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Seasonal Wanderings with Sea Containers

by John H. Luxton 

This is a collection of notes supplemented by some photographs of my Irish Sea wanderings with Sea Containers over the Christmas Holiday period. 

Friday December 28


08:30 Douglas to Liverpool

Departure was significantly delayed due to the adverse conditions prevailing on the Irish Sea. Passengers were advised that a departure at 12:00 was likely but they were to check back at 11:00.

At about 11:05 it was confirmed that the LADY OF MANN would depart at 12:00.

Loading commenced shortly after 11:15 and was undertaken quite speedily.

It was certainly quite breezy down on the river, the strong north westerly wind would make for an interesting departure. At 12:11 the stern ropes were let go, which enabled the Lady’s stern to kick out into the river whilst the bow rope remained attached at the seaward end of the stage, preventing the Lady being blown backwards towards the linkspan. As her stern moved out into the river the angle increased considerably. With the ship at an angle of around 80 degrees off the stage and her stern well clear of the link span the bow rope was released at 12:16 enabling her to get off the stage.

As the LADY came off the stage P&O’s Celtic Star and NorseMerchant Ferries Dawn Merchant were departing from Gladstone and Langton Locks respectively on their voyages to Dublin.

With the Lady clear of the stage and her screws biting we hurried down river passing the Rock at around 12:25.

The LADY was the rearmost in a line up of three departing ships with DAWN MERCHANT at the front and CELTIC STAR in the middle. The LADY was doing a good job closing the gap with the much slower CELTIC STAR and as we made out way down Crosby Channel it looked as though the LADY was going to pass her. The LADY was starting to draw ahead after we had rounded Crosby bend. It was then that the seas rapidly built up.

Formby light was passed at 12:55, however, the Lady stopped her attempt to pass CELTIC STAR and decelerated to allow CELTIC STAR to move across the Channel and head off westwards for Dublin.

The Liverpool Bar light was passed at 13:12 - seas were getting quite high and the Lady pitched down into a number of troughs. As she was running head on into the sea there was very little rolling but quite a lot of pitching. On a number of occasions a sudden fall off in engine speed signalled the approach or a trough. There appeared to be a lot of working of the levers.

The Offshore Installation was passed at 14:05. The sun was shining towards the west and with the warm air blowing out of the air vents on the stern ramp it was a pleasant place to be watching the elements at work. To the south the Douglas Platform with its prominent gas flare could be seen behind was the silhouette of the Welsh mountains.

The Lady made a steady run and gradually as we moved into the lee of the Isle of Man the sea conditions improved markedly. Wandering round the ship, despite the bouncy conditions most passengers appeared to be okay, with very few looking as though they were suffering.

With the Isle of Man in view a container ship was noted heading south towards Liverpool with two other vessels following, It may well have been that given conditions at the Bar inbound vessels were picking up the pilots off the Isle of Man.

By the time Douglas Harbour was reached conditions had improved significantly and we were on the berth at 16:45. With a passage time of 4 hours 34 minutes a very creditable time and faster than the time recorded on the previous Friday when conditions were much less severe.

As we discharged a large number of vehicles had been drawn up into two lines awaiting the now rather delayed 13:45 sailing.

The LADY OF MANN was then scheduled to return to Liverpool with these vehicles before returning with the delayed 19:00 from Liverpool.

Saturday 29 December


08:00 Douglas to Dublin

Unlike the previous two years, the BEN-MY-CHREE was scheduled to work only one of the two seasonal Christmas sailings from Douglas to Dublin. The pre Christmas sailing to and from Dublin being operated by the LADY OF MANN. The same pattern is planned for December 2002. Thus December 29, 2001 is the only date on which the BEN-MY-CHREE strays from her usual twice daily Douglas to Heysham route and is therefore something of an occasion, One could call it the Ben’s day out.

The usual pattern is for the pre Christmas outward sailing from Douglas to be quite busy, with fewer people travelling from Ireland to the Isle of Man. Hence the post Christmas outward sailing from Douglas is quite lightly loaded as this was to prove to be true again.

Loading commenced around 07:30. The BEN was away at 08:06 a few minutes late. There was no apparent reason for the delay. As she cleared the breakwater instead of setting her usual course for Heysham she swung hard to starboard and started to follow the coast down towards the Calf of Mann.

When I walked from the Sefton Hotel down to the Sea Terminal it looked that at some stage in the night it had rained. However, I passed a couple of cars parked up which had a cover of fresh snow on the roofs and bonnets which suggested that outside of the town there might have been a significant snow fall.

As the BEN-MY-CHREE headed south down the east coast of the Isle of Man it was obvious that northwards from Onchan head and up unto the mountains there had been a fairly good fall of snow, with a lighter dusting towards the south. In many ways the conditions were not dissimilar to those prevailing at the same time this time last year, as snow was lying on the ground then.

