Recently M&ISS has had some harsh words to say regarding the fare policies for day trips offered by some operators and Sea Containers received its "fare" share of adverse comment. Particularly concerning the lack of day excursion fares on the Liverpool to Dublin route and the mean restriction which prevented day return tickets being issued for outward travel after 11:00 on Isle of Man routes.
However, in some ways its could be said that what Jim Sherwood takes away with one hand he gives back with another - this is especially true of some new day return fare facilities which are available this year. Such as day trips with cars in the off peak periods and the new foot passenger Island Explorer Tickets.
Island Explorers cost just £27 - £2 more than the standard day return fare of £25. For your £27 you get a day return ticket to the island plus unlimited travel on Isle of Man Transport services - bus and rail services including Snaefell Mountain Railway - and Douglas Corporation Tramways. This represent excellent value for money. Back in 1995 peak day returns to the Isle of Man from Liverpool cost £30 and that was just the sea crossing.
I decided to try out the Island Explorer Ticket for the first time on April 28. Being an unusual sort of ticket and having experienced problems with unusual tickets offered by various transport operators over the years I thought that it would be wise to enquire as to the use of the Explorer Ticket. At the Liverpool Terminal they advised that I make enquiries at Douglas on arrival.
SEACAT ISLE OF MAN arrived at Prince's Landing Stage around time. Passengers were boarded just after 10:00. Departure was ahead of schedule at 10:26 with a load of 288 pax and Captain Albiston in command
The majority of passengers appeared to be foot pax day trippers as the departure lounge had been very full. Much fuller than I have seen since the end of Duty Free trips to Dublin.
The outward run down the channel at low water was uneventful. LAGAN VIKING was running down in Langton Lock on its morning sailing to Belfast, whilst CITY OF CARDIFF waited off Langton ready to enter. EUROPEAN ENVOY was running down in Gladstone Lock at the start of its crossing to Dublin.
Formby light float was passed at 10:50. At 11.00 passing Q2 SEACAT ISLE OF MAN cleared the channel. At 11:21 the Liverpool Bay OSI was passed. Just north of the OSI a beam trawler could be seen heading south. A few minutes later at 11:38 an unidentified RN Island Class patrol vessel on fishery protection duties was observed heading in the same direction as the trawler!
It became apparent at 11:30 from on-board comms that at 12:00 there would be a committal ceremony. The crew were instructed to shut the shop and cafe. Just before 12:00 SCIOM went to idle and swung westwards. Captain Albiston announced to passengers that a committal ceremony would take place at 12:00 for a former RN & MN seaman and that retail outlets would close as a mark of respect.
The ceremony took place on the starboard hull. SCIOM drifted for about 4 or 5 minutes. It is quite common to witness committal ceremonies on the Mersey Ferries. However, this is the first time I have seen one performed on a SeaCo\IoMSPCo service.
SEACAT ISLE OF MAN resumed its journey after the brief stop. Douglas was reached on schedule at 13:00.
At Douglas FMD precautions for foot passengers at least appeared slightly more rigorous than those that I encountered at Dublin a few weeks earlier. At Douglas passengers were being asked individually if they had had contact with farm land. Only on my first trip to Dublin after the start of the FMD outbreak was this noted.
I wandered into the Ferry Travel Shop to enquire about using the Explorer Ticket. "just show it on bus / tram etc" said the lady sounded obvious. However, crossing the road for the bus station I began to wonder just how many Manx Transport staff would recognize the tickets. It feels odd showing a ship ticket to board a bus or tram!
The driver of the #26 bus appeared to be familiar with the tickets as I boarded for the run to Derby Castle [Horse Trams were not due to commence operations until May 1]. There was time to spare to sit outside in the sun at the Terminus Tavern before boarding the 14:10 departure to Ramsey. The MER crew also appeared familiar with the new ticket.
During the winter extensive track renewals have been undertaken on the Manx Electric Railway by the UK company Trackwork. Beyond Laxey some work was still in progress with single line working resulting in a short delay whilst the southbound car was awaited to clear the section. Arrival at Ramsey station was at 15:25. After a one and a quarter hour ride on the vintage tram one is reminded that there were harder seats than those to be found on Sea Container's RAPIDE!
On arrival at Ramsey I wandered around the harbour. As the tram had approached Ramsey Mezeron Line's AULDYN RIVER could be seen entering the harbour. By now she had berthed in front of the SILVER RIVER. Somehow or other I managed to completely miss the newly arrived passenger vessel TOTNES PRINCESS recently acquired by the Laxey Towing Company for the operation of coastal cruises out of Douglas. She was on the slip at the Ramsey Ship Yard opposite!
After a quick browse around the shops in Ramsey it was off to the bus station for the 16:40 #5 bus to Peel. Disembarking at Peel Bus Station it was a walk through the quaint city centre down to the harbour to see if there was anything interesting in.
However, there was just the usual fishing boats. A stroll along the harbour was followed by a quick pint in the Creek Inn opposite the House of Manannan before a brisk walk to the Town Hall to catch the 18:21 bus back to Douglas. [At Peel the Bus Station closes at 18:00 and the stop is changed to the Town Hall]
When the #5 bus arrived I encountered the first member of Isle of Man Transport staff who did not know about the ticket. The driver appeared to be a larger than life character who took the characteristic deep breath and professed ignorance of the Explorer Tickets. After carefully scrutinizing it he announced that he was only an explorer himself and told me to take a seat!
The following trip back to Douglas did not appear to stick to the advertised schedule arriving at the bus station some 11 minutes ahead of the advertised time!
It was around 18:45 when I entered the Sea Terminal. However, my early arrival was fortuitous as I had planned to have a meal at the excellent Italian Restaurant "Spaghetti Junction" which is adjacent to and part of the Terraza Café-Bar in the Sea Terminal departure lounge. However, the restaurant at this early time appeared to be quite full. A leisurely meal followed and was concluded at 20:30 just as the check in for the 21:30 sailing opened.
By this time RAPIDE had already arrived from Liverpool. There appeared to be some delay as foot passengers were disembarked via the stern ramp before the vehicles came off. On the Victoria Pier berth it is only possible for RAPIDE to use its port side ramp. This was my first sailing on the Douglas to Liverpool route on board RAPIDE and I am informed that she usually boards passengers off the Victoria Pier. The arrangements when I travelled were probably due to the fact that it was low.
Boarding commenced rather late around 21:20. Quite a few trippers managing to set off the metal detector. Regular passengers know how to avoid this happening by putting their metal work in their bags which go through the X-Ray machine.
Despite the late boarding RAPIDE managed to get away at 21:43 under command of Captain Bertini. An ETA of 00:15 was notified to Liverpool Coastguard. The 231 pax on board appeared mainly to be the returning trippers.
A fast run back to Liverpool followed. Running up the channel what appeared to be the outbound EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR passed to port followed by BRAVE MERCHANT. At 23:40 RAPIDE decelerated at C23 for the final run up to PRINCES LANDING STAGE where we berthed at 00:05 just five minutes behind schedule.
All in all a very pleasant and economical day out thanks to the new Explorer Ticket. If these tickets are marketed well in the UK they should tempt many people to take a trip across to the Isle of Man this year. Something that the Island needs in the wake of the cancellation of the TT Races due to the FMD outbreak.