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Voyage Report: P&O European Ferries

by Adrian Sweeney

P&O Liverpool to Dublin 26/10/99 10.00 sailing on board European Envoy

P&O refer to this route as one of their value routes and after sampling the above sailing it certainly was value for money. The cost was 130 return for a car and 2 adults and all meals and drinks (non-alcoholic) are included in the price.

The terminal at Liverpool is at Gladstone Dock 3 and the building is functional though perhaps temporary. Drinks were provided by a friendly staff and the waiting room is decorated with pictures of P&O vessels.

On our sailing there were just 4 cars and 6 adult passengers plus a couple of lorry drivers. I was assured that this light loading was due to the time of year and that they had had good loadings since they started to take passengers on this primarily freight service in April. The Envoy has a certificate for 70 passengers. We boarded at 09.30 and we were directed up on to the upper freight deck where the cars nestled happily among the unit loads.

Once out of the car we were directed to the passenger accommodation forward. Once inside a corridor leads to a small reception area, a small shop and then the large passenger lounge right at the forward end of the ship. This lounge includes the bar and the restaurant reminiscent of the Ben-My-Chree. There is a small games area on the port side of the lounge. The lounge is rather dark but comfortable with bench and individual seats situated around tables. With only a few passengers it was very relaxed. However there are 2 televisions permanently on showing Sky Movies; this you cannot get away from.

A full cooked breakfast is served almost as soon as you board and very good it was too. Tea and coffee are freely available throughout the trip. The open deck space on the Envoy is good. Most of it is sheltered and aft facing but you can get to the sides for forward views and up on the very top there is a narrow walkway but it is windy up there. It may be an idea to provide some deck seating but then again space could be a problem.

The opening times of the small shop are limited to about 1 hour which is adequate as there is not a great deal to buy. Smokers are well catered for, drinkers less well so but perhaps more thought needs to go into other merchandising. Do people on a trip to Ireland need to buy football kits especially Chelsea? I think not. As the shop is closed most of the time perhaps a food vending facility should be provided for light snacks etc. The opening time of the bar is strange. It opens half an hour after sailing for an hour then is closed for the rest of the trip until about half an hour before arrival. Not a lot of people wish to drink first thing in the morning but when you quite fancy a pint about 13.00 the bar's shut! I have been told since that this is company policy to prevent drivers drinking too much on the trip especially the truck drivers. This smacks to me of the nanny state filtering its way into corporate thinking; in other words, twaddle. Give your adult passengers some credit please and trust them to take responsibility for their own behaviour; we are not all inveterate boozers and if any do have to much then action can be taken at port. Perhaps the bar should not be open all the time but at more sensible times please.

My partner pointed out that there is only one Ladies toilet on the ship. That is unacceptable and needs attention at the next refit. At 09.50 through the windows of the lounge I noticed the Lady of Mann sailing up river light from Douglas. We cast off at 10.20 and entered the lock system 10 minutes later and the Lady was standing off Alexander Dock waiting to enter. At 10.50 we exited the lock at the same time as the Mersey Viking exited hers further down river. The Lady replaced her in the lock. As we turned mid river the Belfast bound ship being a few knots faster than us quickly overhauled us and proceeded ahead. We kept her in sight for a long time as visibility was good the sun was shining and the sea was smooth. At 11.00 the SuperSeaCat 3 was observed leaving the landing stage and 25 minutes later she made a fine sight as she passed us also. At noon the Bar was passed as was the one inside as it had closed!.

The Douglas gas rig was passed at 12.30, the Cromarty Tide being in attendance. The Liverpool bound Brave Merchant was on our port side at 13.30 while 25 minutes later the Envoy's consort ,the European Leader was abeam on the starboard side heading for Liverpool.

We were well past Holyhead by 15.30 when the Stena Challenger was observed on our port quarter and the Jonathon Swift could also be seen while behind on our starboard side was the Brave Merchant on the same track as us. A race! Well the Swift would win easily so second place was the prize. At this time the River Lune was observed abeam on the starboard side presumably heading for Heysham.