Around 08:45 the BEN-MY-CHREE was passing Port St.Mary to starboard. In the distance to the west the Mourne Mountains could be seen dusted with snow. Calf Sound was passed at 08:53 with Chicken Rock sliding by at 09:00. Nothing more was to be seen for around an hour and a half until the familiar outline of the SAGA MOON was noted at 10:34 on her morning sailing from Dublin to Heysham.

At 10:30 a few miles to the south could be seen Irish Ferries ULYSSES heading for Holyhead. Thirty five minutes later the HSS STENA EXPLORER was noted heading east bound on her late morning sailing for Holyhead, shortly afterwards an unidentified P&O vessel [EUROPEAN PATHFINDER] was passed heading east bound. As the BEN-MY-CHREE approached Dublin the JONATHAN SWIFT could be seen heading outbound for Holyhead.

Poolbeg lighthouse at the end of the Great South Wall was passed at 12:34 and the BEN-MY-CHREE was off berth 49 at 12:48 with ropes on at 12:50.

As the BEN-MY-CHREE cannot align itself with the passenger gangways passenger discharge and boarding at Dublin is via the vehicle ramp. There was a slight delay before it was possible to drop the ramp onto the linkspan as the vessel’s position was adjusted slightly.

Saturday 29 December



Departure from Dublin was behind schedule at 13:53 with 247 passengers on board. 

As she headed out of the Liffey and passed Poolbeg the distinctive profile of one of the Irish Naval Service’s new Róisín class warships could be seen coming around the Baily heading inbound for Dublin. As we approached it because apparent that the vessel was the first of the as yet two vessel class P51 LE RÓISÍN, built by Appledore shipyard Devon in 1999. The RÓISÍN class vessels have a pleasing, modern design and are rumoured to be the basis for the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company’s new SCILLONIAN IV.

After passing the LE RÓISÍN the next vessel to be seen was CELTIC STAR at 15:17 west bound on her morning departure from Liverpool to Dublin.

DAWN MERCHANT passed east bound at 15:45 bound for Dublin on her 11:00 sailing from Liverpool.

Chicken Rock was passed at 17:25 and the BEN was back on her berth at Douglas at 18:32.

Sunday 30 December


13:45 Douglas - Dublin

Departure from Douglas was prompt at 13:45 with 274 passengers and 68 vehicles on board. Douglas Harbour Radio reported winds as 14 knots NNW. A rather uneventful smooth passage to Liverpool followed. Visibility on the journey was excellent as the sun set in the west the part of Anglesey was visible to the west and with the aid of binoculars it was possible to identify the top of the chimney of the aluminium smelter on Holy Island.

At 16:03 the Off Shore Installation was passed with its guard ship CLWYD SUPPORTER close by. Formby Lightfloat was passed at 16:53 with the Rock being passed at 17:30. The LADY OF MANN was on Prince’s Stage at 17:44, one minute ahead of schedule.

Friday January 4


08:30 Liverpool - Douglas

Departure from Liverpool was prompt at 08:30. The Rock was passed at 08:45. Visibility certainly wasn’t as good as it had been on Sunday’s Douglas to Liverpool sailing. Passing Crosby Lightfloat at 09:00 the MD&HC dredger MERSEY MARINER came into view heading up the channel and we passed at Q12. Further down the channel the brown hulled freight ship EURODRACHT passed inbound near Q2 at 09:20. The Liverpool Bar lightfloat passed by to port at around 09:30.

A very uneventful voyage to Douglas followed. With a southerly wind and following sea the LADY OF MANN surfed along the waves. Quite a contrast to her wave piercing performance on the delayed 08:30 sailing the previous Friday.

The LADY OF MANN entered Douglas harbour at 12:22 and was on the berth at 12:25 five minutes ahead of schedule.

Saturday January 5


20:00 Douglas - Heysham.

I drove round to the vehicle check-in around 19:00 just as the BEN-MY-CHREE had commenced her weekly emergency drill. Her one long blast and seven short blasts echoing across a somewhat foggy Douglas Harbour.

Boarding didn’t commence until around 19:40 but there was very little traffic on board. The BEN-MY-CHREE managed to get away slightly ahead of schedule and her ropes were clear at 19:55 with only 41 passengers on board.

Outside things remained rather misty, peering round the edges of the blinds in the Blue Riband lounge the bow of the BEN remained in view but it was obvious much further beyond the bows it remained quiet foggy.

At around 22:14 the vessel called up Heysham harbour advising 20 minutes from Lune Deep. SAGA MOON and RIVERDANCE were underway outbound. Furthermore a 22:30 departure from Heysham was advised. The BEN advised Heysham of a 22:18 time off the Heysham "woodwork", the term used to describe the rickety only jetty at the harbour entrance.

At 22:05 an outbound rig supply vessel passed to port. The BEN-MY-CHREE actually passed the end of the "woodwork" at 22:15 . RIVER LUNE was on the #2 linkspan. After swinging in the harbour and moving astern onto #1 linkspan the BEN-MY-CHREE was made fast at 23:28, two minutes ahead of schedule.



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