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VOYAGE REPORT

MERCHANT FERRIES

DAWN MERCHANT

11.00 Liverpool - Dublin

22.15 Dublin - Liverpool

Saturday July 17, 1999

Wind SW 4 to 5

Having had quite a few hassles over the past few weeks which have kept me off ships since early June. At the last minute on Friday I decided it was time to renew my acquaintance with Merchant Ferries and do a day trip to Dublin. My previous crossings earlier in the year being overnight sailings. Yesterday's trip brought back pleasant memories of the unhurried, leisurely days when the LADY OF MANN reopened the Liverpool - Dublin route for passengers in 1997. However, the large size of the DAWN MERCHANT provides for a slightly different experience.

Arriving at the terminal shortly before 10.00 I collected my tickets and took a seat in the waiting room which was almost empty, there were just three foot passengers on the outward trip.

Around 10.15 we boarded the little bus that takes passengers on board. There was a slight delay as the trailer tugs positioned the freight. There appeared to be a large amount of unaccompanied trailers on this sailing.

Making my way up to deck 7, the main passenger deck I wandered outside to watch the "trailer tugs" busying around finishing off loading operations. The speed with which this is done is quite fascinating. Over in Gladstone Lock at around 10.55, P&O's EUROPEAN ENVOY could be seen making her way out into the Mersey on her sailing to Dublin, whilst nearby the LAGAN VIKING was running down in Langton Lock. She appeared to have a good load of passengers who were all lining the open observation deck which runs around the front of the vessel.

11.02Ropes progressively let go and completed by 11.05 We gently moved out from Canada Branch #3 into Canada Dock itself with 30 passengers on board. On the opposite side of Canada Dock the MD&HC dredger Mersey Mariner was berthed adjacent to the buoy maintenance area. A fascinating spot where the buoys used to mark the various channels on the Mersey are maintained. On the Canada scrap wharf a Russian bulker with an unpronounceable [and untypable] name was loading scrap.

Once in Canada Dock, DAWN MERCHANT moved slowly astern through the narrow neck between Canada and Brocklebank Docks a bulldozer pushing material into a corner of the dock reclaiming some land which looks as though it is being used to provide a straight quay wall across the entrance for the long in-filled South Carriers Dock .

Drifting up lazily from the south came the Howard Smith tugs GLADSTONE and BROCKLEBANK.

As the DAWN MERCHANT came to a stand a good view of the Norse Irish Ferries Terminal in Brocklebank could be seen. Complete with its long disused passenger gangway last used when the Liverpool - Belfast service was operated by the Irish Continental Group. Norse Irish, like Merchant Ferries board foot passengers by bus. The tanker HARAKAZE was berthed on Brocklebank South at the Cargil plant.

As the bow thrusters swung DAWN MERCHANT to face the Langton Lock there was time to look the sadly neglected, though fine architecture of the pump house at the entrance to the now filled in Langton Graving Docks. Also berthed nearby was Smit's L.M. BALDUR heavy lift barge.

Looking towards the River Mersey, the EUROPEAN ENVOY could be seen some way off now down the channel as could LAGAN VIKING. In the river the Howard Smith tug TRAFALGAR was testing her fire monitors. [This may have had something to do with the impending arrival of the TSS APOLLON [Ex Empress of Canada] at West Langton Cruise Terminal. Waiting off Langton entrance was tug BRAMLEY MOORE.

Once DAWN MERCHANT had come to a halt, the two Howard Smith tugs slowly squeezed themselves along side and the three vessels descended to river level