At 16.40 the SSC3 was on our port side heading back for Liverpool and on the horizon heading for Holyhead was the dreadful Stena Explorer once again no doubt making sure that none of her passengers got any sense of being at sea or having the slightest hint of a maritime component to their trip. Half an hour later the Celtic Star was on our port side heading for Liverpool and the magnificent Isle of Inishmore was well astern on our port side having joined the race to Dublin.

We however were still in the silver medal position and indeed at 18.00 passed Poolbeg light 20 minutes ahead of the Stena Challenger which was followed by the Brave Merchant. The Jonathon Swift passed us in the river on her way back to Holyhead and it was pleasing to see many out on her open decks which appear more substantial than I thought.

Dinner was served as we were entering the river and although it was very good I think it should be served an hour earlier as it clashes with the sail to the berth which is one of the best parts of the trip-people like to be on deck when the ship enters harbour. At 18.30 the ropes were on and 20 minutes later we were driving off on our way to revisit some of the finest pubs in the British Isles. Verdict on the European Envoy; very good but not quite as good as the European Leader.

Dublin to Liverpool on board the European Leader 29/10 99, 10.00 sailing.

Wind SW. Force 5/6 moderating later.

The facilities for passengers at Dublin are non existent as you wait in your car among the various containers; you even check in at the freight office. No doubt this will improve as the service develops.

The European Leader is a better passenger carrier than the Envoy. The accommodation is more divided. The main lounge is large but is subdivided into a large eating area and a comfortable seating area with Sky T.V. The self service restaurant is similar to the Envoy and the same good breakfasts and later dinner are offered at similar times and the bar opening is the same so the same criticisms must apply. The bar itself is called the Buffalo bar (a nice touch P&O) and is to the side of the main lounge and there is a small games area as well. Further aft on the port side is a very comfortable non smoking lounge with plush settees and seats. The accommodation is much brighter and airier than on the Envoy, the larger windows making a significant difference. There is probably more open deck on the Leader especially along the sides of the vessel.

We should have left at 09.30 but it was not till 10.05 that we finally left the berth. Breakfast was served at once which precluded observation as we left port; again a pity. Once out on deck at 10.40 the Celtic Star was noted inward bound for Dublin and a red rescue helicopter was hovering above her and it gave us the once over as well. The awful Stena Explorer was entering Dun Laoghaire while the Brave Merchant was ahead of us also of course heading for Liverpool. At 12.20 the Saga Moon passed on the port side and at 13.35 the Welsh coast appeared out of the mist.

Up till then the sail had been a little rough but things smoothed out once we were in the lee of the Welsh coast. I had not spotted the SSC3 and I was wondering whether she had passed in the mist or had not been able to sail. At 14.00 the Skerries and Holyhead were abeam but we were well out to sea perhaps the furthest out I can remember for a long time. Captain Steve Cowin used to keep well out when he took the Lady to Dublin but this was even further out than him!

At 14.15 the European Envoy was on our starboard side heading for Dublin closely followed by the Dawn Merchant at 14.40. At 15.50 the Douglas gas rig was on our port side and the Bar was passed at16.20. There was a small collection of container ships and coasters in evidence, including the Tower Bridge outward bound. At 17.15 we were off lock 17.25 in the lock, out at 17.40 with ropes on 10 minutes later. Would I recommend p7o Liverpool to Dublin. Apart from the few niggles mentioned most certainly yes, especially if you are not in a great hurry. Both ships are fine vessels with obliging and friendly crews and I certainly enjoyed both trips. When P&O introduce their new Ro-Pax to replace the Leader (I would rather them transfer the Envoy) I hope the same civilised atmosphere prevails. Oh, and the present vessels have good open deck space- let's hope the new ship is the same with perhaps a few seats outside as well?


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