The news that the LADY OF MANN will not re-enter service this winter comes as no surprise. Despite appearing in the printed timetables the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has gradually been conditioning the public to expect her withdrawal sooner rather than later - as there appears to have been a number of references in recent press releases referring to her age!
Ships, as with most mechanical things don't go on for ever, but obviously there is life in the old girl yet. If there wasn't SAOS Ferries would not be in the process of buying her.
The IoMSPCo obviously needs to move forward, but one really must question the logic of replacing the LADY OF MANN on late autumn and winter sailings with SUPERSEACAT TWO.
The LADY OF MANN had the capability of sailing in almost any conditions that the Irish Sea could throw at her. Many people will have fond memories of exciting voyages during the winter months when Neptune decided to stir things up.
The suitability of SUPERSEACAT TWO to operate on the Irish Sea during the winter must be called into question given her ability to operate in seas of up to only 3 metres significant wave height.
If the Steam Packet had wished to go for the high speed option during the winter months it would have been much better to have employed a suitable vessel. All fast ferries have limitations, though some have a better track record of providing winter services than others. In the early days of Sea Containers' Stranraer - Belfast service a 74m Incat successfully maintained the route for much of the winter.
Perhaps not ideal the 74m Incat SEACAT ISLE OF MAN, currently on charter to Irish Sea Express as SEA EXPRESS 1, would have proved a more suitable given her higher wave height operating limit of 3.5m.
It is interesting to recall that in April, during a Radio Merseyside interview a spokesman for Irish Sea Express clearly stated that that SEA EXPRESS 1 was much more suited to running on the Irish Sea during the winter months given her higher wave high limit compared to SUPERSEACAT TWO! It was for that reason ISE had the intention of running SEA EXPRESS 1 (ex SEACAT ISLE OF MAN) on the Dublin route during November and December. A time of year when SUPERSEACAT TWO usually retired to winter hibernation!
Earlier this year there was much speculation that the Steam Packet would acquire another Incat vessel. Incat 046 THE LYNX formerly of Interisland Line, New Zealand being strongly tipped to enter the fleet. However, the new ship failed to appear due "to uncertainty within the local airline sector". As the Isle of Man Government at the time was believed to have been in talks with budget airline easyJet the packet didn't consider it appropriate to invest in a new vessel.
Despite failing to secure a more suitable fast ferry the Steam Packet has pressed ahead with disposal of the LADY OF MANN rather than putting her replacement on hold.
In addition to providing the unsuitable SUPERSEACAT TWO the company has revised the winter schedules - much to the disadvantage of passengers:
The revised times are as follows:
Douglas Depart: 08:00 Friday and Saturday - 15:30 Sundays
Liverpool Depart 12:00 Friday and 19:00 Saturday and Sunday
The Friday timings are completely unsuited for anyone wishing to visit the Isle of Man during the Autumn / Winter for the weekend. Be it an islander wishing to return from a week of work or studies in the UK or for weekend break tourists to visit the island. The company has failed to realise that the majority of people cannot travel from Liverpool at 12:00 on a Friday - as they will probably be still at work. This is where the previously advertised Liverpool departure time of 19:00 was much more passenger friendly.
Having travelled on the 19:00 Friday sailing of the Lady of Mann, many times over the past few years I note that it has always been well loaded. One wonders just how many of the passengers who travelled at 19:00 will be able to travel at 12:00? I know that I will not be able to do so.
Therefore, not only has the Packet lost my custom but so has the hotel where I always stay. At a quiet time of year driving potential visitors to the island away is not a good idea. This is a point that the Isle of Man Department of Tourism should realise and be questioning the Steam Packet about.
Flying isn't an option for those who want to bring a car and / or prefer the convenience of travelling directly to Douglas by sea. The air option via Ronaldsway is hardly convenient.
Of course it is quite obvious why the Friday sailings have been rescheduled.
The Friday timings allow for the easy transfer of passengers to the BEN-MY-CHREE 08:45 ex Douglas and 14:15 ex Heysham sailings should the Liverpool sailings be cancelled due to adverse conditions. The need to make this change clearly shows the lack of confidence that the company has in being able to predict the weather over the next few months! At least on Fridays, should bad weather blow up, they will be able to divert to the BEN-MY-CHREE.
As for the Saturday and Sunday evening departures from Liverpool given bad weather there will be many unhappy passengers being bussed or told to drive up to Heysham for the 02:15 sailing who will eventually arrive the following morning almost eight hours late and somewhat weary after their experience!
It should be further noted that despite reliance on the BEN-MY-CHREE for back up, her scheduled maintenance days appear to remain unchanged in the new timetable. Travellers from the Isle of Man should beware of relying on the return sailings from Liverpool on Saturdays 8 October, 12 November and 3 December, as there is no 02:15 Heysham back-up.
Also falling victim to the schedule shake up are the previously advertised pre Christmas long day excursions to Liverpool from Douglas on Sunday November 27 and December 4 which prove popular with island residents for a spot of extra shopping either on Merseyside or further a field at Cheshire Oaks or the Trafford Centre.
Another disappointment this winter is that the December sailings to Dublin will not offer time ashore day trips as was originally advertised for the LADY OF MANN this year and which also operated last year. SUPERSEACAT TWO will operate these sailings but will return to the Island immediately. Surely there was some scope in allowing a couple of day trips to Dublin during a time of year when a different shopping venue to Liverpool may have proved attractive?
It remains to be seen if the weather proves to be kind or not, but in reality, the Steam Packet management should not be playing "Russian Roulette" with peoples' travel plans during the autumn and winter by deploying SUPERSEACAT TWO.
The LADY OF MANN should have been retained until a more suitable vessel had been acquired be it either a large Incat with a higher wave height operating limit or a fast conventional vessel.
Comment on this matter should are welcome - please post messages to the Irish Sea Ships Yahoo Group:
John H. Luxton
September 18, 2005