10:30 Liverpool to Dublin March 23, 2001
The arrival of the RAPIDE on the Liverpool - Dublin and Douglas routes has been discussed by enthusiasts during the past few months. At first it was a rumour, then it gained more substance and it appeared that she was going to appear on the Belfast to Heysham route. I must admit I had long held a desire to see her operating from Liverpool and when the final announcement was made I was rather pleased at the prospect of renewing my acquaintance with a second generation Incat vessel.
Back in 1994 I made my very first journey to Ireland from Holyhead on board the then recently introduced STENA LYNX II. This vessel was a complete contrast with SEACAT ISLE OF MAN a first generation Incat on which I had already made several journeys. There was much more open deck space, much more imaginative seating arrangements. The only thing missing was the view forward through the bridge. However, I can't imagine it's much fun for crew working on the bridge being peered at by the curious as though they are in a goldfish bowl.
Unfortunately Stena decided to replace the STENA LYNX II and the conventional ships which operated the Holyhead - Dún Laoghaire service by the soulless HSS STENA EXPLORER. In my opinion a very retrograde step. From summer 1994 through to the introduction of the HSS in 1996 I made quite a few day trips from Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire. When STENA LYNX II disappeared from the route so too did my patronage after a bad encounter with the HSS.
With the arrival of the RAPIDE her was my chance to renew my acquaintance with a similar, though slightly larger vessel to STENA LYNX II after five or so years.
Saturday March 3 dawned bright and cold - an ideal day for a sail. I positioned myself on Prince's Parade to get some shots of RAPIDE's arrival from Douglas sometime before her scheduled arrival time. Moving slowly down the river she approached the stage and moved on to the stage. A large number of passengers lined her open decks. I understand she had around 500 on board inbound. She was on the stage at around 09:29.
I then made my way into the terminal and checked in. The present Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak making its presence felt by the check-in clerk asking if I was carrying any dairy produce or meat. The lounge appeared to be filling up with boarding. However, boarding commenced at around 10:15. Though there were quite a few passengers in the departure lounge, there were few vehicles drawn up on the stage.
Boarding RAPIDE is via the stern ramps. RAPIDE sits somewhat awkwardly on the stage by virtue of her stern loading arrangements and very wide beam. The port side of the vehicle linkspan is being extended outwards into the river to accommodate this. The RAPIDE's ramps are quite narrow, hang outside of the vessel, are angled towards the centreline and are lowered drawbridge style onto the linkspan.
The vehicle decks of RAPIDE are quite impressive, appearing much more spacious and less cluttered with obstructions than the narrow beamed MDV1200 SuperSeaCats or even the smaller 74m Incats such as SEACAT ISLE OF MAN.
It is a shorter flight of steps which leads up to the main deck level, than on the SUPERSEACATS. Entering the main cabin areas one finds Blue Riband lounge on the starboard side, forward of this is the toilet area - Gents to starboard, Ladies to port. Forward of the toilet area on the starboard side is located a small electronic games area and seating in various groupings. Moving further forward one enters the large open circulating area. It is this feature which gives the second generation Incat craft such a spacious feeling compared to the more closed in nature of the SuperSeaCats and older 74m Incats. There is seating along the windows down each side whilst on the aft end of the circulating area is a large, well equipped food servery - The Sea Café - rather reminiscent of that on STENA LYNX II. Opposite the servery is the shop, rather smaller than on the SuperSeaCat and very much a staff service, rather than self-service affair. To the left of the shop is the ship's office and Bureau de Change facility which is a proper office rather than the cubical provided on the SuperSeaCat. To the right of the shop are crew facilities. A curved staircase leads up to the upper deck. There is no view forward on this class of Incat, seats line the bulkhead between the passenger accommodation and the bridge. There are also groups of seats and tables down imaginatively laid out in this area.
At the rear of the upper deck area is the bar. Automatic doors lead out onto the upper open deck from this area. These are operated by pressure mats on the inside and push buttons on the outside. The outside upper deck probably offers as much open deck space as the whole open deck as on the SuperSeaCat in terms of surface area. Long bench seats are situated beneath a canopy along the width of the vessel. There is an open staircase which leads down to the main open deck level, however, this is not available for passenger use whilst the vessel is underway.
Returning to the main deck level the aft accommodation houses the Blue Riband and 1st Class Areas. Looking at vessel plans posted at various locations indicates that the Blue Riband lounge is the former first class area. This is equipped with conventional table and seat facilities. The Blue Riband lounge is separated from the main passenger area and 1st Class area by a glass partition penetrated by glass doors. Its quite spacious and equipped with a small serving area in chrome. Not unlike the more substantial wooden area provided on the BEN-MY-CHREE. Interestingly it does not provide washing-up facilities which is an inconvenience to the crew member in charge of the lounge. A washing facility was provided on SUPERSEACAT THREE. There are no separate toilet facilities in the Blue Riband Lounge.
