I realised that Saturday 9 May would probably present itself as my last opportunity to take an overnight sailing from Liverpool on the KING ORRY to Douglas before the introduction of the BEN-MY-CHREE. Though there is at least one more departure work would have prevented me taking that sailing.
My original plan was to get a day return sailing out bound on the 01.00 and returning from Douglas at 08.30 making a point of getting some sleep before embarking on this expedition. However, things didn't quite work out as planned! When I went to book the trip I was offered it free of charge and I was also offered an A deck [now deck 7] cabin courtesy of the company "as I travel with them so much!" This caused a change in plans, I didn't bother having a sleep before setting off and hence I did not fully observe other ships passing in the night!
When I arrived at the Sea Terminal at around 23.50 the KING ORRY was just discharging passengers. At this late hour there were not many people in the departure lounge though it was noted a number of large fans have been acquired since I was last in there. Due to security concerns the push out windows in the terminal have been sealed! This will undoubtedly make the portakabin structure very hot in warm weather. It was often unbearable in such conditions when the windows did open!
Boarding commenced at 23.35. I made my way to the information bureau to collect my cabin key. Climbing the stairs to deck 7 I found my cabin 7.1 at the top of the stairs. I have done another journey in a KING ORRY cabin a couple of years ago. The cabin area behind the funnel is of much more recent construction than the rest of the ship - dating from the ship's rebuild on entering service with the IoMSPCo in 1990.
The KING ORRY's cabins are quite comfortable there are two beds with two fold up bunks above. These are folded out of the way when the cabin is booked for one or two occupants. Each bed and the two fold away bunks have reading lamps.
Between the two beds is a small desk on which is a courtesy tray well endowed with tea and coffee and a couple of bottles of mineral water.
On the life jacket cupboard at the foot of one of the beds is a small TV. Behind that is an area for hanging clothes. Opposite is the toilet/bathroom. Which comprises a WC, hand basin and shower in quite a small area not much bigger than just a toilet cubical. When one uses the shower the water mages to drain away quite quickly and effectively leaving the floor dry.
The KING ORRY left the stage on time at 01.00 with 47 cars, 2 motor cycles and 152 passengers. I settled down and soon fell asleep despite the KING'S vibrations. I became vaguely aware of a distant fog signal, which I am certain is that fitted to the Bar light. There was some comms traffic between the KING ORRY and the dredger WD SEVERN that has been working in the Mersey. I drifted off to sleep again and woke at about 04.50. At around 05.10 there was a knock on the cabin doors to rouse the passengers. I made myself ready and headed down to the bureau to hand in my key and then take up position on the after part of deck 6 overlooking the stern. Ropes were on at 05.40 and passengers were disembarking by 05.50. Part of the covered walkway leading to the KING ORRY's gangway has now been removed to allow access for the SEACAT's portable gangway.
In many ways the KING'S cabins are too good for such a short journey. One wants' to linger longer. Its a pity that passengers are not allowed to snooze on for an hour or so longer as was often the practice on railway sleeping cars when arriving at a terminal. However, I suppose with ro/ro vehicle ferries there is always the danger of a slumbering driver blocking up the vehicle deck!
As I disembarked, I expected to see some work in progress for the construction of the elevated covered walkway which is due to lead from the Sea Terminal to Edward Pier linkspan berth which is to be used by the new BEN-MY-CHREE. However, apart from what looks like some preparatory works in the covered passageway and the appearance of three contractors' cabins on the Edward Pier there is no sign of any work. At this rate the new ship will arrive before the walkway is completed. Acting as part of barrier to these presumably preparatory works in the existing walkway was a Steam Packet relic - a Dun Laoghaire destination board!
I walked round to the Edward Pier to get ready to photograph the arrival of the PEVERIL, my last chance to see and photograph its arrival. When I have stayed in Douglas I have never managed to motivate myself to get down to the Edward Pier for around 06.00 to see the PEVERIL come in. This was going to be my last chance, as I don't envisage being on the island at that time of morning until after the BEN enters service. Anyway I managed to get some excellent shots of the PEVERIL as she entered the harbour and backed on to the link span. Additional piling is being fitted to the Edward Pier berth for when the BEN-MY-CHREE enters service.
Some "wag" on board advised the crew on the radio to make sure they were all wearing their hats as "there was a photographer on the quay" and they might appear in next week's Isle of Man Courier! I am not sure of the significance of the comment but little did they realise I had heard it!
Unloading commenced immediately that the ship had berthed with the Ro-Ro tugs whizzing up and down the linkspan and withdrawing trailers. These are taken up into the marshalling yard where articulated tractor units were waiting to take them on to their destinations. Several trailers being for Safeway and Marks and Spencer, along with Parcels etc. A couple of foot passengers also left the ship up the link span. The PEVERIL is primarily a freight vessel and is only licensed to carry 12 passengers, usually freight drivers. The speed with which the discharge takes place and the way the operators handle the tug units is quite impressive. However, the ship's umbilical connector on the linkspan did cause some problems as it had become damaged and the vibrations of the trucks caused an alarm to sound until one of the Port Services Police fixed it with some tape. I saw the last truck come off at 08.15 when the upper deck, reached by an on-board vehicle lift was finally vacated.
Departure from Douglas was prompt at 08.30 with a good load of 485 passengers, 114 cars, 3 motorcycles and 1 motorhome.
It is interesting to note that whilst this healthy load only filled the KING ORRY to just over 50% capacity, it would have represented an almost full load on the new BEN-MY-CHREE which has a capacity of just 500 passengers. The company has tried to justify the smaller passenger capacity by pointing out that the ship will make two sailings per-day between Heysham and Douglas and therefore offer the same or slightly more seating capacity than a mainly single return trip which is operated most days by the KING ORRY. However, one guesses that the early morning departure from Heysham will not prove that popular with the travelling public, especially those who have to reach the port using public transport. It is also quite obvious that the popular Douglas-Liverpool Saturday day return operated during the non-SeaCat off-season period could also reach capacity quite easy.
One really wonders if the new BEN's capacity may end up having to be enlarged to more realistic 650 passengers. Anyway, time will tell.
As the KING left Douglas harbour, a large tanker anchored just to the north east of Douglas Bay remained at anchor; it had been there when I arrived 3 hours before.
When I last travelled on the KING ORRY in February I found that the patio furniture outside the Veranda Bar had been removed. That has now been replaced, I settled down in one of the twin seats at the stern, probably my most favoured outside deck position on the KING providing the wind is blowing in the right direction. I spent much of the journey here as the weather was fine with just a gentle breeze. The good conditions provided for a haze, which limited visibility a little.
At 08.56 the Douglas registered beam trawler MARIDIA passed close by inbound for Douglas another unidentified trawler was noted heading north bound at 09.23. This looked like one of the Belgian fishing vessels, which are based at Canada Dock, Liverpool. On the horizon a medium sized tanker was noted moving north bound.
Approaching the Bar STOLT KITTEWAKE was passed to port, heading outbound from the Mersey. One of her sisters was at anchor a mile or so north west of the Bar light. Looming out of the haze appeared the NORSE LAGAN, passed just as we entered the channel. In the channel off Formby lightfloat P&O's EUROPEAN SEAFARER passed outbound on the morning sailing to Dublin. Some distance behind was the crane MERSEY MAMMOTH. The MD&HC's floating crane was heading out to sea probably to undertake some contract work. This is the first time I have seen this large crane running under her own power outside the confines of the River Mersey. Arrival at Liverpool Landing Stage was at 12.37. As we approached the stage the bunkering tanker WHITKIRK was waiting in the river to come alongside with bunkers.