Monday 15 February
15.45 Holyhead Dublin
This was to be my first trip on an Irish Ferries vessel during which I could concentrate on the journey rather than supervise a party of school pupils! Irish Ferries had not been my first choice for a couple of days break in Ireland. I had hoped to undertake the journey with Merchant Ferries but unfortunately that was not to be. The company's first service sailing did take place on the 15 February but unfortunately it was freight only. I had considered P&O as an alternative but being in possession of a Kerry Gold butter voucher offering a discount short-break with a car that swung the decision in favour of Irish Ferries.
A few years ago I travelled to Holyhead quite a lot for day trips to Dun Laoghaire on the Stena SeaLynx, with the coming of Sea Containers Liverpool to Dublin service my trips to Holyhead have been confined to the once yearly school Geography/History trip to Ireland.
I arrived at Holyhead around 13.45 and proceeded to the Irish Ferries ticket office to collect my ticket. I was informed that checking in of vehicles would commence at 14.00. Joining the queue at the vehicle check-in there was a few minutes wait until the check-in staff arrived and the gates were opened.
Passing through the check-in I was handed a large envelope containing an IF on board magazine, a set of four complimentary IF "Irish Proverb" postcards one of which depicted the new MV Jonathan Swift. Also included in the pack was a map of the port of Dublin and its immediate environs plus a questionnaire, the same questionnaire which had been sent to me through the post with a couple of discount vouchers a few days previously in response to my completing another IF questionnaire whilst on the school trip in November! I think IF are going questionnaire mad! Perhaps the sudden appearance of all the competition has provoked this attempt at all market research!
With check-in completed I drove round to the IF vehicle marshalling area. The ISLE OF INNISFREE was at the berth. ISLE OF INISHMORE is currently away at Brest being refitted. ISLE OF INNISFREE has moved up from Rosslare Pembroke, NORMANDY is currently operating this route.
Boarding of vehicles commenced at 14.45 and whilst I was not the first in the marshalling queue on board ship I found myself directed to a position close to the deck 5 forward door which would ensure that my Ka would be the second vehicle off.
On boarding I made my way up to deck 7 and proceeded to the Glencar Motorists Club. This large lounge provides a facility, which is supposed to be reserved for motorists.
During boarding a steward is positioned at the door to check the boarding passes for the special endorsement. However, once the ship is underway, apart from a sign which indicates access is reserved for holders of motorist's boarding passes the steward disappears and gradually the lounge appears to fill up with foot passengers! I have noticed this whilst taking the annual school trip too - minibus passengers are given Motorist's Club passes too!
Really I can't see the point of a separate Motorist's Lounge, perhaps Irish Ferries should consider subdividing the area on both ISLE OF INNISFREE and ISLE OF INISHMORE. This could provide a smaller supplemental fare lounge [preferably at the front windows] rather like the Blue Riband Lounge on Sea Container's BEN-MY-CHREE with at seat service and complimentary refreshments.
Anyway, settled in one of the individual chairs close to the front windows and armed with a pint of Guinness I awaited departure.
Unlike Sea Containers, Irish Ferries Captains appear to prefer anonymity when welcoming passengers on board! Anyway departure announcements over, The ISLE OF INNISFREE let go at 15.45 and nosed slowly out into Holyhead Bay with 783 passengers and 93 crew. Passing South Stack at around 16.00 there was little else to see until HSS STENA EXPLORER passed east bound at 16.59. Weather conditions were fine, with sun shining for much of the first half of the journey. Though gathering cloud was to prevent a pleasant sunset. There was a moderate swell running, but only slight motion was noticeable.
At around this time I had a wander round the open decks and then made my way up to the Lady Gregory Restaurant, which is situated on the port side of deck 8. It is separated from Butler's Buttery by a partition.
The tables in the restaurant were attractively laid out. Sitting myself by the window the wait came along with the menu. We are still on the lunch menu he explained. With vegetable soup to start with, I decided to follow his recommendation for the main course of roast Limerick Gammon which was served with a vegetable side salad. For dessert I chose fresh fruit salad. My mother who was accompanying me on this trip decided she would just have ice cream. The waiter asked if I'd like some ice cream too. Well don't refuse a good offer! Service was prompt and friendly and the food very good. The cost, well that was the amazing thing about it. Price for two people including two large pots of tea just IR£19.90! It rather makes some of the single course offerings on board Sea Containers look rather expensive! For an example comparison one of my Sea Co favourites on the SeaCat/SuperSeaCat Irish stew for £5.30.