11.48The gates began to move back with the tugs exiting to the river first. DAWN MERCHANT moving off at 11.55. As   DAWN MERCHANT exited the lock, Ellerman Lines container vessel CITY OF GLASGOW was bringing her swing for GLADSTONE.
12.06DAWN MERCHANT passed the Rock and the inbound vessel ELVITA loaded with a cargo of timber. SEACAT ISLE OF MAN could be seen at this point approaching Crosby bend.
12.18SEACAT ISLE OF MAN passed in bound at 12.18 with the 07.30 sailing from Douglas. Obviously running very late - she should have departed for Douglas at 11.00. Her passing speed was fairly slow which suggested she wasn't running at full power.
12.27TSS APOLLON passed in bound for Langton returning from a cruise.
12.44Passing Q1 DAWN MERCHANT left the channel and headed off towards the Bar.
12.50 Two in bound freight vessels INGRID GORTHON and YEOMAN BANK appeared to be racing one another to enter the channel first, appearing to run almost side by side.
12.59Passed north of the Bar lightfloat. I decided to go back inside and make myself comfortable at one of the windows in the Jockey Club Bar. My enjoyment of the passing ships meant that I missed brunch being served in the Winning Post Restaurant so I had to settle for a Beef and Mustard bap, which it was nice to know was freshly made to order, rather than being of the usual pre-packed variety often found on ships.
13.20Passed to the south of Douglas Platform.
13.50BRAVE MERCHANT passed east bound on the starboard side with the 09.00 sailing from Dublin.
14.30EUROPEAN LEADER headed eastbound with P&O's 09.00 Dublin to Liverpool sailing.
14.55Though EUROPEAN ENVOY had departed from Gladstone Lock just as DAWN MERCHANT had moved off her berth at Canada, she had been visible ahead. By now DAWN MERCHANT's much higher speed was becoming very apparent as the gap between the two vessels steadily closed. Leaving the bar I headed outside again to get some photos as we overtook EUROPEAN ENVOY on the port side. Some minutes later I headed for the higher level open deck 8. Looking astern I realised that I had not noticed a large, unidentified supertanker which we must have passed to the starboard side around the same time as EUROPEAN ENVOY was overtaken.

The weather at sea had been cloudy bright with some sunshine and specks of blue sky. There was quite a still s/w breeze and a moderate swell. However, apart from the occasional gentle movement DAWN MERCHANT ran very smoothly. At around the time EUROPEAN ENVOY had been passed we left the Anglesey coast behind.

15.25To the south the outline of a late running HSS STENA EXPLORER could be seen heading for Holyhead. I wandered back to the spacious Jockey Club Bar for an hour or so before taking myself into the restaurant which had opened for early dinner at 16.00.

In the previous Merchant Ferries voyage report I did comment that whilst the dinners were good they lacked heat. I must admit this problem appears to have been rectified, the lentil soup and Gammon both being of good temperature. Though, given the few passengers on board on the outward sailing meals were being prepared to order.

17.25Lambay Island and the Irish coast were quite visible as CELTIC STAR passed eastbound on her late after noon departure for Liverpool.

We appeared to be making good time, however, monitoring comms between DAWN MERCHANT and Dublin Port Radio revealed that SAGA MOON was on the linkspan and would not clear much until around 19.00. Speed was reduced considerably as DAWN MERCHANT's captain advised Dublin that we would pass the Baily at 18.30.

18.10STENA CHALLENGER passed in bound on the port side whilst peering through the binoculars it was possible to see the still not quite familiar shape of JONATHAN SWIFT running between Poolbeg and North Bull lights on the 18.00 Dublin - Holyhead sailing.
18.22With DAWN MERCHANT still running at low speed ISLE OF INISHMORE moved in front as JONATHAN SWIFT changed course. I have managed to get a photograph of both JONATHAN SWIFT and INISHMORE together, the light was rather tricky, however, if it turns out reasonably well it will appear on the site in due course.
18.35Having passed the Baily with the ISLE OF INISHMORE in front we headed towards the Liffey. Outbound was the James Fisher coaster SILVERTHORN which retains the livery of the long absorbed Coe Metcalf Motorcoasters. In the bay could be seen a cable laying barge and guard vessel. Just of Poolbeg Westminster Dredging's WD MEDWAY II was busy at work on the south side of the channel. Approaching the Merchant Ferries berth SAGA MOON could be seen in the channel ready starting get underway for Heysham.

As DAWN MERCHANT swung onto the berth at Ro/Ro Ramp 7, ISLE OF INISHMORE had just made fast, as DAWN MERCHANT came on to her berth it was interesting to see the new moveable gangway system in place alongside INISHMORE. As we approached the roro span the operator began discharging water ballast  the first ropes went on at 19.06 and after some careful manoeuvring DAWN MERCHANT made fast at 19.17 Within seconds the "trailer tugs" were on board.

