Heysham - Douglas; 14.00 sailing
Many Steam Packet enthusiasts regard early June as the time not to sail to the Isle of Man because they regard this time of year as the domain of the bikers. Because of my holidays I always try to get a couple of sailings in and it is pleasing to see how well the Steam Packet copes with the enormous task of transporting thousands of bikers and their machines to and from the island in a short space of time.
I arrived at Heysham in time to drive to the end of the northern breakwater to survey the scene in the harbour. It was ten past twelve and SEACAT DANMARK was at the southern linkspan about to depart for Belfast. In front of her was the Lady of Mann and then the Claymore. As the DANMARK left she passed the Ben-My-Chree entering the harbour to take her place at the linkspan.
I drove back round to the terminal to check in and found that the Lady of Mann sailing was being checked in in the old terminal "sheds" and a coach would drive us the 100 yards to the ship. The Ben-My-Chree sailing was using the modern terminal.
The Steam Packet seemed to have it all under control although there were the usual moaners who seem to winge at whatever the Steam Packet does. It seems almost the fashionable thing to do. "Lets all have a gripe at the Packet" brigade. There are bound to be delays with such huge numbers many of them not speaking English, many not having the right documentation. From what I could make out many German bikers had been let down by their travel agents. But the Steam Packet and their staff were still getting the flak!
Boarding the Lady of Mann was by the car ramp which was lowered into position and removed by a crane. The ramp did not have its own hydraulic lifts. The whole thing looked a little "Heath Robinson" to me but it worked remarkably well!
First officer Bob Ellsmore told me as I boarded there were over 500 bikes and over 600 passengers on board so it was not really surprising that we only got under way at 14.30 holding up the Ben in the process. It was a dull damp misty day and the visibility was poor but at 14.50 the Ben could be seen following us out although soon after Captain Harrison I think decided to make up the time and so the Ben was not seen again until she entered Douglas later.
The Wyre light was passed at 14.58 and at 15.02 the Merchant Brilliant was observed heading for Heysham. The Lune Buoy was passed at 15.14.Because of the mist not much more was observed till16.10 when a few fishing vessels were seen and the out of the mist on the port side the giant gas rig was seen.
At 17.20 the Isle of Man loomed out of the mist we entered the harbour at 17.30 and ropes were on ten minutes later after a passage lasting three hours and ten minutes, a very creditable performance from Captain Harrison and his ship.
The weather had been a let down with two hours of heavy rain on passage but the Lady of Mann has such extensive deck space you can still be outside in the fresh air and keep dry under the ramps. Inside the ship was very crowded and full but the staff were working flat out to keep queues to a minimum and the atmosphere on board seemed happy and good humoured. There were no drunken youths that you often have to suffer on SuperSeaCat Three.
There was not much time to have a wander in Douglas as the return sailing was at 19.00 but the Ben-My-Chree was observed coming in at 17.55.
Douglas to Heysham 19.00 sailing on board Lady of Mann.
Under 50 passengers on the return sailing but the weather had dried up a little and visibility had improved slightly. We left on time. The Claymore was observed on the port side heading for Douglas at 19.40. This was the first time I had seen this ship at sea and she seemed to be taking the sailing in her stride. There was not much to see until 20.05 when a Ramsey Steamship vessel was seen on the port bow. By the time I saw her identification was not possible but they are all Ben something or other aren't they?
At 20.05 the gas rigs were in view and at 21.12 the Merchant Brilliant was again observed out of Heysham. At 21.30 the lights of the Fylde coast were observed. Before this at 21.10 a ship had been sighted ahead on the starboard bow obviously heading for Heysham. It was the River Lune of Belfast Freight Ferries but by 21.50 we had passed her.
Before this at 21.38 the MOONDANCE of Seatruck Ferries had been observed heading to Dublin or Belfast--not sure which! At 21.45 the Wyre light was passed and at 2.00 the engines of the Lady were slowed down in readiness to enter Heysham which we did at 22.05. As we entered the DANMARK was leaving again on her way to Belfast. There did not seem many on board. The Merle was at the middle linkspan. Ropes were on at 22.15.
A very enjoyable couple of sails indeed. In conversation with Bob Ellsmore as we were entering Heysham he was saying that since she was dry-docked the Lady of Mann has been performing better than ever. Her hull cleaning and repainting plus repairs to her steering apparatus has meant a distinct improvement to her speed and efficiency and he did say we touched twenty one and a half Knots when passing the River Lune. The Captain was determined she would not get into Heysham first and hold up the ship; after all over 600 more passengers were waiting to board for the 02.00 sailing back!