I arrived down at the Sea Terminal at around 07.30 to find quite a few people in the ticket office. There appeared to be extra staff on duty and check-in was quite speedy. Whilst boarding of vehicles was already underway, foot passengers had to wait until around 07.45. Passengers now being directed through the old terminal building on the landing stage and through a [non-operative - as yet metal detector - in the passage way]. However, no x-ray machine was noted so I dare say everyone will have to pass through the machine will have to be hand searched if the alarm is activated. On the Isle of Man at the Douglas Terminal, once one is familiar with the security arrangements, its easy to hand in all bags containing metal objects - cameras, binoculars etc and allow them to go through the x-ray machine and therefore avoid the inconvenience of being searched! Obviously delays could build up in Liverpool if everyone needs to be hand searched.
Luggage was brought aboard the LADY by what looked like a former army Land Rover. The luggage train and trailers, used on the SEACAT and also on the special one off Liverpool to Dublin sailing some weeks ago was not used.
The Lady departed from Liverpool at 08.34 with 324 passengers, 74 cars and 2 vans. Crew compliment was 62. On board entertainment was provided as it was on last autumn's Fleetwood to Dublin and Douglas trips with a musician, [Why is it becoming so difficult these days to get away from "Live Music"? - The steady beat of the LADY's Crossley Peilstick diesels is the best beat on board!] children's entertainer and also casino facilities in the Triskale Bar. This is in addition to the usual onboard games room and also the Cinema. This year, unlike last season, a charge of 2.00UKL is being made per movie.
The LADY OF MANN has certainly been given a good make over during her refit this year. During 1996, when it looked like her final season, minimum maintenance had been undertaken. The dining saloon ceiling leaked on the port side - piles of paper towels being used to soak up the excess. The pink-grey upholstery was starting to look tired and grubby. Out has gone the old upholstery, new and more durable looking material has been fitted to seats. The leak as been stopped and she has been properly painted on the exterior - rather than last year's patch up job. Her interior wooden floors remain as well polished as ever. Additionally, low-level emergency lighting has been installed around the ship.
Weather conditions were overcast with occasional very light drizzle, visibility only being moderate.
As we proceeded down the channel at 09.20 a large launch with funnel, the LIZZIE LEE, was passed near the Formby light float. This vessel which appeared to have four passengers on board was making heavy weather of the slight swell. SEACAT ISLE OF MAN passed on the port side at around 09.23 on her inbound 07.30 journey from Douglas to Liverpool.
After the first hour the clouds appeared to rise significantly and whilst it would remain mainly cloudy for much of the day, visibility improved significantly.
The Bar light was passed at 09.29. At around 10.20 the ship was some miles off Llandudno. At around 11.37 the South Stack [Anglesey] light was visible on the port side. To starboard, the outline of the Isle of Man was clearly visible.
At 12.16 an unidentified Merchant Ferries vessel was passed on the starboard side on her Dublin - Heysham run. At 13.05 the P&O ro/ro freight ferry IBEX was visible some miles off the port side on her Dublin to Liverpool run.
The Dublin Bay light was passed at around 14.04. As the LADY entered the bay the yachts of the Dun Laoghaire yachting clubs appeared to be out in profusion. Anchored off Dun Laoghaire were to vessels. The medium sized container ship PANTELIS K [Limmassol] and a larger bulk freighter XANADU. The Howth Head [Baily] Lighthouse was passed on the starboard side.
Speed was reduced at 14.31 and at 14.36 the Dublin Bay Pilot boat 2 - DODDER came alongside the port side to take on board the pilot. As the ship entered between the Liffey breakwaters and approached Dublin Port the Merchant Ferries MERCHANT VENTURE was seen to be starting up engines and was seen to move out once the LADY had passed. Adjacent to the Merchant Ferries berth the Coastal Container Lines PELIWORM loaded containers. On the south bank of the Liffey adjacent to the prominent Dublin Power Station was Dublin Port dredger SIR JOSEPH BAZZELGETT. Also noted loading containers was the PHILIP. The KERSTEN, another container vessel moved off shortly after the LADY OF MANN berthed.
The LADY had her ropes ashore at 14.54, with the gangway in place at 15.01. Passengers then disembarked through the Irish Ferries terminal which is being rebuilt. Those who were making their way into Dublin were directed to a Bus Éireann coach waiting opposite the arrivals hall. Passengers on the day trip - would guess there was about 30 - made their way into the temporary adjacent terminal building. It was obvious that some of the trippers had not been to Ireland before. As a few tried in vain to "phone home" on the pay phones - no Irish coins and when the security officer suggested inserting British 50p coins [same size as Irish 50p coins] they then discovered simply dialling 0151 - didn't work!
