The morning of 8 April dawned rather grey and damp, rather similar to the weather conditions prevailing on Merseyside when SUPERSEACAT TWO made her maiden voyage on the Liverpool Dublin route in 1998 and when the LADY OF MANN inaugurated the Sea Container's Liverpool to Dublin service in 1997. Today tradition dictated that conditions should be similar for the inauguration of the latest MDV1200 class vessel built by Fincantieri for Sea Containers.
When I arrived at the Pier Head SUPERSEACAT THREE was along side the stage. A workman on a movable platform appeared to be doing some work to the starboard side. The vessel was dressed overall and looked very smart. Her larger funnels certainly create the optical illusion that she is smaller than SSC2.
Boarding commenced at around 07.40. Walking down onto the stage it became apparent that the cat logo on the starboard bow [port side logo has yet to be fitted] was grey presumably this is Jim Sherwood's other cat "Bebop" alluded to in a press release issued by the company last year?
Boarding the vessel and climbing the stairs from the car deck, the first thing that strikes you is the much brighter staircase area, which leads to the bar which is also brighter. The brightness appears to have been created by the use of lighter laminates. The actual entrance from the stairs being in a somewhat different location to that on SUPERSEACAT TWO. The bar itself occupies a central island in the centre of the bar area which is remains located at the stern. This is a much better placement, which provides for a greater, more efficient bar serving area. Unlike SSC2 there is no food servery in the bar area. This has the advantage of separating the heavier and more boisterous drinkers from the other passengers! Passing from the bar one passes the toilet area and enters the main deck passenger saloon.
The stairs are located in the same position in SSCIII. The Information Bureau is to starboard of the stairs and the Thomas Cook Bureau de Change to the port side just as on SSC2. The small Molly Malone sculpture, which used to be located in the bridge viewing area on SSC2, is now by the information bureau.
To the port side aft of the main saloon is the Little Chef Express outlet. To the starboard side aft is another food servery area for staff to collect food for the at sea service. Beneath the aft stairs is another servery area branded Franklin's of Boston. This provides a different style of menu and a wider variety of tea, coffee and similar beverages at a slightly higher price and with a more American feel to that offered by the Little Chef Express.
The forward main staircase descends to the top of the car deck stairs near the duty free shop. The car deck stairs are partitioned in unlike SSC2 and have small metal gates across them whilst at sea.
The Duty Free shop is somewhat larger and is separated into two areas. The first one is for hardware - toys/film/cameras [including video cameras!] etc. Though this didn't appear fully stocked as, the forward area is for perfume, tobacco products and drink. With the likely abolition of Duty Free one has to wonder why such a large Duty Free shop is provided, unless of course the company is banking on a last minute reprieve. However, I think that even if Duty Free does disappear at the end of June most Ferry Companies will continue to market a wide range of goods at competitive prices. Though the effect on fares will be interesting. The days of the £10 Liverpool Dublin return must be numbered. Being realistic £35 would not be an unreasonable figure.
The outside deck of SSCIII is much more sheltered. On most of the occasions I ventured out during the voyage I left my jacket in the BR lounge and it was quite comfortable to just wear a shirt. The large funnels, and partition across the side boat decks do restrict forward views, though crew doors which gives access to the side boat decks in each side of the partition have a small windows in them. The open deck seating is located either under or almost under the awning, which stretches between the funnels. The more exposed area of the open deck is railed off though there is a gate in the rails opposite the BR lounge door.
There is no sign on the gate to indicate one shouldn't enter the area and on the journey back people were freely walking there. Perhaps the intention is to close this area off in bad weather? [When I took a second trip on Saturday the gate had been secured with a cable-tie to prevent it being opened. This is a bit of a shame. Why didn't the just raise the height of the side rails around the open deck area to say five/six feet with reasonably wide spacing to allow camera / binocular lenses to be poked through. It would have offered greater security to passengers whilst allowing reasonable views. The open deck area is therefore significantly reduced. Its not as bad as on the Stena HSS but really more open space is a must.
On the subject of signs there appear to be quite a few missing - though this happened with SSC2 when she first entered service and will probably be rectified within a short period. [By Saturday makeshift no entry signs had appeared on the crew doors to the side boat decks.]
The Blue Riband lounge is bigger on SUPERSEACAT THREE. There is an extra window seating bay on each side. The window seats have high back reclining seating of similar design to that on SSC2. Each window table is now equipped with a mains power point a feature advertised as being present in SSCII's Blue Riband Lounge but which was not available. The window tables are slightly narrower, and are equipped with edgings to retrain items during rough crossings. However, the inside seating now consists of two seater low backed sofas facing outwards with small tables in front. This type of seating enhances the roomy feel to the lounge and is quite comfortable.
The Blue Riband lounge has also lost some partitions and equipment cupboards near the entrance doors. No vestibule area exists at the entrance to the lounge the doors of which open directly into the upper forward saloon - there is no passageway. All in all much better use has been made of the space available within the vessel to provide a more spacious feel which is to be welcomed. The upper forward saloon, which is a designated quiet area, is laid out in a similar fashion to SSC2. However, there are some stern facing rows of seats at the forward end below the bridge viewing area.