The Irish Ferries restaurant reminded me of all that was good about British Railways restaurant cars in the late 1970s/early 1980s when I did quite a lot of train travelling good food, on the move.
When the meal had been finished the chief steward said it was OK to stay in restaurant until arrival at Dublin. The ISLE OF INNISFREE passed the Kish light at 18.11. At 18.36 on the approach to Dublin a small unidentified freighter passed outbound followed by Belfast Freight ferries SAGA MOON at 18.37. Poolbeg light was passed at 18.40 and ISLE OF INNISFREE was on berth 49 at 19.00. Fifteen minutes ahead of the Captain's ETA announcement of 19.15. Proceeding down to the car deck I was soon off the ship. Just beyond the bottom of the span some Gardaí suddenly appeared from a minibus for the now routine immigration check.
Driving out of the arrivals area I proceeded round to the car park overlooking the Merchant Ferries berth just in time to see BRAVE MERCHANT arriving on the first service albeit freight only sailing from Liverpool.
During my couple of days in Ireland I took the opportunity to have a look around Arklow Harbour, but as with my last visit in May apart from the harbour dredger, lifeboat and sail training vessel ASGARD II out of the water and dismasted there was little of interest to be seen. A quick visit to Rosslare on 17 February revealed no ships present, though mid afternoon it was the wrong time of day to expect to see any Stena or Irish Ferries activity.
I spent Thursday evening at the Kingston Hotel, Dun Laoghaire. Whilst there I took noted that HSS STENA EXPLORER was running rather behind schedule. She finally berthed at 22.30. She was still behind schedule the following morning.
I arrived at Dublin Port at around 08.15. BRAVE MERCHANT was standing at the Merchant Ferries berth. ISLE OF INNISFREE was still discharging freight trailers. I passed through the vehicle check in and joined the vehicle queue about 08.30 after being handed yet another Irish Ferries questionnaire promising a 10% discount voucher if it was completed.
At 08.55 BRAVE MERCHANT moved astern out into the Liffey. STENA CHALLENGER followed her at 09.05. By 09.15 it was becoming apparent that things were a bit behind schedule as the trailer tugs shuttled backwards and forwards loading up Gwynedd Shipping's Trailers. Car loading commenced around 09.20. As I drove on board across the river SIR JOSEPH BAZALGETTE could be seen running up her engines in preparation for another sludge dumping voyage.
Once again I made my way up to the Glencar Motorists' Lounge. Picking front seat in time to see P&O's EUROPEAN VOYAGER pass by at 09.40 on her morning sailing to Liverpool. Also visible were the container vessels YVETTEE and COASTAL BAY. In the Alexandra Basin could be seen two large car carriers Linea Mexicana's SAN MAROS and the VERMILLION HIGHWAY.
Despite the late loading of cars ISLE OF INNISFREE managed to let go at 09.52 just 7 minutes late. In bound in the channel the JACARANDA was passed followed by MERCHANT BRAVERY at 10.11 in bound from Heysham. The pilot launch DODDER made her way to greet the in bound container vessel CERVANTES. Ahead of us could be seen SIR JOSEPH BAZALGETTE, though the gap was closing. We finally left SIR JOSEPH behind whilst passing the KISH light at 10.38.
On the run out of Dublin BRAVE MERCHANT had been faintly visible on the horizon for a while but she soon disappeared. At 11.08 HSS STENA EXPLORER passed to post in bound for Dun Laoghaire still running late!
At this time I thought it was time to wander up to the Lady Gregory Restaurant again for another good value meal. I settled for a repeat performance of the roast Limerick Gammon. My mother thought she would try something 'lighter' for the main course and ordered the "Ploughman's Platter". This arrived with the same generous helping of roast Limerick Gammon, accompanied by 6 large triangles of cheese plus a varied salad. In fact she ended up with an even larger meal that if she had stuck with what the cooked meal!
Anyway the rest of the voyage was spent in the restaurant. South Stack was passed at 12.45 and ISLE OF INNISFREE was on the berth at 13.19. There was a little delay before the link span was lowered however vehicles were moving off around 13.30.