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Voyage Reports: Sea Containers English Channel

by Charlie Tennant

DOVER - CALAIS and vv - 29th May 1999.

My intention was to travel out by SeaCat and return by Hovercraft and had booked a Day Return in advance.

I arrived at Dover Hoverport at 10.45 in ample time to check in for the 11.30 SeaCat departure to Calais. While checking in I realised that I was being allocated the 12.00 Hovercraft and it was only when I asked was any explanation offered. The SeaCat ATLANTIC II was having technical difficulties and did not make the earlier crossing and was unlikely to sail for the rest of the day. It was made clear that the Hovercraft or the SeaCat Folkestone/Boulogne afternoon crossing (not much use for a day return) were the only alternatives apart from a full refund. The conventional ferry, which would have been my preferred option, was being offered to vehicles but not foot passengers. I aborted check in and went on to the Prince of Wales Pier to see what was happening and found ATLANTIC II in her layover berth adjacent to the SeaCat linkspan but on the opposite side of the pier. She was obviously under maintenance with 2 Burgess Marine Engineers vans were parked alongside.

THE PRINCESS MARGARET departed the Hoverport at 11.38 with the 11.00 crossing and had just cleared the harbour by a few minutes when THE PRINCESS ANNE arrived from Calais.

While on the pier cruise liner NORWEGIAN DREAM was observed berthed at the Cruise Terminal (formerly Western Docks) with another cruise ship ARKONA berthed on the wall of Eastern Docks.

EUROPEAN PATHWAY was at what is normally the Zeebrugge berth of Eastern Docks P&OSL CANTERBURY then SEAFRANCE MANET departed and P&OSL BURGUDY arrived. I returned to the check in to be allocated the 13.00 crossing.


I entered the departure lounge in time to see THE PRINCESS ANNE depart at 12.14 with the 12.00 crossing. Shortly after this RAPIDE arrived from Ostende and berthed at the linkspan. THE PRINCESS MARGARET arrived at 13.18 and eventually departed 44 mins late.

The crossing was fairly wet and rough with visibility reasonably good but hampered by the heavy spray hitting the glass windows. The PA was totally inaudible due to the engine drone, which was constant. We overtook P&OSL KENT and SEAFRANCE CEZANNE both identified by shape and not by name.

Arrival in Calais was at 15.35 CET.


I passed through the non-existent passport control in time to see THE PRINCESS ANNE arrive at 18.46 CET and we departed at 19.08 CET. The conditions were the same as the outward crossing but this time the windows were made of perspex with the result they had been sandblasted over a period of time by the spray which meant visibility was almost nil. If anything the engine drone was more pronounced and the craft generally a bit more dowdy.

Arrival at Dover was at 18.50 BST. Quite funny to arrive earlier than you departed!

Although I first travelled by Hovercraft some 20 or so years ago my impressions are still the same. It is far from the perfect form of travel for the enthusiast who really prefers the conventional ferry but now tolerates fastcraft. I would however agree with 99% of the foot passengers on board that if you want a quick flyer to stock up with duty free booty then it is ideal. What it gains in speed it totally loses in every other aspect.

On arrival I decided to spend an hour on the Prince of Wales pier watching the comings and goings. Here is the log :-

19.02 ATLANTIC II leaves her layover berth and departs the harbour in the direction of Folkestone leaving a trail of acrid black smoke.

P&OSL KENT departs Eastern Docks.

NORWEGIAN DREAM has gone from the Cruise Terminal.

ARKONA was still at ED.

19.24 RAPIDE berths at the Hoverport SeaCat linkspan.


19.36 P&OSL CANTERBURY arrives ED.

                    19.43 SEAFRANCE MANET arrives ED.

                    19.48 P&OSL DOVER departs ED.

19.56 ATLANTIC II returns to her berth minus smoke. Member of crew informs me that after a successful sea trial she will resume service in the morning.

                    20.02 Had enough - time for bed!!!


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