Toilet facilities are interesting. I noted that in the men's toilets in the BR lounge the tap is controlled by a sensor the knob merely selects hot or cold ingenious. The soap dispenser also appears to work in a similar manner but was not functional. However, I think a partition in the "gents" needs enlarging because if the door to the toilets is opened whilst someone is using the urinal they would appear to be visible from some seats in the lounge!
I must admit I was very impressed by the many detail improvements on SUPERSEACAT THREE. Many features have been carefully thought out to enhance the accommodation and also to improve reliability such as the much larger funnels, which should reduce the engine temperatures.
Departure from the Landing Stage was four minutes behind schedule at 08.04 with 324 passengers. Just before departure monitoring comms. traffic revealed the captain making arrangements for the Howard Smith tugs BRAMLEY MOORE and TRAFALGAR to escort SSCIII down the river providing a fire monitor salute over the vessel. In the channel SSCIII passed the MD&HC dredger MERSEY VENTURE inbound.
To celebrate the maiden passenger voyage of SSCIII passengers in the Blue Riband lounge were offered champagne, which was a pleasing touch. I appeared to have a bottle for my sole consumption! I don't usually associate champagne with a breakfast drink but it certainly washed the bacon bap down well.
Unfortunately the weather had deteriorated further and it was damp and misty. There was little to be seen until the weather began to clear off Anglesey and NORASIA LINE's container vessel NORASIA SHEEBA. Passing Skerries at 09.55 a couple of small coasters came into view on the port side. South Stack was passed at 10.01 and shortly afterwards Simon Mills the Marine Superintendent welcomed passengers on board SSC2 and explained some of the technical details of the vessel. Sometime later at 10.45 STENA CHALLENGER and at 10.51 ISLE OF INISHMORE passed to port on their eastbound sailings to Holyhead.
At 10.53 the Captain advised Dublin Radio that SSC2 was 30 minutes off the Baily. Shortly afterwards SSCIII overtook, on the starboard side, the new P&O chartered vessel CELTIC STAR [formerly LOON PLAGE] on her 04.00 sailing from Liverpool. Heading eastbound could be seen EUROPEAN ENVOY on her 09.30 sailing from Dublin.
The passing the Baily at 11.15 SUPERSEACAT THREE approached Poolbeg where she slowed down for the final approach up to berth 49. Passing Poolbeg she was met by the Dublin Port Tugs CLUAIN TARBH and DEILGINNIS which provided another escort with fire monitors operating up the river to the terminal.
As we approached the terminal ahead of SSCIII could be seen freighter BREGAN. Up river at the entrance to the Alexandra Basin could be seen SEACAT ISLE OF MAN which had arrived from Douglas before SSCIII and was due to operate the return sailing to Douglas in the evening.
Ropes were on the berth at 11.40 five minutes ahead of schedule. Crossing time had been 3hours 36 minutes.
Whilst in the departure lounge the CELTIC STAR sailed past the terminal, heading for the P&O berth further up river.
Departure from Dublin was at 12.43. Following SSCIII out of Dublin was the container vessel CERVANTES on her sailing to Liverpool. Near Poolbeg SSCIII passed Coastal Container Lines COASTAL WAVE heading in bound and just after rounding the Bar Buoy Belfast Freight Ferries RIVER LUNE was overtaken to port on her sailing to Heysham, having departed from Dublin some minutes before SSCIII. Passing inbound for Dublin was SIR JOSEPH BAZALGETTE after the conclusion of yet another sludge dumping voyage in Dublin Bay.
On the return journey passengers were offered glasses of champagne and I appear to have drunk considerably more bubbly than the cost of my £10 day trip ticket!
A smooth crossing of St. Georges Channel followed. At around 14.00 HSS STENA EXPLORER was seen heading westbound for Dun Laoghaire. Passing South Stack at 14.13 and Skerries at 14.24 SSCIII headed across Liverpool Bay. The freighter OGRADY could be seen at anchor near the Bar, which was passed at 15.36.
Running up the channel towards Liverpool speed had to be reduced earlier than usual to allow the large container ship CAST BEAR with two tugs in charge to swing for Gladstone Lock. As SSCIII slowed Ellerman Lines CITY OF MANCHESTER passed outbound. BRAVE MERCHANT could be seen in LANGTON LOCK in bound on her 09.00 sailing from Dublin. MERSEY VENTURE could be seen waiting off LANGTON whilst the SARAH THRESA passed outbound from the Manchester Ship Canal.
Passing Sandon Dock it was noted that the GILBERT J FOWLER the long laid up sludge boat had been moved from her berth outside the North West Water Sandon Dock plant to the opposite side of Sandon Half Tide Dock. The CONSORTIUM I, which ceased operation at the end of 1998, remained at her berth.
Ropes were on Princes Landing Stage at 16.17 with a crossing time of 3hours 34 minutes. If an early deceleration for the CAST BEAR had not been required probably a 3 hour 30 minute crossing might have been possible.
Overall I was very impressed by SUPERSEACAT THREE. Her accommodation and layout appear well planned and a great improvement over SUPERSEACAT TWO.