Having travelled on the recent maiden voyage of the ULYSSES I decided that I would also make the effort to be on the first crossing of STENA FORWARDER. Unfortunately due to the problems of berth alterations together with her enforced visit to Cammell Lairds the uncertainty of it all scuppered my plans. However I succeeded in making the trip only a few days after she had entered revenue earning service on Thursday 12th April with the 21.30 sailing from Dublin Port to Holyhead after I believe running light from Liverpool. I had expected the usual foot passenger problems but this time I am pleased to report that with some greatly appreciated assistance from the Stena port staff I was allowed, on this occasion by exception, to travel as a foot passenger.
Check in was around 02.00 just as STENA FORWARDER docked about one and a half hours late. The late running due to the knock on effect of a 2 hour delay in high winds and swell awaiting tug assistance to berth the previous morning in Dublin. I suspect that after the mishap at Holyhead coupled with the extremely poor state of the Dublin berth the Italian Captain and Bridge crew are now being ultra cautious. I boarded at 02.40 being driven directly to the lift on the uppermost vehicle deck (Deck 4). Due to the rather light holiday weekend load we let go at 03.11 a few minutes early. The load was later given as 20 freight vehicles, 7 cars and 36 passengers - not a fantastic payload . ULYSSES remained at her berth as we passed then followed behind later.
Almost immediately I found a Fire Plan affixed to the wall at one of the stairwells on the main passenger deck (Deck 5) which gave a detailed outline of the vessel. I have used this plan's deck terminology.
Deck 1 - LOWER HOLD with Engine Room and Ancillary Equipment
Deck 2 - CAR DECK and part Engine Room and Ancillaries
Deck 3 - MAIN VEHICLE/LOADING DECK incl. Engine Control Room, Workshop and CO2 Battery. Also pax entry passageway and escalator. Vehicle ramps down to Deck 2 and up to Deck 4.
Deck 4 - WEATHER DECK half open with funnel.
Deck 5 - RESTAURANT DECK the main passenger deck. The large Stingers Bar is towards the stern with toilets on one side and the obligatory video/games arcade on the other. Moving forward there is the reception/bureau de change hall with stairways and lifts on both sides. The main stairway is adjacent to the larger lifeboats. The Restaurant (Food City) overlooks the bow with set tables to the front (Truckers Lounge) a servery and galley to the starboard side and a further table and chair area with an island type bar serving both hot/cold drinks to the port side. At the entrance to the Restaurant there are further toilets and a small glass panelled shop. This deck has open walkways almost the whole way round including the front of the Restaurant overlooking the bow.
Deck 6 - PASSENGER DECK with a large reclining seated lounge with toilets aft and freight driver/passenger cabins forward. Open area to rear.
Deck 7 - BRIDGE DECK with wheelhouse and crew accommodation. Passenger seated area aft.
Deck 8 - ROOF DECK helicopter landing pad and further ancillary equipment.
After I had completed exploring the ship I politely requested a bridge visit at the reception. This was immediately refused, in my opinion, because our Italian friends were having enough problems without any interlopers on the bridge. There is a distinct lack of signage on board but this should be rectified in time. The comments made regarding the lack of windows on ISS are unfounded as there are more than adequate windows all around the restaurant, bar and lounge. Where there are obstructions/stairs outside the windows are tastefully replaced by Italian landscape paintings or mirrors although the use of mirrors particularly in the corridor areas is perhaps slightly overdone. Also the first time I entered the toilets I immediately retreated in a panic - as there are no urinals in the any of the Gents it is very easy to mistakenly think you are in the Ladies.
Around 04.30 I fell asleep stretched out in the bar waking 1 hour later. I then ventured outside towards the bow but as it was still dark and a bit wild coupled with the fact that there was no lighting switched on I quickly decided I was safer inside. We passed the Poolbeg light just after 06.00 and soon entered the buoyed channel. EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR was just ahead of us entering the Liffey while ULYSSES was some way behind. At 06.14 Jonathan Swift eased carefully passed, on the 06.00 Dublin to Holyhead crossing, closely followed by tug CLUAIN TARBH which then turned and closely followed us obviously on standby. With tug CLUAIN TARBH's assistance STENA FORWARDER was made fast without too much delay at 06.43. ULYSSES berthed at the IF berth a few minutes ahead of us. BRAVE MERCHANT was at the MF berth. I disembarked after some delay via the lift, corridor and stairs (escalator not working) out across the stern door/ramp and then across the marshalling area to the small Stena terminal building accompanied all the way for safety reasons.
It is only when you look closely at the state of the Stena berth and facilities in Dublin you perhaps appreciate why they are reluctant to carry foot passengers. Sooner rather than later it will require a total upgrade. The facilities at Holyhead are not a great deal better.
My initial impressions of the STENA FORWARDER are indeed positive almost without exception. She is certainly a step up from the STENA CHALLENGER and more than capable for her primary role (freight) but also able to accommodate with ease the motorist and family who prefer a more leisurely and a less honky tonk crossing to the HSS. She is extremely functional but not plastic as most of the partitioning is laminated panelling with wooden facings. Perhaps not as plush as the ULYSSES but in some areas appears to be more spacious due to the open plan concept.