Seating in the Blue Riband lounge is not as substantial as that provided on the SUPERSEACAT - there are no big reclining arm chairs, Just leather covered seating with plastic armrests [Several of which appear to have succumbed to wear and tear!]. Views from the Blue Riband lounge are quite good and one gets an impressive view of the spray from the water jets whilst the vessel is underway. depending on where you sit yourself a more all-round view is possible from the Blue Riband Lounge than on the SuperSeaCats which were divided in two by the bulkhead around the toilets and staircase.
The first class area is proved to be something of a surprise. The seating appears to offer the most high density seating on the vessel - hardly what is expected of first class facilities! All in rows facing forward. The first class area appears to have just been a conventional seating area according to the plans. There are no facilities for placing refreshments - tables or pull chair back trays, the chairs are all too low anyway. One really can't see pax paying a supplement for this facility as there is better seating available elsewhere without supplement! It appears that SeaCo could be rethinking their logic already.
I understand that whilst the BR Lounge has several prominent "Members Only" notices the idea of the lounge being kept exclusively for members appears as though it is to be abandoned in favour of an upgrade which will cost more than the first class upgrade, though unlike the first class upgrade alcoholic drinks will be offered as part of the upgrade package.
Departure was from Prince's Landing Stage was at 10:32 with 116 pax on board - [The Liverpool to Dublin sailing on Saturday March 4, 2000 conveyed 250 pax]. Passing slowly down river RAPIDE accelerated off New Brighton in a large, rather dramatic cloud of exhaust!
The Liverpool Bar light float was passed to starboard at 11:12 a number of vessels were noted waiting the tide in the Bar anchorage. At 11:14 we smartly overtook the large unladened tanker SEA BAROK. At 11:35 passing off Llandudno an unidentified ACL vessel could be seen inbound for Liverpool a couple of miles to the south. Snow covered the Welsh mountains.
At 12:25 the captain announced that we were travelling at around 35knots as we passed north of Skerries Light. Just west of South Stack, NorseMerchant's BRAVE MERCHANT passed east bound on her morning sailing from Dublin to Liverpool, she was followed 18 minutes later by P&O's EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR. At 13:18 Irish Ferries JONATHAN SWIFT passed east bound for Holyhead.
As we approached Dublin Bay the Captain read out a statement from the Irish Government concerning Foot and Mouth Disease precautions. Running into the bay the Wicklow Mountains could be seen dusted by snow.
RAPIDE passed Poolbeg lighthouse at around 14:10 and was on berth 49 at around 14:20. As she came up to the berth more than the usual number of persons dressed in high-viz clothing could be seen on the quayside. These were members of the Civil Defence deployed to assist in Foot & Mouth Disease precautions.
Disembarkation at Dublin for foot passengers was effected by the use of the Sea Containers passenger gangway used by the LADY OF MANN and SEACAT ISLE OF MAN - thus separating foot pax from vehicles. This was not possible with the SuperSeaCats.
As passengers disembarked they were greeted by members of the Civil Defence who issued notices concerning the precautions required. In the arrival more member of the Civil Defence and Gardaí kept a careful eye on passengers as they walked over a disinfected mat. It was all rather efficient and caused almost no delay.
15:30 - Dublin to Liverpool
Passing through the check-in and going up to the departure lounge revealed that there was going to be only a few foot passengers for the return sailing. Boarding commenced shortly around 15:15. Around this time HSS STENA EXPLORER could be seen crossing the bay to Dún Laoghaire. despite the late boarding RAPIDE was away five minutes ahead of schedule at 15:25 with just 37 pax on board and a handful of vehicles. On the same Saturday last year there were 91 pax.
Poolbeg lighthouse was passed at 15:35, crossing the bay RAPIDE accelerated with a cloud of black smoke, though rather less than that emitted when accelerating out of the Mersey.
16:10 JONATHAN SWIFT passed west bound followed about 20 minutes later by STENA CHALLENGER and at 16:40 by ISLE OF INISHMORE. Ten minutes later EUROPEAN ENVOY headed westwards.
South Stack was passed around 17:00 and two minutes later DAWN MERCHANT passed west bound.
At 17:45 the bulker ARKMILLA passed westwards to port outbound from the Mersey. By now the sun was sinking quickly and within minutes had melted into the Irish Sea in a superb sunset, uninterrupted by cloud.
Around 18:08 an out bound container vessel was noted followed by what looked like a bulker also heading away from Merseyside.
Liverpool Bar was passed at 18:25 and the captain announced that we had maintained a speed of 36 knots.
RAPIDE had already slowed down some distance before passing the Rock at 18:54. She made her way slowly up the river and berthed at Princes Stage with ropes on at 19:16 some fourteen minutes ahead of schedule.
My first reactions to RAPIDE are very favourable. The much greater beam of the vessel means that the vessel feels more spacious and much more ship like than the regimented rows encountered on SEACAT ISLE OF MAN and the SUPERSEACATS. There is enough space to actually wander around.
RAPIDE's open deck space is a significant improvement. Ship photographers should have no trouble getting to either side quickly to photograph interesting passing vessels - often a problem particularly on SSCIII with the pointlessly railed off central portion.
One hopes that RAPIDE has a successful season on the Liverpool to Dublin route and this is the first of many. However the decline in passenger numbers compared to those prevailing on the same Saturday in 2000 must set the alarm bells ringing somewhere.