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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 09:34 GMT
Restored ferry set for cast off
Tim Ryan with the Severn Princess, PA
Tim Ryan with the car ferry, the Severn Princess
An ambitious project to rescue and restore the last car-ferry to cross the River Severn is nearing its climax.

The Severn Princess was one of three boats that used to cross the river from Aust, near Bristol, to Beachley but became redundant when the first Severn Bridge opened in 1966.

The Princess was sold to an Irish shipping company but ended up as a rusting hulk in a remote harbour in County Galway.

But in 1999, a group of enthusiasts bought the 95-foot long vessel and towed her 500 miles to Gloucestershire. The group hopes to relaunch her early in 2002.

The Severn Princess during car ferry days, PA
The Severn Princess during her car ferry days
The two sister boats of the Princess were scrapped.

But the group, backed by a Chepstow businessman, tracked down the 40-year-old ferry and travelled to Ireland to save her from a similar fate.

After buying the badly damaged vessel for just 1.05, the Severn Princess Restoration Group hired a tug to tow her back to Gloucestershire.

The boat was almost sunk by 45-foot high waves in the Atlantic Ocean, but survived the journey to the Chepstow shipyard on the River Wye where she is being restored.

The work has included the complete removal and replacement of the boat's two engines at a cost of 10,000.

It has also included the shot-blasting and repainting of the ship's hull, and the removal and restoration of the car turntable deck.

Severn Bridge, PA
The Severn Bridge made the boats redundant
Now the boat, which used to carry 20 cars at a time, is close to being seaworthy.

The group is hoping to relaunch her early in the new year as a tourist attraction - a floating museum available for hire.

Tim Ryan is one of the founders of the Severn Princess Restoration Group which works on the vessel every Sunday.

He said the project had captured the imagination of the Chepstow community that used to rely on the river ferries.

"Boats are particularly charismatic things, but the Severn Princess really has evoked some emotion," he said.

Proving popular

"It is difficult to put it into words, but when we got her back, there were grown men actually crying on the river bank.

"I think she reminds people of a different era - a time when things were a lot easier and a lot quieter. She has already proved to be very popular and we have had marvellous support from local firms and individuals."

He added: "We will be able to offer passenger trips on certain tides, but there are strict limits regarding her usage imposed by insurance requirements.

"In fact, she would never be allowed to operate as a car-ferry today. We'll just have to see how far we can take it."

Click here to go to Bristol
See also:

13 Jul 01 | Scotland
New causeway for island community
31 Jan 00 | Business
Car firms face ferry rival
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