SEA CONTAINERS FERRIES
Lady of Mann
Liverpool - Dublin - Liverpool
18 September 1999
Photographs © John Luxton and Paddy Cahill Notes by John LuxtonAround 15th September the weather forecasts indicated prospects of a good blow at the weekend. I, therefore, decided to take a chance on a day trip to Dublin on SSCIII in the hope that she would be cancelled and the LADY OF MANN substituted.
It was certainly a gamble which paid off. By Friday evening the Lady had moved from her lay-up berth at Alexandra Dock and was along side Prince's Landing Stage ready for the following morning to work the 08.00 sailing to Dublin and a 16.30 return sailing.
Arriving down at the Pier Head Sea Terminal the staff were making their usual apologies for the cancellation of the SUPERSEACAT THREE sailing. However, for any Lady fan these apologies appeared superfluous.
A Japanese tourist in front of me, equipped with his video camera, was persuaded with some difficulty that a day trip wasn't a good idea as there wasn't any time ashore. Pity he accepted the refund note - he probably missed the trip of a lifetime! Other passengers with caravans and high sided vehicles were being transferred to Dawn Merchant's 11.00 sailing.
The check-in clerk then decided to try and dissuade me. I pointed out that the SuperSeaCat reservation was made for a there and back day trip anyway so the lack of time ashore was of no concern and yes I knew the Lady wouldn't probably return until after midnight because of the weather.
At Prince's Landing Stage the LADY OF MANN was on the south berth. Boarding commenced at around 07.20. Foot passengers boarding first via the vehicle ramp. Walking up the ramp I took up my usual favourite spot on the vehicle ramps.
SUPERSEACAT THREE lay at the north berth. Her deck crew busy with the hoses, taking the opportunity to give her a good wash down.
08.00 came but there was a delay in departure. When the Lady of Mann uses the south berth on Prince's Stage, her bow overhangs the Mersey Ferries northern berth. This requires the rope men to pass through a gate onto the separate ferry landing stage. However, non of them had a key.
After a while one of rope men climbed over the security fence and the LADY OF MANN was underway at 08.08 with exactly 300 passengers on board. Weather conditions on Merseyside were quite good. It was a fairly clear morning with some sunshine combined with a south easterly breeze.
A quick run down the river followed with the Rock being passed at 08.20, Formby Light Float 08.48 and the Mersey Bar Light float at 08.57. There was nothing to be seen in the channel. Passing south of the Douglas Platform at 09.25 the Lady passed about 5 miles north of Llandudno at 09.45. Around this time I wandered in to have a fried breakfast. The smell had been tempting for sometime.
A coaster, presumed to be an Arklow vessel passed east bound at 10.08 whilst at around 10.25 two VLCC could be seen at anchor off Amlwch as the Anglesey coast approached.
Passing Point Lynas at 10.37 a Royal Navy Island Class patrol vessel could be seen some way off heading in a south easterly direction. Her fishery protection duty pennant just visible.
Around 10.40 the SAGA MOON could be seen someway off on her morning sailing from Heysham to Dublin.
Up to this point the sea state had been slight to moderate with the Lady making very good progress with the SSE blowing.
However, as the Anglesey coast fell away into Holyhead Bay and the Lady approached Skerries lighthouse the sea started to build. Skerries was passed at 11.20. Through the binoculars I could see HSS STENA EXPLORER looking over the breakwater at Holyhead. It was obvious her sailings had been cancelled as at this time she should have been leaving Dún Laoghaire.
As the final part of the Welsh disappeared to stern the LADY OF MANN passed South Stack light the Lady started to pitch, with some moderate rolls.
The sound of her engines remained constant except when she buried her bow into a trough and the engine note died down. At 12.25 BRAVE MERCHANT, on the Merchant Ferries 09.00 sailing from Dublin to Liverpool, could be seen running in a SE direction running for the shelter Welsh coast instead of maintaining the usual straight line run.
It was obvious by this stage that the some of the passengers would be getting uncomfortable and it also transpired that some of the SuperSeaCat cabin crew were none to happy about the Lady's gyrations! One chap appeared on the stern ramp looking quite unwell and remained there until we reached Dublin.
