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Voyage Report: Sea Containers


by John H. Luxton

Liverpool - Douglas - Heysham - Douglas

13 August 1999

When the second edition of the timetable for the Isle of Man routes made its appearance in May, it soon became obvious that a splendid opportunity presented itself for enthusiasts who follow the LADY OF MANN.

Originally she had been timetabled to operate an extra sailing from Douglas to Heysham Fridays to Sunday. However, with edition two most outward positioning voyages from Liverpool and two return sailings from Douglas were now available to passengers. This presented the opportunity on a number of Summer Fridays to sail from Liverpool to Heysham via Douglas and return to Douglas on the LADY OF MANN. The final leg back home being aboard SEACAT ISLE OF MAN. I decided to do the trip on Friday 13th August.

Unfortunately the weather didn't look to promising for the day, but though there was some heavy rain much of it was confined to the period between leaving the LADY OF MANN and boarding SEACAT ISLE OF MAN.

Departure from Liverpool was prompt at 07.00 with a loading of 68 passengers and 40 crew. Captain Bridson was in command.  There were also 10 cars and 3 vans on board. There would have been 4 vans but the last one to turn up happened to be a high sided transit which obviously wouldn't fit.

Passing Brazil buoy of New Brighton at 07.12 the Lady made her way down the channel. Being low water, the LADY OF MANN reduced speed at several locations where there are shallows. At C5 the coastal vessel CHRISTOPHER MEEDER passed in bound, followed by the diminutive sand dredger NORSTAR, she sat very low in the water, obviously well filled with another load for commercial use.

Once clear of the channel the LADY OF MANN passed the Bar light float at 07.58 . SEACAT ISLE OF MAN passed close by inbound for Liverpool on the 07.30 sailing from Douglas at around 08.45.

At this point I took myself off for a breakfast. I am sure that the LADY OF MANN was designed so that the smells of cooking would tempt passengers from the outside deck to have a meal. As usual the LADY's breakfast was tasty. BUT there appears to be some problems with the Scanomat drinks dispensers. Never a fan of tea dispensed from such machines I usually opt for coffee or hot chocolate. Urgh -it was only coloured water! Another grumble, though one I had come across the previous week, concerned complimentary drinks for Blue Riband Club Members.  The LADY OF MANN does not have a business lounge consequently earlier in the year a letter had been circulated to members of the IoMSPCo  stating that on production of a membership card free drinks were available. On my trip the previous week, the crew didn't appear to know anything about it, therefore I didn't bother enquiring again.

[On the subject of business lounges, would it not be possible to partition off part of the deck 4 forward lounge to provide for a small Blue Riband lounge on the LADY OF MANN?]

Cutting across our bows a couple of miles to the north at 09.17 could be seen Cenargo's SAGA MOON bound from Heysham to Belfast. No further vessels were noted before the LADY OF MANN berthed on the outside of Victoria Pier, Douglas at 10.59, one minute ahead of schedule.

As we were berthing IoM Department of Transport Engineers were noted to be dismantling the former KING ORRY's gangway.

After a short break in Douglas and a wander to the shops I was back on board the LADY OF MANN at around 11.30. I noticed the "Kipper Man" selling his wares. Having travelled on the BEN-MY-CHREE this year I had not seen him. Presumably Ben passengers don't like Kippers? Though I noted he does turn up for the LADY and also SEACAT ISLE OF MANN sailings.

The LADY OF MANN got away smartly from Victoria Pier at 11.55 with 139 passengers on the 12.00 sailing to Heysham. Captain Harrison was now in command. A smart passage followed. At 13.35 the vessel called Heysham control with an ETA of 14.30 at Lune Buoy and Heysham at 15.00. Passengers were informed that the Lady was running at 21 knots.

A small coaster was visible a long way off, it possibly could have been Mezeron Line's SILVER RIVER. Once in the Lune Channel, binoculars were pointed towards Heysham to check for the BEN's departure. The BEN-MY-CHREE passed by on 14.15 sailing to Douglas at 14.40, making a splendid sight. This presented me with my first opportunity of a close up shot at sea with the BEN-MY-CHREE travelling at speed. All my other shots have been taken in and around Heysham and Douglas.

Only out of the confines of the harbour and close up at sea can one appreciate the fine lines of the BEN-MY-CHREE. The vessel a certain Manx naval architect, in  evidence to the Select Committee, suggested should be radically changed into something quite squat and horrendous and which would have made the BEN probably the ugliest vessel on the Irish Sea.

By 14.55 the LADY OF MANN was off the "woodwork" the term used by crews to denote the crumbling pier on the south side of the Heysham Harbour entrance.

By 15.05 the Lady had swung round and was securely berthed. With work going on at the #1 berth to provide new berthing fenders the Lady used the former James Fisher Terminal, latterly used by North Lancashire Stevedores, but which has been abandoned for some months following the liquidation of NLS Ltd.

Passengers disembarked via the vehicle gangway and taken by coach a few yards to the terminal building. Now given that the former Fisher Terminal is not in use surely passengers could have been allowed to walk through to the terminal. A number were heard to grumble that it would have been quicker to walk rather than wait for the coach to fill up.

After checking in again it was back on board the coach to be returned to the ship. Departure was at 16.28 with 142 passengers. Liverpool Coastguard was advised that our arrival in Douglas would be 19.30. At 16.38 SeaTrucks's MOONDANCE passed inbound for Heysham from Warrenpoint. No further traffic of note was seen and a fast run to Douglas ensued, the Lady being berthed at Douglas at 19.32. Just about then a tremendous downpour began and there was 3 hour wait until SCIOM departed from Liverpool!

I had planned on taking the horse tram along to Derby Castle and either have a drink at the Terminus Tavern or return back along the promenade for a similar refreshment in the Sefton. However, I decided to sit it out in the terminal and chose to have something to eat at the Italian Restaurant in the terminal - the smell had been getting to me. A very large pizza was served up with chilli and salami and very good value for money. Refreshment facilities at Douglas are the best of any Irish Sea terminal I have used. Spaghetti Junction and Terraza Café Bar appear to do very good business  not just with passengers using the terminal but also with people passing by.

SEACAT ISLE OF MAN was a few minutes late into Douglas but with a quick turnaround I was soon on board. She departed at 22.26 under the command of Captain Quentin Murphy with 293 passengers. Captain Murphy is the only SeaCat skipper I am aware of that likes to appear on the ship's monitors when he does his introductory message of welcome. I noted this last year when he was on SEACAT DANMARK.

After settling down in the Blue Riband lounge and having I drink I fell asleep. Being rather tired after an early start plus the fact that I realised that whilst on board the LADY OF MANN, apart from when I had breakfast and lunch I had stood up all day.

I woke up just as we entered the Queen's Channel.

SEACAT ISLE OF MAN was alongside the Landing Stage at 01.05.

So ended a very enjoyable trip. I would have liked to have repeated the voyage on the 20th August but unfortunately with other odds and ends to do I had to regretfully let the opportunity pass by.


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