Hellenic Mediterranean’s ‘Egnatia’, must be almost unique in the ferry world in that from her construction in 1960 until her breaking up earlier this year she never changed names or operators. Her successor, ‘Egnatia II’, however, was the complete opposite, and must be one of the most widely travelled ferries ever. The former ‘St Patrick II’, built originally for Viking Line as their ‘Aurella’ in 1973, had served the Baltic, the Kattegat, the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the Channel before she appeared on the Adriatic in HML’s colours in 1998. Also in complete contract to her predecessor, she was only to serve HML for two seasons. Since then she has continued her roaming, serving briefly as ‘Ville de Sete’ in the Western Mediterranean before her now infamous return this year to the Irish Sea for Swansea-Cork Ferries.
Having never sampled her before, when I discovered this fascinating ship would be returning to UK waters as the ‘City of Cork’, I was determined to make a crossing. Despite her rather notorious safety record, I was not put off, and made a return trip over the Bank holiday weekend, which did indeed prove a most interesting experience. My girlfriend and I sailed out of Swansea on the 21:00 sailing on Friday 24th, and returned on Monday 27th on the 09:30 ex-Cork.
We arrived at Swansea at about 18:30, and traffic was already queuing along the approach road to the check in booth. The reason for this was that the security sheds had not yet been opened up, and the marshalling area before them is extremely limited. The result of this was that once a certain number of cars, maybe 20, had checked in, no others could until security arrived. The check in staff’s answer to this however, was to leave their booths, and walk along the queue, taking tickets and then running back to process them, before returning with all the documents. I was very impressed with this service, which ensured that when the sheds did open, we were able to drive straight through. When our tickets were taken, we were also informed that although the ‘City of Cork’ was late arriving, she would nonetheless be leaving on time. She duly docked at about 19:45, and loading commenced about 20:20. Having never before sailed from Swansea, I was pleasantly surprised at how close you could walk to the berth, and how easy photography was. A large crowd got out of their cars to observe her berth bow-in. Her external appearance was rather scruffy, and she bore several rust streaks. It was interesting to note that the shamrock on her bow from her ICL days is still very visible.
As one of the first cars loaded, we were parked close to the stern door, and were handed a small ticket for ‘Priority’ disembarkation. The car deck consisted of the main deck, and two fixed upper levels on either side. The cars were being tightly packed, quite considerably more so than I had previously experienced on equally busy crossings, and leaving very little room for passengers to move. Access to the stairs was fine when we were leaving, as other vehicles had not yet been loaded, but on our return, with our overnight bags, it was very difficult to get to the car.
Having booked a cabin, we had to visit reception in order to pick up the key. Being some of the first onboard, I arrived there to see a line of uniformed stewards/esses waiting to show passengers to their accommodation. Our key was given to a stewardess who then led us down to the main cabin deck, located one deck below, to our 2-berth en-suite with porthole. She was very pleasant, offering to help with our luggage. The cabin itself was actually a 4 berth, with two small tables.
This main cabin deck, Deck 5, is located directly above the car deck, and consists entirely of passenger cabin accommodation. I believe all of the cabins on this level are en-suite. There are two small lobbies, from where stairs lead down to the car decks, and to further passenger cabins located below these on Deck 2. Stairs also lead up to Deck 6, the main passenger deck. This consists of Paddy Murphy’s Lounge aft, formerly the Crystal Lounge when she was the ‘St Patrick II’, which is spread across the width of the ship. There was a small dance floor and a raised platform aft, whilst the bar itself was centrally located forward. To starboard the lounge continued into an area, which in her Irish Ferries days was classed separately as the Paddy Murphy pub, but is now incorporated into the main lounge. This had a door off to the large amidships reception area. To port of the bar a corridor leads off past a small children’s play area and gaming room, referred to as the Casino. This corridor then also feeds into the central reception area.
