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Sunday May 28, 2000

22:15 Liverpool - Dublin

It was a year to the day since I first travelled with Merchant Ferries between Liverpool and Dublin. The service remains as good, if not better than it was a year ago. 

I arrived at the terminal fairly handy at around 20:00 to find that there were already a number of private vehicles already in the compound. This was very much in contrast to my outbound trip last year, when there were few private vehicles to be seen. It is obvious that Merchant Ferries have gradually built up a clientele of discerning passengers who recognise good quality service at a reasonable price.

DAWN MERCHANT was berthed bow inwards a position this ship now adopts at Liverpool, whilst BRAVE MERCHANT berths stern inwards.

Boarding was a little sporadic as a large camper van was allowed to join the lorries and private vehicles were boarded in batches. However, this was probably not such a bad idea as it avoids congestion with passengers making to the lifts and then having to queue at reception to collect cabin keys cards.

Anyway by 21:00 I was on board and had collected my cabin key card. Then after depositing my bags in the cabin wandered off out on deck. The spacious open decks of the Merchant Ferries "race horse" fleet are a delight for those who enjoy a good stroll on deck. The evening sun was low in the sky casting its colourful reflections onto the clouds. 

After sometime outside I wandered back inside and made my way to the bar. Unlike some other operators, on board prices on Merchant Ferries vessels are generally better value and it is not surprising that the bar does good business. For example it is possible to buy a full bottle of decent wine for £6 when some operators charge up to £2.95 for a quarter bottle! 

At 22:00 the "Winning Post Restaurant" opened for business and there was a steady procession of people to take up the excellent fare to be had. There was a choice of three starters, several main courses including roasts, and a choice of sweet course or cheese and biscuits. At around 22:30 I went out on deck again.

Departure is scheduled for 22:15, however, in Merchant Ferries apparently  unhurried way it was 22:34 before ropes were off and we moved off the berth.

On the Mersey Docks & Harbour Co berths could be seen the dredger MERSEY MARINER in Canada Dock, and as DAWN MERCHANT passed into Brocklebank Dock Mersey Pilot launches SKUA and PUFFIN were passed at their berths along with the MD&HC launch AESTUS and finally MERSEY VENTURE.

The in the north east corner of Langton Dock could be seen Sea Containers floating terminal PONTUS which is soon to be berthed at the Pier Head. The structure has now had all its protective metal sheeting removed from the large windows as well as the protruding anchoring points. She still carries Silja Line logos.

The freighter LILIETT, which was subject to a MCA detention order in March, thou since released was still berthed at West Langton.

Moving astern into Langton Lock, the gates closed at 23:00. As DAWN MERCHANT ran down in the lock, the TR was made to Liverpool Coastguard which revealed a passenger count of 71 with 37 crew. Lights could be seen on the horizon out by Crosby bend - this was SUPERSEACAT THREE inbound from Douglas.

At 23:20 DAWN MERCHANT moved off. It was now time to return to  the "Jockey Club Bar" for another drink or two. Rather good Irish Coffees are available and recommended! 

By midnight it was time to get off to bed where I must admit I slept quite soundly  until around 05:00 as DAWN MERCHANT steamed across Dublin Bay. Looking out of the window  the golden early morning sunlight glistened on the buildings of Dún Laoghaire on the east side of the bay. DAWN MERCHANT made her way up the channel towards the Merchant Ferries berth. At berth 49, JONATHAN SWIFT was loading for her early morning sailing to Holyhead.

Time for a quick walk around the deck before making off down to the "Winning Post Restaurant" for breakfast.  For some strange reason they were serving chips with a fried breakfast. First time I had encountered something like this! Perhaps they made too many the night before?! DAWN MERCHANT was on the berth at 05:40 - twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Around 06:00 vehicle drivers were called to disembark.




Friday June 2, 2000

22:15 Dublin - Liverpool

Arriving at the Dublin Terminal at around 20:15, rather than join the queue of vehicles already at the check in lines I proceeded round to the main terminal at berth 49 to park up. Conditions were not particularly good - it being rather misty. However, I had to take the opportunity of snapping Holland America Lines passenger ship ROTTERDAM as she made her was down the Liffey towards Poolbeg Light.

I joined the check in queue around 20:45. It had been the original intention to start passenger boarding at 21:00 but there was some delay and it was around 21:15 before the first batch of private vehicles were sent "follow the leader" style behind the foot passenger boarding bus to the Merchant Ferries berth. Later the remainder of the vehicles followed a staff car round to the ship. This loading arrangement at Dublin is rather amusing to say the least. Perhaps one day it might be possible to allow private vehicles to marshal at the MF terminal?

Once on board I collected my cabin key, deposited my bags in the cabin and went back to the shop. I had spotted some rather good fleece jackets with Merchant Ferries branding at a reasonable price of £22. It was a case of "must have" !

Off for evening meal in the winning post restaurant where another tasty roast was served up. Whilst eating the captain announced that our arrival at Liverpool would be delayed due to spring tides which would prevent DAWN MERCHANT being able to enter Langton Lock at its usual time slot. Arrival time at Liverpool would therefore be 09:30. The next available slot not being until much later. Some passengers grumbled, but I must admit I welcomed the announcement. It would mean a late breakfast and not the usual call to the restaurant until 07:30 as opposed to 05:00 which happens when the ship is on time. 

DAWN MERCHANT departed from Dublin around 22:45 [I managed to fail to record the time!] with 111 passengers. I spent an hour or so in the bar, a later arrival at Liverpool, meant the need for an early bed was reduced. It was fun listening to two fellow passengers sitting opposite who were cussing and cursing about the late arrival, when here I was rather pleased about the announcement, and I don't think the majority of passengers were bothered either. 

I wandered off to bed at around 00:15. It was obvious that DAWN MERCHANT was not making a particularly fast headway. After a quick shower and a  read - I was in the middle of the excellent book "The Golden Wreck - The Loss of the Royal Charter" - I switched out the cabin light and fell asleep.

When I awoke DAWN MERCHANT had passed south of the Bar at 07:05. Quickly dressing I wandered outside, there were some ships at the Bar waiting for the time. Q1 was passed at 07:10. Making rather sedate progress up the Queen's Channel I ventured back inside and had breakfast. This time no chips!

After breakfast I wandered outside again and DAWN MERCHANT provided an excellent viewing point to see the departure of SUPERSEACAT THREE which passed by at 08:15.

Entering Langton Lock at 08:35 it took half an hour or so to raise from river level with the inner gates going back at 09:05. LAGAN VIKING had already arrived from Belfast and cars could be seen queuing up for her morning return sailing. As we left Langton Lock the RMA vessel MOORFOWL could be seen berthed at West Langton in front of the cargo vessel LILIETT. Ropes were on at the Merchant Ferries berth in Canada #3 Branch Dock at 09:28 and disembarking commenced shortly afterwards. A slow but very enjoyable journey! 

Our late arrival however, obviously messed up schedules. I wandered back down to the docks after dropping my bags off at home and DAWN MERCHANT was only starting to load private cars at around 11:35. She wasn't seen in the river until around 13:00. 

Once again another enjoyable crossing with Merchant Ferries, despite the welcomed delay! One hopes that when the river berths are operational, the company is not tempted to speed up its overnight sailings, but use the time gain to benefit the day time sailings. The Merchant Ferries vessels are just too good to be on board for a short period on the overnight crossings. 

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