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By Charlie Tennant

03.15    PEMBROKE DOCK - ROSSLARE HARBOUR    3rd January 2000.
I reached Pembroke Dock station at around 21.40 after a lengthy train journey to find no means of transport not even a taxi available to take me to the port. The distance from the station to the port is about 1.5 miles so I had no option but to walk. The terminal buildings did not open until 23.00 so the walk helped kill some time. 

The ISLE OF INNISFREE berthed at 01.40 and swiftly discharged an almost full load. Loading for the return, which was considerably lighter than inward, started at around 02.15 with foot and bus passengers called at 02.30. ISLE OF INNISFREE departed slightly early at 03.07. After the time I had spent travelling and  hanging around I decided on an early breakfast at just over 6 including tea and toast. A big mistake as although it appeared appetising enough it was stone cold and probably been cooked on the inward journey. 

The open sea crossing was uneventful if a bit rough in places but I soon fell asleep beside my uneaten breakfast. When I woke at 06.30 we were approaching Rosslare Harbour to find KONINGIN BEATRIX just ahead. We arrived 07.14 to find KONINGIN BEATRIX already berthed and off loading. Disembarkation was via the car deck then onto a bus to the front of the terminal building. This gave me the opportunity to make a rough count of our load which consisted of 35 or so cars and vans, 2 freight vehicles, 2 coaches and 7 foot passengers including myself.

09.00    ROSSLARE HARBOUR - FISHGUARD HARBOUR    3rd January 2000.
While waiting in the terminal building it was obvious that the 09.00 Stena and the 09.15. Irish Ferries departures would be subject to delay due to the heavy loading. STENA LYNX III was reported cancelled for the whole day. I boarded KONINGIN BEATRIX about 08.25 and watched in amusement cars trying to board the wrong ferry with the result a few irate drivers decided to burn rubber as they were redirected to the correct ferry. 

RNLB ST BRENDAN (52-26) stood sentinel in front of the boathouse between the 2 main berths. KONINGIN BEATRIX eventually departed at 09.45 while ISLE OF INNISFREE departed at 09.52 following in our wake for about 30 minutes before heading slightly south, drawing level then disappearing into the mist. Again the crossing was uneventful which allowed me time to explore KONINGIN BEATRIX a ship I had the pleasure of travelling on a number of times from Harwich to the Hook and vv. Although not as plush as she once was she is still well appointed and a fine ship more than adequate for her current role. Perhaps she would benefit from the rumoured move to a longer crossing albeit with another operator. 

Although I suspect she was fully loaded with vehicles her passenger accommodation seemed less than half full. On approach into Fishguard Harbour STENA LYNX III was at her layover berth. Arrival was at 13.07.

Assuming fast craft crossing was cancelled as reported earlier I had now intended to return on KONINGIN BEATRIX at 14.30. However on arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find the 15.30 STENA LYNX III sailing had been reinstated so I was able to revert to my original plan. I presume this was more to do with the backlog at Rosslare rather than any improvement in the sea conditions. 

The only other vessel in the harbour was RNLB BLUE PETER VII (14-03). KONINGIN BEATRIX eased away at 14.28 and almost immediately STENA LYNX III reversed onto the linkspan. Obviously with the late reinstatement of the crossing our loading was extremely light and departure slightly early at 15.18. Our passage was fairly rough with a number of sick bags and green faces in evidence. However it was no where near as rough as I previously experienced on this vessel when deputising for HSS STENA VOYAGER early last year on the Stranraer - Belfast crossing. 

We overtook KONINGIN BEATRIX at 16.25 in mid channel. Arrival at Rosslare was 17.09. KONINGIN BEATRIX arrived at 17.50. My train for Dublin departed a few minutes late at 18.23 allowing me to  glimpse ISLE OF INNISFREE reversing to her berth.

12.00     DUBLIN PORT - HOLYHEAD    4th JANUARY 2000.
After spending the night in Dublin I headed for the port on the 08.30 departure from Bus Aras, timed to connect with Irish Ferries 09.45 sailing, and arrived at Dublin Ferryport at 08.50. I noted on the illuminated screen that JONATHAN SWIFT sailings were cancelled for the day. 

