by Charlie Tennant
15:00 Holyhead to Dublin Port January 14, 2001
Since the rumours started and were later confirmed regarding the sale of STENA CHALLENGER I have had the desire to sail on her. With her departure for Canada now imminent (April ?) I decided it was now or never. I chose this particular time hoping with the HSS off route that travelling as a foot passenger would be possible.
This was not the case when I arrived at the Stena check in at Holyhead I was informed, despite having purchased my ticket in Glasgow, that during the period of the HSS absence Stena would not be carrying foot passengers (without exception !!) on the route as they do not have the facilities at either port/berth to allow boarding and they recommend I use Irish Ferries who would accept my Stena ticket.
I argued my case at some length to no avail but certainly was in no mood to be beaten. I approached a waiting motorist and explained my predicament. He kindly agreed to drive me onto the ship at Holyhead and off again at Dublin as an additional car passenger. I am extremely grateful to this gentleman.
We then checked in at a booth and made our way round to the marshalling area from where shortly before 13.00 both STENA CHALLENGER and ISLE OF INISHMORE could be seen slowly manoeuvring within the breakwater. ISLE OF INISHMORE was secured at linkspan No. 3 at 13.06 while STENA CHALLENGER was secured at linkspan No. 4 with tug WILLOWGARTH providing assistance at 13.19. We drove aboard STENA CHALLENGER at approx. 14.20. RNLB OWEN AND ANNE AISHER (52 - 17) was anchored in front of the newer RNLI Boathouse adjacent to the breakwater while RNLB KENNETH THELWELL (47 - 017) was moored directly in front of the H.M. Coastguard Station.
Much to my surprise, shock and amazement just prior to the closure of the stern door and in total contradiction to all that had been said previously about 35 or so foot passengers were driven on to the car deck by coach. I will not comment further in case of language deterioration.
Departure was at 15.07 with ISLE OF INISHMORE remaining at her berth until she disappeared from view. At 16.10 she was just visible astern for short time before disappearing again into the mist. As there was no other sea traffic of note I took a detailed look at the STENA CHALLENGER accommodation. Decks 3 and 4 are for vehicles. Deck 6 passenger cabins. Deck 7 crew accommodation and a restricted promenade area with picnic tables and seats. The main passenger areas are on Deck 5. The Freight Drivers Lounge is located forward with windows overlooking the bow. On the port side working back is the Information Desk, Bureau de Change, shop (perhaps now larger than required with the absence of Duty Free) and the main passenger seating area. The starboard side again working back contains an access stairway to the upper decks only, kitchen, Pantry Restaurant, seated area, gaming area and Bar. Towards the stern is the main stairway and lift.
An oval Builders Plate is located on the wall of the forward stairway. Around the outside of this plate are the words "Fasen MEK Verksteder A/S Rissa, Norway 1991" and in the centre "M/V STENA CHALLENGER N.B. No. 50". The naming is also recorded by a plaque on the wall of the main seated area. It bears the inscription "Commemorating the naming ceremony of the STENA CHALLENGER at Dover on July 8th 1991 in the presence of Dan Sten Olsson Chairman of Stena Line AB" with the Sealink Stena Line logo at the bottom. A model of the vessel in current Stena livery is mounted on the wall alongside the information desk.
I was informed by a member of the crew that our loading was 316 persons, 62 freight vehicles and 84 cars. She emphasised the fact that they were unusually carrying a number of foot passengers in the total. I bit my tongue!! I was also informed that STENA CHALLENGER will use Dublin Berth 49 (Irish Ferries) at least once this coming week. The reason was not known.
At 17.05 with dusk approaching the lights of ISLE OF INISHMORE were again visible behind us. By 18.00 we were in Dublin Bay and soon entered the buoyed channel of the Liffey. BRAVE MERCHANT was at the Merchant Ferries berth. Arrival was at 18.45 on time. EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR was noted at the P&O terminal while driving out of the port area.
STENA CHALLENGER I would say is an ideal vessel for her role/route. Certainly not a Cruise Ferry but a freight ferry more than capable of accommodating the private car market attracted by a fare which is a shade cheaper than the HSS.