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Christmas Adventure to Dublin

by John & Jenny Williamson

We decided a while back that we would like to try out the new P&O service from Mostyn, and study of the current Steam Packet timetable showed that Friday 21 December was ideal, as we could return direct to the Island from Dublin on Lady of Mann.

Ticketing arrangements were made accordingly, for ourselves and three friends, on the single journey from Mostyn on European Envoy, booked departure 11.00.

We picked up our friends in Chester, after taking the Ben to Heysham at 19.45 on Thursday and "overnighting" at Forton Sevices Travel Lodge.

Mostyn was reached with reasonable ease, and we were directed to the "Passenger Check In", where our booking reference was transformed into a ticket, and the names of the car's occupants were checked.

We were then directed into a "Secure Area", through a gate that was opened specially for us. The car then had a Security Check, Steam Packet style, but apparently without the optional x-ray machine for luggage. (They did not check the engine compartment either). All cars are security checked, but there weren't too many, about 6, so not much of a task.

Passenger facilities are within a basic but cheerful port-a-cabin style building, which has a few hard seats around the wall, a couple of gaming machines, and a couple of snack and drink machines (not overpriced, for once !).

Once the freight was judged to be well enough packed in to the vessel, cars were invited on board, where we went up to the top vehicle deck for direct access into the passenger accommodation, through a safety tunnel between containers.

Having been "ticked off" on the reception desk list, we went along to the main passenger lounge, which is a fairly large area forward, either side of the bar, with a few cosy corners. There are 3 TV screens, which were set to Sky News, initially, but 2 were switched to the "film of the day" later on.

The buffet is at the back of the lounge, with enough tables for the number of people on board to eat in reasonable comfort. Breakfast is served before departure, and Dinner about an hour before arrival, with nothing between, but supplies of coffee, tea, and water or orange-flavoured water (we couldn't describe it as orange juice !) are available all the time. Food and non-alcoholic drinks are included in the ticket price.

There is a shop near reception, with a range of goods, including P&O Irish Sea badged clothing, some of which carries the name of the ship. The shop is open on departure for an hour or so, and then for the last 45 minutes of the sailing.

The bar opens at similar times, being shut while most drivers go for their rest period. Most of the catering crew have a rest at this time as well.

Looking back over the port area from the restricted open deck area it was possible to appreciate what a large civil engineering task has been undertaken in creating the marshalling area and in building the substantial linkspan with its dolphins.

At 11.00 the captain announced that he was holding back our departure for 30 minutes, as the tide was filling slowly because of the strong winds (up to 40 knots NW). The passage would be a slow one because of the weather conditions and he was estimating a Dublin arrival around 19.30.

We therefore had to wait until the captain was happy that we had sufficient water in the channel. The departure at 11.35 appeared challenging in the conditions as it involves a 90 degree turn just off the end of the pier straight into the dredged channel which is very narrow. ("narrower than at Fleetwood"). This was achieved by swinging the stern off the berth before moving forward.

 With a low tide departure we had sandbanks to our port side for the length of the channel, Once out to sea, we set course for Point Lynas, which gave us a decent view of the North Wales coast until the visibility deteriorated. The Envoy was proving herself to be quite a good sea boat, but off the Anglesey coast we took a couple of rolls that "trashed" the Christmas tree on board, leaving it twinkling on the floor in 2 halves!

On chatting to the bar steward, we discovered that he started his ship-board career on "Manxman", in her last year of service, and he has had several spells on board "Lady of Mann" between other postings. 

The word on board was that traffic through Mostyn was developing satisfactorily and that the longer term intention would be to develop the passenger side of the business to include foot passengers and compete head to head with Holyhead. The re-opening of Mostyn railway station is part of that strategy. The transfer of "NORBANK" and "NORBAY" to Liverpool is seen as an exciting development with an Irish Sea crew taking charge of the first to be transferred in Hull after Christmas and the intention to have her in service from Liverpool in early January, It appears to be accepted that a proportion of the accompanied freight will still prefer to use Liverpool, but it seems unlikely (even with a pc of 114) that the passenger car facility will be restored to the Liverpool route.

The wind and sea moderated during the afternoon and we approached the lights of Dublin bay in clear conditions.

Our entry into the river was delayed by the Dublin Port Authorities, who had decided to give priority to a departing car carrier, which was alleging to have a very short "tide window". This also delayed "Ulysses", which was just ahead of us.

This was a foretaste of how events would unfold during the rest of the evening !!!

We proceeded slowly up the river to allow "Ulysses" to berth at 49. Our arrival at berth 21 at 19.46 followed an expertly executed turn, and we were discharged after most of the freight, so don't expect a quick get-a-way from this service. Our overall impression is that this is a friendly, well run, homely sort of service. We enjoyed our crossing, and are happy to recommend everyone else to try it.

 What followed became more and more farcical.

After dropping off our friends, one at a guest house, and two for the Norse Merchant return trip to Liverpool, we found the queue for the "SeaCat" check in. (In the terminal, the board showed "Lady of Mann" to be a SeaCat service!)

There was a camper van at the head of us in the queue which was clearly grossly over-height for the Lady so check in of the remaining vehicles was delayed while arrangements were put in hand to send it via Norse Merchant.

While this was being sorted out, "Lady" headed up river, clearly ready to drop onto berth 49 as soon as "Ulysses" departed. Reaching the check-in, we were therefore surprised to be advised that "Lady" was running late She would not arrive until 23.30 and they would try to turn her round as soon as they could !!!

It seemed that most people on shore were working on the basis that Jonathan Swift was going to come in and discharge before the "Lady" came in but Captain O’Toole on the "Lady" had been advised that he had a window between the two Irish Ferries ships.

We then watched Ulysses leave, immediately upon which Lady came to the berth. Docking was clearly difficult, as no rope-men had turned up. The agent did his best but it took time to sort out ropes, then the passenger gangway, and finally, the car ramp.

When discharge finally commenced, cars were then seen whizzing around the secure area like dodgems, all trying to find a way out, but all the exit gates were locked! This was eventually sorted out after about a quarter of an hour.

Meanwhile Jonathan Swift arrived off the berth, and contacted Port Control, to demand that the Lady be sent away from the berth in mid-discharge, as this was his slot. Port Control sided with the Swift and instructed "Lady" to cease discharge and move to berth 35. As it was Lady managed to discharge all but 2 of her 100 cars (one was failed, and the other appeared to be with it) before moving off to berth 35 but it was ludicrous that she should have been forced off the berth with only a dozen cars and a handful of foot passengers to load.

Swift ultimately berthed and discharged its 200 cars. Its master then decided to wait for "Brave Merchant" to leave for Liverpool before moving round to berth 53.

By the time Lady got back onto berth 49, it was about 23.45.

There were only 11 cars to load, so surely an executive decision could have been made earlier for her to stay the extra 10 minutes needed?

It would be interesting to know what the "rights" are in relation to 49 berth. We heard on board that Irish Ferries have been similarly arrogant in relation to SeaCat operations during the summer. Who is it in Dublin that makes up the rules?

The 22.30 departure finally got away spot on midnight. After a quiet crossing, apart from a lumpy section off the South of the Island, we arrived in Douglas (Victoria Pier No 2 berth) at 04.37 on Saturday morning (booked 03.00).

A fascinating day and a half, to say the least.

Certainly this trip did not inspire us with any sort of confidence in the Port of Dublin, and particularly the way the use of berth 49 is handled.

Cheers

Jenny and John

 
 

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