PLYM II is a very impressive state of the art vessel despite the fact that she relies on chain propulsion.
She is not unlike the conventionally propelled river ferries which operate on the River Shannon. It was said at the time the contracts were placed that the design had been based on the Shannon vessels. Unfortunately though these ferries were not built at the same yard. The Shannon vessels had been built by Appledore of North Devon.
Though the local company, Appledore, bid for the construction contract they were beaten by Ferguson of Port Glasgow despite being the local ship builder. At the time this caused quite an uproar in Devon and Cornwall.
The failure to secure the Torpoint Contract was one of the final nails in the coffin of the Appledore yard which ultimately let to the yards demise under its previous owners.
PLYM II along with sister vessels LYNHER II and TAMAR II are the first chain ferries to be constructed by the Scottish yard of Ferguson. Though they are no strangers to the conventional short haul ferry scene.
PLYM II is quite different to her predecessor PLYM which was built ferries built by Charles Hill and Company of Bristol to a slightly enhanced design over the Thornycroft twins LYNHER and TAMAR which still remain in service.
PLYM II offers a significantly larger and uncluttered, the vehicle deck. Passenger accommodation is located only on one side (up river starboard side - the bows of the vessels appear to be at the Torpoint end).
The previous ferries had passenger accommodation on both sides and with prom decks above.
The "bridge" is located above the passenger prom deck. The area below the is a shelter area with blue, plastic flip up seats. Large windows offer good up river views from this area. On each side of the shelter area are the open promenade decks. Seating here is of the traditional ferry "float free" wooden design on top of moulded buoyancy tanks
Stairways down to the main deck are protected by vestibules, these are boxy compared to the rounded stair well covers on the previous ferries.
The lower deck passenger saloons are furnished with blue plastic seats. There are two saloons fore and aft of central area which accommodates a toilet and vending machines. Unfortunately when I travelled there were a large number of passengers on board, therefore, it was felt in appropriate to start taking flash photos in this area!
The saloons are well insulated and appeared popular with passengers as most commuter passengers appeared to remain within. Large windows provide for excellent views up river in the direction of the Devonport Dock yard - North Yard.
The vehicle ramps are quite substantial compared to the previous ferries, they raise much higher too, therefore precluding a forward view. However, if you are lucky enough to be directed to the car spaces close to the ramps you do still get a side view. The wider vehicles lanes facilitate easier access from vehicles therefore its is no problem getting out to secure a better view for the 7 minute crossing.
Operation of ramps appears to be performed by deck crews from control boxes located at each end of the vessel.
The down river port side of the vessel's vehicle deck has a sheltered overhang which covers the first lane. This lane appears to be mainly used for motor cycles and bikes. I am sure bikers must like this new arrangement. There are numerous windows down this side allowing a view down river.
Though PLYM II appears to have had a few initial teething problems these vessels are certainly interesting constructions and are of considerable interest to ferry enthusiasts. What should also please enthusiasts is that these new vessels whilst retaining chain propulsion are classed as Passenger and Freight ro/ro ferries and carry IMO numbers and appear in shipping registers. Unlike the previous "floating bridge" recognition of their predecessors.
The Torpoint Ferry service across the Tamar in terms of volume of use really should be more famous than the Mersey Ferries. Crossing distances and times are comparable. Only problem is no one has yet wrtten a pop song about them to raise their profile in the public concience.
John H. Luxton
15 February 2005