allen Mirehouse's 'Dashing' arriving in Castle Pond.

Spectators gather at South Quay to welcome The River Rally.

David James phoned Myrrdin Dennis of PCC to check that the barrage gate was lowered and at around 2.45 pm the flotilla of boats set off on the journey up the Pembroke River.  It was a lovely summer’s day, the sunshine rendering the water a brilliant blue, and the boats cut a colourful spectacle as they sailed along Castle Pond to dock at the South Quay.  Many spectators had gathered to view the event and join in the activities there and we were greeted by Pauline Waters, the Town Crier, who welcomed us all to Pembroke. First to step ashore was The Mayor who declared “This river rally is to exercise the right of passage up and down the Pembroke River for the people of Pembrokeshire."

Pembroke  Mayor Mel Phillips with Pembroke Dock Mayor Peter Kraus
and Pembroke Town Crier Pauline Waters with granddaughter Ellie.

A right of passage
This is the actual reason behind the river rally which is funded by Pembroke Town Council and organised by West Wales Maritime Heritage Society.  It dates back to the building of the barrage when the Council insisted that the rights of navigation of the Pembroke River be maintained and the gate be lowered by demand: the County Council have to maintain the mechanism.

I asked David James when the rallies began and he remembers the first rally taking place in about 1989 “Govan Davies’s boat ‘Pride of Pembroke’ led the way with guest of honour Sir Geraint Evans, the famous Welsh tenor, on board and ever since it has been an annual event.  Sometimes it coincides with Seafair Haven but on others it is a stand alone event.  Such is the prestige of the river rally that the Pembroke Festival, originally held in September, was rescheduled to coincide with it.”

It is largely due to David and his navigational skills that this event is able to take place. “Basically I act as harbour pilot calculating the tidal movements, issuing sailing directions to skippers and guiding the flotilla up the river.  The main difficulty lies in staying in the channel, a winding path marked by numbered candy striped buoys.”

The other problem is the barrage. “this has to be closed at 5.9 metres above chart datum” David pointed out.  “This is primarily designed to keep Castle Pond artificially low to prevent flooding of the Commons and within these restraints the fleet has to be rushed in and either stay overnight or dash out smartly!”

A great trip
The Mayor, Town Crier and Henry VII made a colourful trio as they stood on the sunny quayside with many, including myself, taking their photograph.  I asked Cllr Phillips if she had enjoyed the trip.

“My brother and I had the most wonderful day” she enthused “thanks to Rosie and John Mirehouse and also to Frank Penfold who steered us through 2 foot 6 inches of water!! We were aboard John's vintage and classic Nelson, apparently the Rolls Royce of its class.  It was built in 1963 and rescued from a boatyard in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

I have never done this trip before and it was great to see places like Bentlass, Pennar Gut and the Millbacks, all from the opposite side of the river.  We passed the ruins of the Isolation Hospital known locally as The Pill, where children were sent who had contracted Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria.  My mum contracted Scarlet fever and Dr Manby told my gran that she had to go to The Pill.  Gran refused saying that the family was isolated enough in the Millbacks, so he allowed mum to stay at home, providing the house was fumigated.  

Thanks again to all and of course to David James for organising it.”

Yes, it was a great day and a great occasion: Pembroke comes alive when the boats come up the river and I can well understand why so many Pembroke people hate the barrage!

Steam Launch Association Rally
There will be another chance to see a flotilla coming up to Pembroke as the Steam Launch Association is organising events along the Milford Haven Waterway and plan to visit Pembroke on Tuesday, August 14th. .  They will be arriving at the South Quay at approximately 15:15 pm. 

Last year two steam launches came to Pembroke under David’s guidance to see how their boats could cope with the river.  It was so successful that they decided to come again this year.  David would like to add that other boats would be welcome to join the flotilla and anyone wishing to do so, please contact him on 01646 683764.

If you have any stories or photographs for this column, please contact me, Linda Asman, on
01646 622428, email and visit our website

Memory Lane
For a change and appropriate to this week’s article, I am including here a photograph of a boat.  There are many in Pembroke who will recognise the ‘Kathleen and May’, seen here at the North Quay.  The last boat to trade at Pembroke, she is remembered with great affection.  There was a time when the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society had hoped to establish a maritime heritage centre with the ‘Kathleen and May’ docked alongside but sadly this never happened.  Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for Pembroke if it had?
 ‘Kathleen and May’, at the North Quay.