The central reception area is rectangular in shape, consisting of two stairwell lobbies, with two wide parallel corridors connecting them. The reception itself is located forward off the port corridor, whilst the bureau de change is found in the forward stairwell lobby, facing down the starboard corridor. From the forward lobby, corridors lead off forward on both sides, both of which lead to the forward Tusker Cafeteria. On the way forward on the port corridor there is a small counter service perfumery on the port side, and the entrance of to the gift shop is located to starboard on this corridor. Forward of the perfumery were a few reclining seats and luggage racks. Off the starboard corridor there were just a larger number of reclining seats. The cafeteria again spanned the width of the vessel, and consisted of a large seating area with a raised platform forward, and twin L shaped serveries.
Deck 7 above comprised the large Fastnet Restaurant forward, which has two centrally located carvery serveries. In Irish Ferries days this had been the Shamrock Restaurant. Aft of this is the forward lobby, with access to the outside promenades on both sides. Amidships are two corridors of cabins, which lead to the aft lobby. From here access is available both to the promenades, and to the Pullman Lounge, which doubles up as the cinema. Doors from this lead to the aft sun deck. A further sun deck and promenades are located on the deck above, which is also her bridge deck. The ships’ kennels were to be found on this upper sun deck.
Overall, the ship shows a fascinating mix of her different periods of service. Although I had never sailed on her before, it is obvious the ship is still very much the ‘St Patrick II’, and actually I don’t believe any major structural or layout changes have been made since her Viking Line days. I would guess her layout is original, but that most of her interior fittings date from her later Irish Ferries days. There are nonetheless, many indications of her HML service, predominantly in the signage aboard, and Swansea-Cork have also made their mark.
The Paddy Murphy Lounge is fitted with a mixture of brown patterned fixed seating and freestanding chairs, and bright red rather low sofas. These sofas look a little out of place, and may have been fitted by HML. Could anyone confirm this? The lounge is rather dark overall, and the bulkheads are finished with fake dark wood panels. These are in fact also found throughout the passenger areas, and I believe these probably are original from her Viking Line days. In the lounge the bulkheads are scattered with small paintings of sailing vessels, which looked extremely dated, and could well be from her early Irish Continental days. The area to starboard formerly known as Paddy Murphy’s pub has slightly different fittings, with dark red fake leather armchairs and typical old fashioned ‘Murphy’s’ adverts decorating the bulkheads. It is fairly clear the area was once classed separately. The carpeting in both areas, and indeed throughout the vessel, is with an abstract shamrock design.
The central reception area has lighter bulkheads, and displays several adverts, maps and nautical charts, all of which refer to Ireland or the UK. These are also scattered around the various lobbies. This area, and particularly the reception desk itself, looks as if it largely unchanged since her Viking Line era, although I may of course be wrong. The gift shop, obviously the former duty-free, sold the usual variety of books/maps and Irish gifts and memorabilia. Somewhat strangely, the counter in the shop had been covered over with various nautical charts from around the world, quite bizarre! The reclining seats in the side corridors were upholstered in gray, and did look particularly comfortable. The bulkheads in both these corridors were finished in the dark wooden panels.
The Tusker Cafeteria was quite a light area, and was fitted with a variety of tables, and soft beige plastic covered chairs. The seating area was split up by a number of small dividers, several of which contained plants. The Fastnet restaurant was predominantly red in décor, again with the wooden panels on the bulkheads. There were several large serveries in the centre, obviously installed for a buffet-style operation, but were not currently in use. Attractive curtains hung above the windows. The chairs were upholstered in red, whilst the tables themselves had a white plastic covering, albeit hidden by tablecloths when being used. There were no tables for two, just for four or more. The aft Pullman lounge contained similar gray recliners to those in the lower side lounges. There was a bar located forward to starboard, but this was not in use. Two screens were lowered forward to convert the room to a cinema, for which there was no charge. Naturally enough, this was also another rather dark room.