Foot passengers were directed down to the main vehicle deck to be greeted by the small passenger bus which was soon depositing the three foot passengers at the terminal entrance. Things were quite busy as passengers were also disembarking from the ISLE OF INISHMORE.

It had been my intention to spend a couple of hours wandering round Dublin Docks taking advantage of my photo permit, however, having not brought a waterproof and with threatening clouds in the west, I decided to hang around the terminal area, as a previous drenching in Liverpool Docks which resulted in a hefty Camera repair bill remains in my mind!

Within a short time vehicles had started to arrive for the ISLE OF INISHMORE's 21.45 sailing. However, there did not appear as many as when I last past through Dublin in early June. It would be interesting to know how much the JONATHAN SWIFT has reduced car carryings on INISHMORE.

The INISHMORE began boarding vehicles around 20.45 the Bus Éireann coaches which operate to destinations in the UK entered the vehicle marshalling area. By 21.30 Irish Ferries made the final call for the 21.45 sailing. STENA CHALLENGER had moved off her berth. As INISHMORE moved off I wandered into the deserted terminal. It was obvious I was the only foot passenger for DAWN MERCHANT.

A few minutes later the little bus arrived and I was back on board by around 22.00. Collecting my cabin key card I deposited my camera gear in the cabin and went off for a meal. Now whilst I was the only foot passenger, and apart from a couple in a car the remainder of the passengers were truckers and there appeared quite a lot of them as the "Enclosure" the trucker's dining area was quite full.

Opting for  a main course of roast pork I settled down as DAWN MERCHANT moved off the berth at 22.15 spot on time.  SUPERSEACAT TWO just reporting that she had made secure at the new Sea Containers terminal at berth 44 on the south side of the river. Unlike departure from Liverpool it was only a few minutes before we were heading off down the channel. Taking myself off to the bar it was time for a couple of pints of the "black stuff" before off to bed.

The cabins on DAWN MERCHANT are well furnished and comfortable. I had been allocated a port side outside cabin and looking towards the stern it was possible to see the lights of Howth slipping away. Within minutes I was fast asleep. The next thing I was aware of was awaking to find the vessel moving astern into Langton Lock at around 04.15. Drowsing for around three quarter's of an hour the chief steward announced that we had arrived in Liverpool and that breakfast was available in the Winning Post restaurant. DAWN MERCHANT was at this stage just moving astern on the berth at Canada #3 Branch Dock.

Wandering down to the restaurant at around 05.30 it was nice to note that the bacon had lost its plasticky nature encountered previously.

Vehicles were offloaded from around 06.00. By the time I was summoned to the bus it was around 06.15  an the main vehicle deck was clear apart from one trailer and a lorry.

 

All in all this proved to be a very enjoyable day. All in all at £85 for a 5 day return and a cabin on the return its not as cheap as £10 or £19 for a day trip  on the SeaCat. However, this was more of a mini-cruise and whilst not something one could afford to do on a regular basis it was certainly very  enjoyable.

Now what I think Merchant Ferries should be doing to fill up the passenger space on the vessels, is to consider offering day return fares around the £30 to £35 mark with passengers upgrading to cabins if they wish to pay the extra.

A long day in Dublin, arriving 06.00 and departing 22.15 would be quite a saleable item to both tourists and perhaps business people who might like an alternative to the plane but the price has to be just right.

In the 1980s I recall B&I Line promoting cheap day trips to Dublin from Liverpool on a similar basis. Furthermore if such a fare was available even for just a there and back trip I am sure quite a few enthusiasts would take it up as a good value day out.

I certainly enjoyed myself and I'll try to do it once more before the end of the summer. Merchant Ferries certainly live up to their claim to be the "Relaxing Way to Cross the Irish Sea".

If any other enthusiasts are thinking of trying it out and plan to travel to the terminal by car, there isn't not any problems parking. You will be issued with a parking  permit by the security staff which is then displayed in the window.

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