I decided that a visit to the bar would be fraught with difficulty especially trying to balance a pint of beer back to the stern. I decided to go to the shop and buy a can of lager. Inside things were quiet as is usually the case in rough weather. Taking my can of lager to the cash deck the lady at the till looked a little the worse for wear.
I returned to my place on the car ramp.
On board there was a woman in a wheelchair with an enormous leg cast. Her husband had brought her out on to the car ramp, but then wandered off and left her for a while un attended at the top of the ramp.
The LADY was pitching around that that much that I had visions of her careering off down the vehicle ramp like some scene out of a comic movie! [If you have ever seen the most recent of the 39 Steps movies, starring Robert Powell, you will know what I mean!]. Eventually her husband returned and pushed her into the companion way leading to the café.
At 13.05 EUROPEAN LEADER passed east bound on its way to Liverpool and SAGA MOON came into view again.
Eventually Kish light loomed out of the spray. Monitoring comms with Dublin Port Radio indicated that winds in the bay were gusting up to 45 to 50 knots. The LADY OF MANN passed Kish Light 14.08.
By now the sea appeared to have moderated a little. However, as the Lady came round the Baily at 14.28 the wind came in from the stern and we were carried in on the high waves of the flood tide. As we turned the Lady did one of her occasional dramatic rolls - rolling hard to starboard the water appeared very close to the level of the vehicle ramp deck.
I braced myself against the engine room air exhaust vent cover. The LADY righted herself and did a repeat performance. I managed to capture this on film just as she started to right herself. Just look at the photograph and bearing in mind the horizon clearly defined by the coastline at Howth and you will see just how spectacular a roll it was.
Once lined up for the channel we appeared to surf in. Poolbeg light and the Great South Wall breakwater were covered in spray and there was quite a lot of spray in the air. The break water is a popular walk on a fine day, but anyone attempting it on Saturday 18th September would probably have been swept away.
Passing Poolbeg power station things calmed down a lot - ISLE OF INISHMORE had stayed put at berth 49. In the Merchant Ferries berth was RIVER LUNE. Other vessels of note in Dublin were COASTAL BAY, ARUM TRADER, a Wilhelmsen Lines Car Carrier TAKAMINE and tanker AZALEA
This was my first trip to Dublin with Sea Containers since the transfer of the Sea Co operation to the new terminal on the South Wall at berths 44 and 45. The SeaCats use the up river facing ro/ro ramp on berth 44 with berth 45 directly alongside the terminal being available for the LADY OF MANN.
However, putting the LADY on berth 45 is something of a tight squeeze. The berth being hemmed in by the ro/ro ramp to the west and a projection of the quay wall immediately to the east. To make matters even more interesting an Electricity Supply Board fuel oil installation projects from the quay side on 45.
Despite the limited space Captain Bridson soon had the LADY OF MANN along side, with the vehicle ramp being positioned. The passenger gangway being used to disembark passengers.
It was at the stage, with the Lady stationary and alongside that I managed to loose my footing after remaining upright throughout the journey. Making my way through the companion way which leads from the vehicle ramp into the main saloon I managed to slip on some water which had entered through the partially opened windows and ended up flat on my back with a damp backside and somewhat miffed!
Passing through the main saloon the cabin crew were already busy cleaning up the saloon. "Been rough enough for you ?" one of them enquired. "Great fun," I replied. "Looks like you have been having fun in here", I said. At that I was offered the mop which I declined!
Passing through the arrivals hall and out into the car park I wandered round to watch the vehicle gangway being removed. The rising tide meant it would have to be repositioned at a lower level.
However, as it was drawn away it failed to descend, the hydraulic mechanism probably becoming stuck through lack of use. Some crew jumped up and down on it to no avail but driving the baggage train tractor onto it soon sorted the problem.
Unfortunately it wasn't quite such a simple matter as attaching the vehicle ramp to a lower level vehicle door. The ESB fuel installation obstructed the lower door. It then proved necessary to pull the Lady along using her ropes to allow clear access to the lower vehicle doors.
While this was being done it was interesting to note that the LADY's shiny brass bell had been covered by one of the clear garbage bags used on board to protect it from the wild weather.