Her history was most obvious through the many different signs around the vessel, and there were examples from virtually all of her careers. Most had been altered to read ‘City of Cork’ and SCF, but it was very clear these names had been superimposed. Signs directing people to the cabins were obviously from ICL days, if not Viking Line. Passengers could also still follow signs to the Duty Free shop! A map of the vessel on the car deck level still bore the name ‘St Patrick II’. The large ships plans around the passenger accommodation were obviously from Irish Ferries. The Swansea-Cork Ferries logo had been added over the top, and stickers had altered the facility names from their previous incarnations, but many had come loose, and still advertised the ‘Shamrock’ Restaurant for example. HML had added several signs, and many remained unaltered, being in English as well as Greek. In the stairwells leading to the car decks large signs proclaimed the name ‘City of Cork’, but these had obviously been added over the original ‘Egnatia II’ name, as the first line of the sign was in Greek. SCF had also added some very large blue signs directing people around the ship.
In the cabins, all the evacuation plans had been installed by HML, and their logo was clearly visible under that of SCF. In my return cabin, the Balear Express logo was also visible! The evacuation plans included a map of the passenger decks, and it would appear that the former Paddy Murphy’s pub area was designated as a nightclub during her Greek years. Apart from the hidden logo in the cabin, very little trace of her Balear Express incarnation remained, although interestingly, their website, www.balearexpress.com, is still active, albeit with bookings suspended!
This website continues to proclaim: "The "Ville de Sète" is more than a boat, it's a "Ferry-cruiser", a boat with exceptional facilities". Having experienced her, I have to say that, even then, this must have been rather misleading. Today the vessel looks very dated, and her passenger facilities are clearly tired, displaying a fair amount of wear and tear. The cabins in particular were shabby, with non-matching blankets, tatty and dirty carpets, and badly stained en-suite pods. I would imagine all the cabins date from her Viking Line days. The open decks and car decks also certainly revealed the vessel’s age, both having many "pock-marks". That said, the all passenger facilities and open decks were kept very clean, and generally the service from the crew was excellent. The ship certainly has an international feel, with Irish reception and bar staff, Polish restaurant staff, as is traditional with SCF, and Greek officers and engineers.
Having settled into our cabin, we decided to sample the Fastnet Restaurant. The Polish waiter was very friendly and attentive, but overall, I was slightly disappointed by the quality of the meal. Whilst some of the wines available were very good value, with several bottles at 6.95, I felt the main dinner menu was overpriced for the standard of the food, at on average 9/10 pounds. However the deserts were reasonably priced at 2.50. The menu itself offered a good variety, although it was not particularly adventurous. Early on in the meal the ship departed, slightly late at about 21:15. Contrary to earlier reports on the Irish Sea Yahoo! Group, a full and clear safety announcement was made shortly after departure. The restaurant remained open until approximately 22:30, and the Tusker Cafeteria stopped serving hot meals at around the same time. It remained open for snacks and drinks however throughout the night.
Following our meal, we spent some time in the Paddy Murphy’s Lounge, where the drinks prices were again very reasonable. Somewhat surprisingly however, there was no entertainment in the lounge. In fact, the only entertainment laid on throughout the crossing was a movie which had been shown earlier in the evening in the Pullman Lounge, for which no charge was made. Interestingly, announcements were made to advise passengers that the lounge was not a sleeping area.
Retiring to our cabin, we both slept well, although the CoC is certainly a ‘creaker’! Not surprising however, given her age. Announcements about her arrival commenced around 6am, but when I rose at 5:45 the vessel was already busy with passengers, and the cafeteria began serving the breakfast menu at 6am. Required to vacate our cabins about 45minutes before arrival, we sat with a coffee in Paddy Murphy’s lounge.
As has been described several times before on this site, the approach to the ferry port at Ringaskiddy really is spectacular. ‘Renaissance 7’ was berthed at Cobh. We were held up due to traffic in the approaches, and eventually berthed at about 7:45. Disembarkation at Cobh was very well organized, with ‘Priority’ ticket holders being called down to the car decks first. This prevented the narrow stairwells becoming blocked, and ensured all those with cars in crucial forward positions were at their cars in time ready to drive off. We were able to drive off almost immediately, and I was again very impressed with this.