STENA CHALLENGER departed the Stena terminal for Holyhead at 08.54. On arrival the weather was dry and bright with excellent visibility across the bay however about 10 minutes later it was raining heavily and overcast. I quickly headed for the cover upstairs in the Berth 49 cafe. ISLE OF INISHMORE was loading at her berth. DAWN MERCHANT was also at her berth and departed for Liverpool at 09.24 a little late. As she made her way out into the bay she was passed by STENA INVICTA inbound. She bore no visible Stena branding apart from her name. Her funnel profile was highlighted in blue and apart from 2 broad blue stripes on both sides following the line of the windows on main passenger decks she was otherwise white all over. 

At 09.54 ISLE OF INISHMORE let go and at the same time STENA INVICTA berthed. The weather had now changed again the rain had stopped and the sky was becoming brighter. I decided this was perhaps the best time to make my way round to the Stena terminal. After checking in, with some difficulty, at one of the vehicle booths I had to wait 10 minutes while they arranged for me (no hi-vis vest) to be accompanied across the almost deserted vehicle marshalling area to the linkspan. I then had to wait another 5 minutes or so for one of the crew to escort me through the car deck and up the red lift. I got the distinct impression I was a bit of a novelty. Foot passengers on Stena's conventional ferries from Dublin never normally arrive on foot as usually they are transferred from cancelled HSS or Irish Ferries sailings and arrive by coach driven onto the car deck. 

At 10.45 I must have been first on board which allowed me time to wander around unhindered. Almost all of decks 6,7 and 9 were open with deck 8 being crew only. Most of the facilities and food outlets were out of use. There was much evidence of previous use aboard with Dover and Calais exits clearly marked and numerous signs bearing the Slija Line name and logo. The various deck plans bore the heading Wasa Jubilee (which I believe commemorates Silja Lines 50th anniversary). A few of these plans were already missing probably acquired by souvenir hunters. 

About 30 minutes after I had boarded transferred Irish Ferries passengers appeared from the sliding stairwell doors and lifts. An announcement was made apologising that this vessel was currently operating as a freight ferry with a reduced crew and therefore could only offer a limited service. However the Globetrotter Restaurant would be open for 90 minutes only but the Snack Bar, with only a very limited supply of food and bottled beer, would remain open for most of the crossing. This together with the 4 hour crossing caused much displeasure with some of the transferred Dublin Swift passengers but surely this must be better than sitting in a car marshalling area for hours. 

Due to the transfer we departed late at 12.34 reversing out into the Liffey and then forward out passed the deserted Irish Ferries and Sea Containers terminals on either side. JONATHAN SWIFT was laid over further up river. Having announced the crew shortage I was later surprised to find about 10 HSS crew wandering around on a familiarisation tour, surely in the circumstances they could have been put to better use!  Despite the obvious pressure in dealing with over 300 passengers instead of the normal 30 or so freight drivers the crew were most courteous, pleasant and extremely helpful. The excellent cleanliness of the vessel considering its vastness was also a credit to them. 

Once the queue had disappeared I decided to have lunch with the choice being fish or chicken with chips and veg. unfortunately the starters and sweets had run out. I chose chicken which was well presented if a little cold. The forward windows of the restaurant gave a pleasant outlook across the bow and out to a fairly calm sea. The crossing was smooth, uneventful, unhurried and for a short time felt like a flashback to the way ferry travel used to be and perhaps should still be. I was soon brought back to reality as the HSS STENA EXPLORER passed at 14.45 Dun Laoghaire bound. 

After the restaurant had been cleared the same crew opened the shop for last hour or so of the crossing. STENA CHALLENGER passed at 15.27 also heading for Dublin. A crew member at the information desk gave our loading as 333 passengers, 80 cars and only 4 freight vehicles. Approaching Holyhead ISLE OF INISHMORE passed at 16.00 also outbound for Dublin. Arrival was at 16.24 but it took 20 minutes for the car deck to be cleared then a further 10 minutes to load the bus and reach the terminal building


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