Sunday May 02, 1999
Heysham - Douglas
Despite the fact that Heysham is an 80 minute dash up the M58/M6 from Liverpool I have discovered that this is a small inconvenience to the benefits of spending several hours aboard the superb BEN-MY-CHREE. Whilst I always held the late KING ORRY in great esteem, several months would elapse before I would bother driving up to Heysham again for another trip. The BEN-MY-CHREE on the other hand can become quite addictive. [I am already trying to see if I can squeeze another trip in before the TT rush starts!]
Arriving at Heysham shortly after 12.15 SEACAT DANMARK could be seen still occupying the #1 Linkspan for her sailing to Belfast. The BEN-MY-CHREE was already in the harbour waiting on the north quay for the SEACAT DANMARK to clear.
Making my way into the car park I found it almost full, obviously quite a few people taking the opportunity to visit Isle of Man or Ireland for the May holiday weekend. By the time I had found a space and sorted some camera gear out the BEN-MY-CHREE was already on the berth and drivers could be heard being summoned to their vehicles over the PA.
Boarding of foot passengers began before at around 13.20. Being high tide boarding of the BEN took place from the lowest passenger door. There were only two passengers in front of me, obviously unfamiliar with the BEN - they paused at the top of the first flight of steps looking rather bewildered perhaps looking for the passenger accommodation. They moved off as they realised I wasn't slowing down but as they climbed the stairs to the next level again they paused still looking bewildered. This time I passed them by. I guess many passengers don't realise just how big the BEN-MY-CHREE is and expect to be able to find seats soon after just walking on board as was possible on the KING ORRY.
Entering the Blue Riband Lounge I disturbed two members of crew who had been sitting in there. "Are they letting passengers on already?" the stewardess asked. "Now you know where we come and hide!" she added before departing with her colleague.
Surveying the harbour the only vessels in front were the port dredger OGWEN and the Belfast Freight Ferries SPHEROID, this vessel being berthed near the power station. Wandering to the open deck at the rear another of Belfast Freight Ferries vessels SAGA MOON could be seen at #3 berth several members of her crew suspended over the side on planks painting her white upper works. Meanwhile on the #2 linkspan berth could be seen Seatruck Ferries RIVERDANCE.
Whilst departure from Heysham is scheduled for 14.15 departure was delayed due to the crew carrying out routine checks on the lifeboats. Ropes were finally let go at around 14.38 and the BEN nosed out into Morecambe Bay with 144 passengers on board. Unlike my previous trip two weeks ago visibility was only moderate. The sunlight poked its way though the mist shimmering on the water. The sea state was smooth to slight.
The Wyre Light marking the entrance to the Wyre Channel leading to Fleetwood was passed at 15.00 whilst a few minutes later rig support vessel NORTHERN MARINER passed in bound for Heysham. Passing the Lune Buoy at 15.17 the EUROPEAN SEAFARER could be seen looming through the mist on her inbound sailing from Larne to Fleetwood. Her vehicles decks being well loaded.
Nothing of note was seen until 16.04 when two fishing boats could be seen to port, one of which was in the process of hauling in its nets.
At 17.38 clearance was obtained from Douglas control to enter Douglas Harbour, the coastline of Douglas Bay, just becoming apparent through the mist. The BEN-MY-CHREE gliding through the harbour entrance and on to her berth at 17.55 with the vessel all secure at 18.00 actually on schedule, despite the maintenance delay the BEN demonstrated her ability to make the crossing quite efficiently and inside the advertised 3 hour 45 minute crossing time.
Douglas appeared to be basing in the sunshine as the area over the town appeared quite free from mist. Passing along the Isle of Man Department of Transport's overhead walkway it was noted that despite the windows being opened, the elevated section was very warm, warmer than on my previous visit. As I noted then the whole elevated structure would make an excellent greenhouse. However, I dread to think what it would be like in there on a hot summer's day!
I think the walkway structure is rather good and offers an excellent view of the harbour, however I wonder if it was necessary to use quite so much glass, particularly in the roof? Perhaps some air-conditioning is required?
There was enough time to take a stroll along the promenade. There weather station display in the I.R.I.S. building near the Bottleneck Car Park indicating there had just been 2.1 hours of sunshine so far.
Returning to the terminal at around 19.00 the check in had already commenced and the departure lounge was filling up. There appeared to be a lot of youngsters returning from a sporting event. By the time boarding commenced a few minutes later the terminal was quite busy, though with SEACAT DANMARK due to sail to Belfast later in the evening it was apparent that not all the passengers would be boarding the BEN-MY-CHREE.
02 May 1999
Douglas - Heysham
With a long blast on her whistle the BEN-MY-CHREE departed from Douglas at 19.42 with 155 passengers on board. Passengers were notified of a 23.15 arrival in Heysham though the TR to Liverpool Coastguard reported an ETA of 23.00.
As the BEN-MY-CHREE moved off SEACAT DANMARK requested clearance to enter from Port Control once the BEN had cleared. She could be seen lurking through the mist off Onchan head. Little more was to be seen until the gas fields were passed, the mist varying in thickness. Passing Lune Buoy at 22.15 the mist over Blackpool could be seen to be glowing orange from the street lights. As the BEN-MY-CHREE became closer to the coast the cloud thinned out and the lights on the shore became clearly defined.
The stewardess came round to close the blinds on the Blue Riband Lounge's panoramic windows at around 22.00. However, it was the same lady who had been on a couple weeks ago and recalling that I preferred sitting in the dark went off to close the Panorama Lounge blinds.
P&O's EUROPEAN SEAFARER making her was out from Fleetwood made her TR to Liverpool Coastguard reporting an arrival time at Larne of 06.00, she had 18 passengers on board. Passing the BEN-MY-CHREE at 22.20 she was followed closely by a Belfast Freight Ferries ship presumed to be MERLE.
On the final approach to Heysham Seatruck's RIVERDANCE passed westbound for Warrenpoint. On entering Heysham harbour, SPHEROID remained at the power station berth, whilst SAGA MOON remained on #3 berth. The BEN quickly swung around and moved astern onto #1 berth. Ropes were on at 23.00 and she was made fast by 23.03.
During the voyage I left the Blue Riband Lounge for a while and took a wander around. Given the large number of youngsters on board one would have imagined the Rendezvous Lounge to be quite lively, however, things were "busy" but not unpleasant. It was also interesting to note that most passengers were preferring to sit at the tables rather than the high back seats in the Panorama or side lounges. In fact only two seats in the side lounge were actually occupied! I found this particularly interesting given the complaints concerning the lack of high back seats when the vessel first entered service.
Once again, another enjoyable trip on the BEN-MY-CHREE came to an end all too quickly!