Blue Funnel Cruises was formed c. 1957 with the formation of three companies operated by Mr W Hogg (Favourite Boat Cruises), Mr H Barkham and Mr D House.
The former and new companies all ran from Southampton's Royal Pier (1832), with a division also running from the Isle of Wight. The vessels used were mainly small and inadequate, so ex-Gosport ferries were purchased, with the Varos being one of the first. Others purchased included the Wight Queen (ex Ferry Queen) which was based at Ryde Pier, Solent Queen (ex Ferry King), Sandringham, Venus, Verda and Princessa which remained with the company until c. 1985.
Cruises around the thriving Southampton Docks took passengers from the Royal Pier to view liners visiting and based in Southampton, and expanded during the 1970’s to other ports including Cowes and the Beaulieu River.
The early 1970’s saw Blue Funnel invest in two new purpose built cruising vessels, the Solent Scene and the Island Scene, both built by the Appledore Shipbuilders in Devon. The slightly lighter and faster Solent Scene was soon moved to Ryde Pier and based there for many years after. The Island Scene had more accommodation and was eventually refurbished to provide for the increasing corporate and charter trade allowing for meals and party cruises.
Many of the older vessels were soon sold off when their more modern replacements come into service, except for the Princessa. She was also refurbished and provided for Party Cruises as well as day trips operating as far as Poole Bay and Swanage.
1985 again saw major investment in a new vessel with the Leisure Scene constructed at Bolson & Son in Poole, Dorset. A new type of operation aiming more at the corporate market, the design copied a Thames ship with an onboard galley and restaurant area, but a tough vessel to manoeuvre. Many a near miss (and the odd hit!!) were had by the skippers through the years.
By this time Blue Funnel had moved around to Town Quay after the Royal Pier was condemned. By this time Bill Hogg had also purchased the other shares of Blue Funnel leaving him as the sole proprietor.
In 1986 interest came from Mark Rayment of Solent Cruises in the purchase of the Isle of Wight division of the company which was still relying heavily on the day cruises and travel trade. Over the next few years the original Wight Line Cruises name was reformed. This acquisition was combined with the vessel Solent Scene, as well as the Isle of Wight business. The relationship between the two companies was never relinquished through the next 14 years, despite a change of owners.
The late 1980s saw the sale of the Princessa, leaving and the company moving to the redeveloped Ocean Village. Eventually Blue Funnel were provided with a purpose built pontoon giving easy access and prime position in Southampton's new, up and coming waterfront.
More investment in the early 1990s was for the construction of Blue Funnel’s largest passenger boat. Solent and Wight Line Cruises invested in the Wight Scene first, with the Ocean Scene scheduled to follow shortly after. Financial problems with the shipyard saw Solent and Wight Line Cruises barely scrape through a harsh financial period, with many weeks spent in Wales continuing the new boat construction in a closed yard. Wight Scene was eventually completed in East Cowes (IOW) in July 1992. Even harder times though fell on Bill Hogg and Blue Funnel Cruises. The construction of Ocean Scene was also not to plan and the continuing financial problems of the shipyard pulled Blue Funnel Cruises down to administrative receivership. This was also combined with the very sad loss of Mrs Carol Hogg.
Late in 1993 Blue Funnel was taken from the receivers by Peter Caines, a former dredger company owner and successful businessman. Blue Funnel was revived initially with just the Leisure Scene. Ocean Scene was recovered from both the receivers and the shipyard and bought to Ocean Village for finishing. She was introduced to service in mid 1994.
By early 1995 the older Solent Scene was becoming increasingly idol as the Wight Scene maintained the major travel trade from Ryde Pier. The Hythe Ferry route was tendered for using the Solent Scene over the Christmas Period of 1994/5 but was unsuccessful. Spring 1995 saw the Solent Scene leave the Solent for a new port in Poole, when Blue Funnel Cruises (Poole) Ltd was born. The largest ship in Poole, the Solent Scene specialised in evening and corporate charters as well as the day trips from Poole Quay. The company was run by the son of Mark Rayment, owner of Solent and Wight Line Cruises, Lee Rayment who had emigrated from the Isle of Wight in 1993 for further education. Summer 1997 saw the Poole Scene (ex Hythe Hotspur and Southsea Queen 1973) also running from Poole Quay. In early 1998 the Solent Scene, and the Pool business were sold. The Poole Scene returned to Southampton to back up the Ocean and Leisure Scene until her sale in early 1999.
Blue Funnel Cruises purchased the 1979 built Jenny Ann from Solent Cruises in 1994 to operate harbour tours around Southampton Docks. She was sold around 1997.
Blue Funnel Cruises continued to thrive under the reigns of Peter Caines, although Peter’s health was not and a heart attack in 1999 slowed him down, albeit only for a few months. The Jenny R appeared in Southampton in 1999, and unbeknown to many was a provisional deposit for the purchase of Blue Funnel Cruises by Solent and Wight Line Cruises. This deal went through in early 2000. Peter remained on the scene aiding in the operation of Blue Funnel until a fatal heart attack in September 2001. Peter is and always will be sadly missed…
Lee Rayment continued to run Blue Funnel Cruises since his placement as Marine Superintendent in 1999, and Director in 2000. April 2002, after an approach by two entrepreneurial Thames Watermen, saw the sale of the Leisure Scene. A new vessel was soon ordered, and this time designed for the smaller groups, but with a slightly higher speed for longer range cruises. Other boats in the fleet were all studied to optimise the pros and reduce the cons.
June 29th 2004 launched the Ashleigh R, built by Aveco Ltd of Teeside, with her first job two days later tendering an American Aircraft carrier for 7 days, 20 hours per day.
The Jenny R had been assigned to the MOD awarded Marchwood Liberty Boat until the end of 2005. 2007 saw the Jenny R move to Bucklers Hard, and operate on the service formerly provided by the Swiftsure from April to November.