08.55 Holyhead - Dun Laoghaire - Captain Bailey
16.05 Dun Laoghaire - Holyhead - Captain Roberts
My first trip in the Stena HSS service between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire last August did not go according to plan. The HSS STENA EXPLORER was experiencing engine problems, the ship was operating as a SSS [Slow Speed Ship] and the timetable fell further and further behind. This combined with the capacity crowds resulted in the 16.05 departure from Dun Laoghaire not getting away until nearer 21.00!
However, this Wednesday, I took another trip. I arrived at Holyhead early to make sure of a parking place near the terminal rather than the remote car park in the old cement works. This time everything went much more smoothly. HSS STENA EXPLORER has gone back to Finnyards, Rauma for her first annual overhaul. As a result the HSS STENA VOYAGER that normally operates between Stranraer and Belfast was operating on the route. This is the second of the HSS 1500 series to be commissioned. The next vessel will be HSS Stena Discovery which will operate on the Hoek of Holland service.
Departure from Holyhead was slightly late at 09.02. The ship did not appear to suffer from quite the same vibration caused by the bow thrusters that was apparent when I took my trip on HSS STENA EXPLORER last August. I'd made my way to the Globetrotter Restaurant, situated on a higher level towards the bow of the vessel. As on my trip last year a generous, full breakfast with ample supplies of toast, and coffee were served at a fairly leisurely pace. After breakfast there was time to change some money at the Bureau de Change and then go out on deck. Yes! You can now go outside on the HSS. The port rear balcony has had its rails extended to about 6 feet in height. It was always the intention in the publicity that passengers [Stena like to call then Guests!] would be able to go outside. However, the relatively low rails of the original design could easily have proved a danger to adventurous children and foolish adults!
One slight disadvantage for those who like their fresh air when on board ship is that the balcony is the only place where passengers are allowed to smoke. It thus gets rather crowded with smokers and the deck littered with cigarette ends. I hope Stena get round to opening the starboard balcony to reduce the overcrowding and perhaps make one of them non-smoking?
It is an amazing sight to look down on the steerable water jet nozzles pumping out thousands of gallons of water. If SeaCats look impressive the HSS is even more so! What did appear slightly odd was the almost stretched "S" shaped twin wakes. Unlike SeaCats and other vessels I have travelled on STENA VOYAGER did appear to be zigzagging and this was confirmed by the visible movement of the jet nozzles. It could also be felt from time to time, for although the sea- state was smooth, from time to time there was a sideways movement more consistent with changes in direction at speed.
Out on the open deck things are quite noisy. The low streamlined port stack with its twin exhausts from two gas turbines is adjacent. Soon though, a deckhand was ushering people inside as the ship was well inside Dublin Bay and approaching Dun Laoghaire.
On entering the harbour with a long blast on the horn the HSS STENA VOYAGER quickly turned itself and backed on to the linkspan. The vessel locked on to the span [The usual docking ritual involving ropes does not occur with an HSS!] at 10.54. 112 minutes after leaving Holyhead. Thirteen minutes behind the advertised 99 minute crossing time and 20 minutes late against the scheduled time.
I thought that by the time I returned to Dun Laoghaire Terminal in the afternoon, that the delays would multiply and the ship would be about an hour late. But how wrong could I be! I returned to the terminal for 15.30 and checked in. On entering the departure lounge the HSS could be seen entering the harbour a little behind schedule but not much.
I was on board by 15.50 and by 16.07 [scheduled time 16.05] the ship was moving off the linkspan. The crossing back took 112 minutes again. The first officer stating on the pa that a speed of 40 knots had been maintained for most of the crossing. Arrival at Holyhead was at 17.59 - again 13 minutes behind the scheduled 99 minutes crossing time.
I made my way back to the car and drove down the fish quay at Holyhead to watch the HSS STENA VOYAGER go out again. Promptly at 18.25 and on time, the ship moved off the span. One thing is certain, the turnarounds have become very slick compared to what I experiences last year on the HSS STENA EXPLORER.
If you have not taken a trip on the HSS your certainly should. Stena have a range of attractively priced day trips, one of which is available on certain days of the week and includes a coach trip to BALLYKISANGEL or should I say Avoca. Plus evening non-landing cruise fares of around £12.00.