Tuesday 23rd October saw us once again at the P&O terminal at Liverpool. We were last there two years ago when P&O had not long started their "value route" from Liverpool to Dublin and I said in a voyage report at the time that the terminal at Gladstone Dock had a temporary feel about it and now, two years later, it has an even more temporary feel about it as most of it’s fixtures and fittings have been removed prior to the Company moving it’s passenger operation to Mostyn in North Wales. The look on the face of "my beloved" as she studied all this perhaps suggested that our relationship was about to enter a temporary phase as well but no matter! This time the fare for a car and two adults, return, was £119 compared with £130 last time so it is even more value.
On the dock wall, waiting for us was an old favourite, the European Envoy, which had of course taken us last time. With a certificate for only 70 passengers this ship has, in the Company’s own words, a "…comfortable and friendly ambience" and I could not agree more. True, she only does about 16 knots and takes 8 hours for the trip but that was not a concern for us. She was sure to get us there in comfort at an excellent price and that was important.
She has not changed in the two years since we last sailed on her. Along with the other twenty or so passengers on board we could look forward to a cooked breakfast and dinner included in the price once we had boarded at 09.30. The sailing looked very busy freight wise and not a lot of space was left as the ropes were let go at 10.40 and by 11.10 we were clear of the lock. The majority of the passengers had settled down in the large passenger lounge, which is right forward, with good views ahead and to either side. It is a little dark but comfortable with bucket and bench seating situated around tables and the servery is at one end of the room and at the other, right forward, is the bar, which has very limited opening hours. There is a small games room on the port side and aft of this main lounge, just down the passageway is the shop, whose limited opening hours are splendidly matched by the limited amount of merchandise to buy.
By the time we were in the lock I was on deck outside. Ignoring dire warnings from "her indoors" about bolting my breakfast and leaving crumbs all over the place like a ten year old, I wanted to observe our departure. I was not disappointed. While we were still in the lock the SeaCat Isle of Man passed on her morning sailing to Douglas and the newly named European Diplomat was just outside the lock waiting for us to come out and just as we did so the Lagan Viking steamed passed on her way to Belfast. We slowly made our way down the channel, passing the inbound Swanland at 11.50 and five minutes later the Nordsee, heading the same way. For the next half hour or so I stayed out on deck and there is plenty of it on the Envoy, mostly aft and side facing, though you can go right up top for the best view. The day was sunny and calm, the wind was astern and so it was very pleasant up there but after a while I returned to the lounge as I was beginning to feel guilty about leaving "my loved one" on her own. I needn’t have worried as the latest edition of Cosmopolitan seemed to have taken my place rather too easily for my liking. I did suggest a copy of "Ships of Mann" might be more appropriate in the circumstances but to say that my generous suggestion was not well received is rather understating it a fraction.
I managed to slip out on deck again about 14.00 just in time to see the Brave Merchant on our port side on her way to Liverpool and 45 minutes later the European Ambassador was abeam on our starboard side heading in the same direction. Five minutes later the RAPIDE was observed well in to land on her sailing to Liverpool; by now we were not far from the Skerries though we were well out and it had become rather hazy. Astern of us the Dawn Merchant had been slowly catching up with us on her way to Dublin and at 15.45 she started to overhaul us and after another half hour she was well ahead in the haze. By this time though on the port side three more ships were visible, all out of Holyhead; the Jonathan Swift was leading the Stena Forwarder and further back still, just visible was the magnificent Ulysses. We were all heading for the same place and my guess was that the Swift would be first, followed by the Dawn Merchant while the Forwarder would be in the bronze medal position. I thought we might just avoid the wooden spoon and get in before the Ulysses. Good job I am not a betting man. We came in fifth! At 17.35 the Celtic Star was observed on our starboard side heading for Liverpool and then I went to dinner. I was on deck again as we entered Dublin Port and of course by this time it was dark passing the Ulysses, the Stena Forwarder and other ships already berthed. I have to admit, and as many people know I am not a Stena fan, but it would be hard to find a modern vessel which is as aesthetically pleasing as their Forwarder. Ropes on at 19.20 and we waited another 45 minutes before we were able to drive off amid mutterings from the general area of the passenger seat about Ryanair and Easyjet. Such traitorous sedition was soon soothed in the bar of the hotel later by a several glasses of Guinness and a packet of pork scratching. Later as we left the bar I amused myself with the mental picture of one of the cleaners on the Envoy wondering why there was a copy of Cosmopolitan stuffed behind the hand drier in the Gents.