By now I had re-entered the terminal. Facilities at which are somewhat basic, probably more so than those provided at the temporary terminal on berth 49 in 1997. However, given the speed at which the facility was commissioned earlier this year it is somewhat understandable. When it comes to portakabin type structures Liverpool still takes the lead at least in the interior fittings.
P&O's CELTIC STAR passed outbound for Liverpool around 16.30.
With the LADY moved forward it was no longer possible to use the passenger gangway as the passenger door was now obstructed by some quayside railings. Consequently foot passengers were boarded via the vehicle gangway to be followed by cars. Prior to boarding departure was announced "The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is pleased to announce the departure of the Lady of Mann". Somehow sounds better than "SeaCat is pleased to announce ...."
The LADY let-go at 17.26 with a good load of 112 cars and 342 passengers.
I had tried to get a meal just as she moved off, but there was a very large queue in the Cafeteria. Thus I went back outside again. It was just a case of waiting and allowing things to take their course! Making our way down the channel to Poolbeg the LADY hit the open sea. About 15 minutes out into Dublin Bay another visit to the Cafeteria revealed that it had emptied out somewhat hurriedly by the looks of the half eaten meals still to be seen!
Ordering a plate of my usual LADY OF MANN "stodge" - Chicken and Chips I was then dismayed to find that there were no knives in the cutlery trays, though plenty of forks and spoons. Leaving my meal on the table and hoping it wouldn't end up on the floor in my absence I managed to get a knife off one of the crew - though I as it had to be obtained from the washing up area, from what I could see, suggests that SeaCo need to obtain some more cutlery!
After the meal I was back out on the car ramp in time to see DAWN MERCHANT pass by inbound for Dublin at 18.25 on the 11.00 sailing from Liverpool. She appeared to be handling the heavy swell quite competently.
Meanwhile the seasick crewman reappeared on the stern ramp and was soon joined by a colleague.
Passing South Stack at 20.40 the LADY regained the shelter of the Welsh coast, and though strong South Easterly wind continued all the way back to Liverpool, the rest of the voyage was quite calm.
I ventured down to the bar avoiding a number of unmentionables on the floor, bought a pint and retreated back to the open deck.
Point Lynas was passed at 21.45. The LADY OF MANN reached the Bar at 23.35 and passed BRAVE MERCHANT outbound on the 22.30 Merchant Ferries sailing from Liverpool to Dublin. In the channel we were forced to slow for a while as the Lady had caught up with Peninsular and Oriental's charter vessel CELTIC STAR as we rounded Crosby bend. On the final straight run up Crosby Channel the Lady passed by. At C22 P&O's EUROPEAN LEADER passed outbound for Dublin. The LADY OF MANN being on the stage by around 00.35. The exact time I omitted to write down.
It was only on our arrival at Liverpool that the forecast rain descended. Apart from a brief down pour in Dublin Bay in the afternoon it had remained dry.
All in all this probably was my best trip on board the Lady to date in terms of experiencing such an exhilarating ride. This voyage appears top have had a positive effect on me for the whole week. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I felt somewhat privileged to have been the only LADY fan on board.
There was also a great satisfaction to note that her much newer rivals operating between Dublin and Holyhead decided not to venture out in the prevailing conditions. Furthermore it was interesting to note that whilst the Holyhead service were cancelled, all the operators from Liverpool managed to provide a service - Sea Co, Merchant Ferries and P&O. So much for the advantage of the short sea crossing!
I really felt sorry for whoever had to clean the LADY's interior on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, I had to visit the toilets on the final run into Liverpool and they looked like a battle ground of human misery. Spotlessly clean on leaving Dublin they were now a stinking disaster zone. To paraphrase the current BT Yellow Pages TV ad "You really didn't want to see what the passengers have done to the toilets!"
Though the prospects for our return sailing were a little touch and go at one point it was pleasing to note that we did get away and the LADY up held her reputation as the finest ship in the Sea Container's fleet and the time honoured reputation of the former Isle of Man Steam Packet Company in which their vessels sail in almost any conditions.
Once again the Lady has proved her worth as a back up vessel, it is to be hoped she gets the refit and upgrade to the new SOLAS requirements to enable her to continue to operate well into the next Millennium.