The weather on Saturday morning didn't look too promising, with intermittent showers. However, approaching Lancaster on the M6 the weather appeared to be clearing over the Irish Sea, with sun shining on the snow capped Lake District Mountains. I arrived at Heysham Port shortly before SEACAT DANMARK departed at 12.15 for Belfast. BEN-MY-CHREE was already in the harbour waiting to come on to the berth. Parking up I proceeded to the terminal, checked in and went to the Little Chef Express outlet in the terminal for a snack.
After the BEN-MY-CHREE arrived I noted that disembarkation of vehicles was different to what I have usually experienced at Heysham. Vehicles have usually left the port via the north side entrance. This time they were directed via the vehicle entrance route across the station concourse just outside the Little Chef.
Anyway, boarding the BEN commenced at around 13.30. Foot passenger boarding of the BEN has now been improved following the completion of the new gangway facilities which allow the BEN to use the #1 ramp alongside the terminal as the KING ORRY did.
Climbing the steps to the BR lounge from the lowest shell door is a great aid in improving the physical fitness of passengers! Installing myself in the lounge I perused the panoramic view of the harbour. The quayside of the former Fisher [later NLS terminal] appeared littered with lots of broken palettes. On the north side the port dredger OGMORE was at her berth. The sun was shining and everything looked set for a good crossing. Notices have appeared in the BR Lounge asking passengers not to open the blinds at night for navigational safety reasons.
A stewardess appeared and I decided to try out the Chilli-Con Carne, which arrived quite promptly.
Departure from Heysham was early at 14.08 with 94 passengers and 41 crew. The BEN-MY-CHREE being under the command of Captain Crellin. After a few minutes I joined Dave Worth of Manx Link, Adrian Sweeney and Ted Capstick on the BEN's rear open deck who were also travelling to the Isle of Man. Adrian had enquired as to when the upper open deck would be made available to passengers. Apparently this will happen when fencing has been installed to keep passengers away from the radar equipment. The opening of the upper deck should provide outstanding views and silence critics of the Ben's open deck space. However, the present open deck space is quite sheltered and the bench arrangement is conducive to the meeting of enthusiasts rather like the stern ramps of the Lady, pity though, forward views are not quite so good.
At 14.43 the Belfast Freight Ferries MERLE passed in bound for Heysham. Returning to the Blue Riband Lounge three vessels were visible off Barrow. One was the CORNELIA and all appeared to be sand dredgers. Approaching at speed from the north-west was P&O's EUROPEAN PIONEER heading for Fleetwood. At 15.17 an unidentified SeaTruck Ferries vessel could be seen approaching from the southwest bound for Heysham. The excellent conditions meant that for much of the journey it had been possible to see the profile of the Isle of Man one the horizon and see the Isle grow closer. This being the first time I had travelled in the BR lounge from Heysham to Douglas in daylight, the unrestricted views were really appreciated!
Arrival at Douglas was around 17.30 somehow I managed to forget to write down the arrival time and have had to approximate it. Berthed on the Victoria pier was the Royal Maritime Auxiliary KINTERBURY [A378], a navel armaments vessel.
Disembarking from the BEN-MY-CHREE here was the chance to experience the new Department of Transport walkway that links the Edward Pier with the Sea Terminal. The structure is of mainly glazed construction as it runs along the quay. And would appear to offer very good protection to passengers during bad weather only when actually going onto and passing along the gangway is the passenger exposed to the elements. At the rear end of the Edward Pier section is a set of access doors close to the stern ramp with to provide facilities for SeaCat boarding.
The raised section across the harbour accessed by stairs or lift offers superb harbour views and is again glazed for its entire length, and offers excellent opportunity for photographs. What was noted was how warm it is, opening windows are provided though all remained closed. Given the temperatures on only a moderately mild day guess it would double up as an excellent greenhouse!
On arrival at Douglas I was a little disappointed to find that the horse trams had not started running yet. Making my way along the promenade to the Sefton Hotel for a drink before strolling back to the terminal for the return journey.
Entering the departure lounge it was discovered that much of it was being occupied by Manx Radio which was hosting a charity auction in association with the Lions Club.
The check-in opened for the 19.45 sailing at around 19.00. However, boarding did not commence until around 19.30. Few cars were noted in the marshalling area and even fewer foot passengers in the terminal.
Returning to the lounge again and settling in it was only a few minutes before clearance was granted and the BEN-MY-CHREE let go at 19.47, two minutes late, under the command of Captain Albiston. There were 33 passengers and 32 crew on board.
As we moved towards the harbour entrance a jet-skier approached. A blast on the Ben's whistle sent the jet-skier scurrying across the bay. Comms traffic between the harbour control and the skipper revealed the jet skier would be in for reprimand when he brought his craft ashore, though the captain appeared to be at pains to stress that the jet-skier had not really been any problem and had moved promptly.
Leaving Douglas the Belgian[?] trawler ROSEMARIE could be seen heading for the port. At 20.39 SEACAT ISLE OF MAN could be seen heading for the Island on her evening sailing from Liverpool. As it grew dark I expected someone to come and close the blinds. It was apparent that the blinds in the Panorama Lounge below also remained open. These were closed at around 21.30. A steward appeared in the BR lounge but as the lights were not on, he was happy to leave the blinds open.
It was a pleasure to watch the lights of Lancashire grow closer as we made good progress in excellent conditions back to Heysham. Off Fleetwood a small vessel was seen to go scurrying up the Wyre channel out of the BEN's way whilst at 22.23 SEACAT DANMARK passed west bound at speed heading for Belfast.
Radio comms with Heysham control revealed that there might be a slight delay entering the port as the MERCHANT BRILLIANT had not quite cleared. ETA had been around 23.00 and the BEN had to reduce speed to 10 knots for several minutes until the lights of the MERCHANT BRILLIANT could be seen coming round the South Pier. Berthing in Heysham was around 23.10. and could have been earlier but for the departure of the Merchant Ferries vessel.
All in all two very good voyages with the BEN-MY-CHREE performing impeccably and running a head of schedule. I did note that on looking round the vessel that the high back seating in the Panorama Lounge has rather spoiled it. The seats face forwards in rows towards the windows The lounge now looks rather congested and only those sitting in appropriate seats will get a decent forward view. I hope those that clamoured for this provision are satisfied with the result. I think it spoils the lounge completely.