It was announced that boarding would commence at 16.00. However, the security guard had other ideas and started waving people through the temporary covered walkway back to the ship at around 15.45. "Who let them on board?" a IoMSPCo crewman was heard to say. As a result there was nobody on the gangway to collect the boarding passes. I handed mine to a surprised deck-hand. Though there followed appeals for those who had not handed in their boarding passes to give them in at the Information Bureau.
Meanwhile, the PANTELIS K, which had been seen at anchor off Dun Laoghaire was entering the port with the help of two tugs, the CLUAIN TARBH at the bow and the new DEILGINIS at the stern.
It was apparent that few passengers and vehicles would be on this sailing. The luggage Land Rover was aboard at around 16.15, with the vehicle gangway being withdrawn shortly afterwards. Loadings were 122 passengers, 27 cars and 62 crew.
Ropes were off at 16.24, and having radioed to Dublin Port that no pilot was being carried the LADY moved promptly off the berth. Howth lighthouse was passed 16.50. As we moved out into Dublin Bay, the HSS STENA EXPLORER was seen to be powering up. She moved slowly out of the harbour and for some distance the two vessels appeared to be moving side by side, until the STENA EXPLORER was opened up and quickly left the LADY OF MANN far behind.
The LADY appeared to be taking a much more northerly course on the return journey. What looked like the BUFFALO was passed on the port side at around 17.20. On the starboard side and some miles to the south the new ISLE OF INISHMORE was seen at around 17.36 on her afternoon Holyhead to Dublin sailing. Some way behind was what appeared to be the STENA CHALLENGER.
At around 18.04 one of James Fisher's new tankers - though I couldn't quite see the name - passed across out bows heading south. Looking at her configuration she appeared to be the FORTH FISHER, which had been in Cammell Laird's recently.
Taking a more northerly route on the return it was possible just to make out the Mountains of Mourne to the north west, and very visible to the north was the Isle of Man thanks to a break in the cloud in this direction. It was possible just to make out the lighthouse at the tip of the Calf of Man without binoculars.
To the south at around 18.57 South Stack light was passed quite some distance to the south. The LADY passed off Great Orme's head Llandudno at around 20.40. Some ten minutes later the ACL ATLANTIC COMPASS passed outbound from Liverpool. At 21.09 CELTIC TERRIER was passed also outbound from Liverpool. Several other vessels were noted moving out from the Mersey, but none were close enough to be identified.
The Bar light was passed at 21.45 and at 21.56 as the LADY entered the channel the soon to be replaced NORSE MERSEY was passed on her Liverpool to Belfast sailing. Fortunately there was just enough light to capture this nocturnal ship on camera actually in the move!
Ropes were on Princes Landing Stage at 22.49 and disembarkation was underway at 22.55.
All in all it was a very enjoyable day with plenty to see. A small grumble point was the closure without apparent notice of the Duty Free shop on the return journey. I made my way down to the shop at around 21.00 to find it already closed. Whilst I accept it was a very quiet sailing an announcement would have been welcomed. As a result I returned without any duty free! Then again there might have been an announcement and I didn't hear it. Apart from venturing inside for refreshments I spent 90% of my time on board on the stern vehicle ramps from which excellent views all round are possible. There are two PA speakers in this area, however, I noticed that these did not appear to be working when the message announcing our arrival at Liverpool was being made. In the past I have noticed these to be switched off, and on one occasion stuffed with a rag. This is probably due to the proximity to the crew quarters at the stern of the ship!
Well, what of the future of this route? The return loadings must have been very disappointing, the outward-bound loadings far from remarkable. I dare say it will take some time to re-establish this route in people's minds. A 6.5hour trip on the LADY OF MANN might be a shipping enthusiast's dream but is it one shared by "Joe Public" in this day and age of fast travel even if it does mean that drag of a drive to Holyhead is avoided? Perhaps the answer will lie in the use of the SEACAT/SUPER SEACAT. However, this is a lengthy and quite exposed route probably susceptible to adverse weather conditions than the Manx routes which play havoc with fast craft operations.
The choice of Dublin Port as opposed to Dun Laoghaire is also questionable from my point of view. Dublin Port is quite inaccessible for those without their own transport, requiring a bus link through the docks and into the city centre. Dun Laoghaire on the other hand is located on the DART electric train-network giving good, frequent access to Dublin. Dun Laoghaire is also a viable destination in its own right, being an attractive Victorian town. In the hour and a half ashore day-trippers would have time to taken a wander round the shops, visit a local pub etc. With a slightly earlier Liverpool departure and a slightly later Dun Laoghaire departure perhaps 2.5 to 3 hours could be allowed ashore even using the LADY OF MANN. As STENA have pulled out from the Carlisle Pier there is a ready made terminal for Sea Container's services. Dun Laoghaire is much more accessible too.