Saturday the 27th October, at 09.45 saw us once again checking in ready to board a P&O ferry. But this time, at Dublin, waiting for us was the new kid on the block, the pride of the fleet, the SeaCat Killer, the European Ambassador!
There is certainly no doubt that the European Ambassador is a very pleasing vessel to look at. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries last year and she has a length of 169.8 metres, a beam of 24 metres, gross tonnage of 24,206 and her main engines are of 48,000 b.h.p. and give a service speed of 25 knots. She has a crew of 45 and carries 405 passengers.
Our sailing was due to leave at 10.45 and we boarded about half an hour before that. From the car deck up to the main passenger deck (4) is quite a climb and it makes the Ben-My-Chree look easy. Once on deck 4 the first area that you come to is the reception desk and shop area again, not a very well stocked one it has to be said) and there are two areas with gaming machines to either side of reception. In this area can be found the disabled toilet and the mother and baby room. Aft of the reception area are passenger cabins. As you walk forward down the passageway on the starboard side is an enclosed children’s play area and then the club class lounge, and then an eating area. The Fables Restaurant is on the opposite side of the passageway of which this eating area forms a part. There is a video lounge also on the left side of the passageway just forward of the shop. The toilets are further on, on the right hand side and then you enter the main lounge, which includes the Poets Bar. This lounge is right forward and has good views to either side and over the bow. It has bucket type seats and bench seats around low tables. Settling down for a few minutes in the main lounge, I went to buy a cup of tea only to find the only tea available was Earl Grey! Now I know Earl Grey is a particular favourite of the Queen Mother (Gawd bless ‘er) and my beloved said it would do me good and soothe my nerves but to my Philistine taste-buds it was like drinking perfume. The other irritating thing about the main lounge was the constant noise of the television, one of those wide screen jobs, two of them in fact, one on either side so it was impossible to escape from it. This, coupled with the fact that there were several children on board whom Mother Theresa would have found difficult not to strangle, decide us to upgrade to Club Class which cost us £6 each; well worth the money. The Club Class lounge is on the starboard side of the vessel with excellent large windows giving a fine view. There is a door to the outside deck as well. There are 61 seats of the aircraft type and they are very comfortable and some of them are around tables. There is a tea and coffee machine, somewhat difficult to operate but we got there in the end) and complimentary sandwiches were available also. The lounge is light and airy and quiet and very pleasant to be in.
The other great feature of the Ambassador is the amount of open deck space. On deck 4 there are side decks on port and starboard sides, on deck 5 there is an open area around the funnel and there is a large observation deck on deck 6 some of it very sheltered. This open deck space offers fine views and is not closed off at certain times as on the Ben-My-Chree. Deck 5 has passenger cabins aft and crew accommodation forward whereas on deck 6 as well as the passenger open deck there is a large heli-deck and of course the bridge.
We sailed at 11.15 into about a force 4/5 wind, it was clear and there were a few white horses on the water but the ship was very steady indeed. As we left the Jonathan Swift was just berthing after her morning sail from Holyhead and at 11.40 the RAPIDE passed us on her way into Dublin. It was about this time that the Stena "Shoebox" Explorer was observed leaving Dun Laoghaire for Holyhead. At 13.05 we overtook the Varbola, which was on our port side and five minutes later the Welsh mountains were visible. At 13.55 the European Envoy was sighted plodding her way to Dublin and by 14.00 we were abeam of the Skerries but we were well out to sea. Twenty minutes later it was possible to see the Lagan Viking, hull down, on her way to Belfast. At one point I thought I could just see the Isle of Man but that may have been wishful thinking! 14.40 saw the Dawn Merchant pass on the starboard side on her way to Dublin and after that it seemed no time at all we were passing the Rock at New Brighton at 16.55. It seemed like no time at all because we had decided to partake of alcoholic refreshment and so a very pleasing couple of hours was spent watching the sea slide by on a beautiful autumn evening.
We were in the Gladstone Lock at 17.05 and while we were there the RAPIDE was passing New Brighton on her way to the Landing Stage. By 17.30 the Mersey Viking could be seen in the channel making her way in, and ropes were on at 17.40.
As we were driving off the ship even "she who must be obeyed" was remarking on how much she had enjoyed the crossing- though that may have been the vodka and cokes having a touch too much influence.