On our return crossing on Monday 27th, was scheduled for 09:30, and when we arrived at 8:00 there were already a couple of lines of traffic waiting to board. Unfortunately the excellent service by the check in staff at Swansea was not mirrored at Cork, and the member of staff was noticeably unfriendly and unhelpful. There was no hello or goodbye, and it was not explained to us that we had to pick up our cabin key at reception. This is quite unusual these days, and had we not previously crossed with SCF, I would not have known this. Loading however was prompt, and began at about 8:15. Again the cars were tightly packed onboard, and again, given the small size of my car, we were placed near the bow and handed a priority ticket. Our cabin this time was an inside 2berth en-suite, excellent value for the 10hour crossing at 10 pounds. It was located forward on Deck 5, and was pleasantly spacious. The en-suite was larger than before, and interestingly the sink tap doubled up as the shower, as it could be extended out. Again however, it was well worn and the carpet in particular was rather dirty.
I had arranged in advance a bridge visit courtesy of Ship Operations manager Dave Mahoney, and once we had pulled away from the berth on time, I was escorted up their by Purser Claire Crimmen. Global Marine’s ‘Sir Eric Sharp’ was berthed close to the ferry terminal, and ‘Saga Rose’ had taken ‘R7’’s place at Cobh. Both Claire, and the Greek officers on the bridge were exceptionally friendly, many thanks to them and Dave for making this visit possible. The bridge itself was spacious and appeared quite traditional, with plenty of wood on the bulkheads. Here perhaps more than the passenger decks HML’s influence could be felt, with several company logos visible. Interestingly, one HML sticker had been stuck alongside a very early Irish Continental sticker. Some of the plans in the corridor still bore the name ‘Egnatia II’.
The weather was excellent throughout the voyage, and we decided to try the Fastnet Restaurant again for lunch. This time our impressions were much better, the staff were equally as polite, but the value was much better, with a three-course lunch and coffee on offer for 10.50. Whilst the food was not amazing, there was a wide variety of dishes, the quality was certainly acceptable for the price, and we thoroughly enjoyed the lunch. Evidently we were not alone, as the restaurant appeared heavily patronized.
The voyage was extremely pleasant, and I was sad to disembark when the ‘City of Cork’ arrived slightly late at 19:50. This delay was explained as being down to tidal restrictions. Disembarkation was unfortunately much more chaotic than at Cork, as everyone was allowed to surge down to the car decks together, resulting in those needing to get down early being delayed, and we ourselves were held up behind a car whose passengers had not yet arrived.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my experiences with SCF and the ‘City of Cork’. The service onboard is generally high, and despite being rather tired, she is certainly still a pleasant vessel in which to cross. Although obviously a night ferry, and hence generally quite dark, both the Fastnet Restaurant and the Tusker Cafeteria were very pleasant light and airy areas during the day crossing. On both my sailings she was heavily loaded, but did not appear crampt, and certainly I did not overhear any unfavourable comment from other passengers. It is doubtful whether the City of Cork will serve the route again next year, as it is believed SCF are seeking an improved vessel, so I would therefore urge enthusiasts to sample this fascinating ship whilst they can.
During my stay around Cork, I visited Cobh for a closer sight of ‘Renaissance 7’, and crossed using Cross-River Ferries. John has already documented this service, but I will just re-iterate that it is a very pleasant and picturesque crossing. On my visit the ‘Carriagloe’ was nowhere to be seen, despite it being the peak August tourist weekend, and I made a return trip on the ‘Glenbrook’, formerly Caledonian MacBrayne’s ‘Lochalsh’. There was a very basic passenger lounge, which interestingly still contained an evacuation plan bearing her former name and operator’s logo!