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Finished With Engines: Irish Sea Shipping is now closed to new updates - J.H. Luxton Photography - Transport, Industrial History, Regional Photographs UK & beyond

Rapide: 12:00 Heysham to Belfast

May 4, 2002

Photographs John Luxton 2002

I arrived at Heysham some around 10:30. A small queue had already formed at the check-in kiosk. Asking the cheerful check-in clerk for the Blue Riband Queue he said: "they don't have Blue Riband on RAPIDE". I said: "Yes they do I went in it often enough last year." "They have First Class", he said, "You can go in that queue." I guess they don't have that many Blue Riband passengers travelling on RAPIDE to Belfast at Heysham!

My car was called forward first and placed near the top of the ramp around 10:50. By now RAPIDE was moving astern on to the berth. Discharge began within minutes with a very good load of vehicles coming off.

Loading began around 11:20. Driving on, being used to positioning the car by the starboard side door for discharge at Dublin I smartly drove round when told to go down to the bow, turn around and return to the vehicle door. However, I soon had it pointed out that parking on the starboard side would mean I wouldn't be first off! 

Making my way up to the main deck I was interested to see what changes, if any, had taken place since my last trip on RAPIDE in November on the Liverpool - Dublin route.

In Blue Riband, changes had been minimal. Same hard seats, though the newspaper table had disappeared to be replaced by a soft looking couch. The nautical theme prints which have appeared in the lounges on the LADY OF MANN, SEACAT ISLE OF MAN and SUPERSEACAT THREE now adorn the walls.

Since my last trip quite a few of the Blue Riband Lounge roof panels appeared twisted and bent and one light fitting cover was missing. The carpet however appears to have been replaced. The steward was very attentive and promptly served up a complimentary hot scone with butter and jam with a cup of coffee.

The First Class area on the other side of the glass screen had been reactivated, but was not available for passenger use as Sea Co safety lecture was being held in there. 

However, First Class only occupies part of the port side aft saloon. The seats along the windows are not First Class. The first class area is inboard away from the windows separated from the window seats by another glass screen. 

New seats and tables have been fitted in the First Class area but as there are only windows to the aft of the saloon it does appear rather claustrophobic. Sea Co should realise it would be easier to sell upgrades if there was a decent view! 

Further wandering round the vessel revealed that the Bar area had been rebranded Bar Blue. There have been no changes to the shop which appeared sparsely stocked. Isn't it about time Sea Containers commissioned some models of RAPIDE [and Lady of Mann!] to complement those available of the Ben-My-Chree, SuperSeaCat and SeaCat? A range of nautical inspired gifts and publications would also be welcome. There has always been some items of this nature available on the Isle of Man based vessels. Some years ago the KING ORRY boasted a large display of nautical gifts.

Departure from Heysham was early at 11.52. For some minutes prior to that the engines had been run up and quite a bit of smoke was floating in the air. On Number Two berth the MOONDANCE was discharging.

This sailing was only my second fast craft departure from Heysham. Being more used to travelling on slow moving  conventional tonnage in the harbour area, the rapid acceleration of RAPIDE in the was quite noticeable in the confined area.

Another large black cloud erupted out of the stern. Moving rapidly round the woodwork BEN-MY-CHREE could be seen approaching along the channel. A large pall of black smoke from RAPIDE's exhaust hung over Heysham harbour. A good distance before we approached the BEN-MY-CHREE the engine speed slackened off.

The ships passed at 12:05. I went back into the Blue Riband Lounge as speed increased as we passed Heysham number 6 buoy. The captain came on the almost inaudible PA and I am sure he said something about the vessel running on reduced power and we would be behind schedule arriving at 16:30.

RAPIDE rounded Lune Buoy at 11:29 and swung north west heading towards Point of Ayre.

At 13:30 an unidentified Norse Merchant vessel, could be seen some miles to the east heading towards Heysham, followed by what looked to be a coaster.

At 13:35 a puff of smoke appeared to signal an increase in power.

RAPIDE was off Maughold Head around 14:05 and a swift run across Ramsey Bay followed. If ever Ramsey Pier is restored, one wonders as to the viability of using Ramsey as a foot passenger boarding point on Heysham - Belfast sailings. It would certainly enhance travel between the Isle of Man, Ireland and England.

Point of Ayre passed to port around 14:15. To the starboard aft quarter could be seen MERCHANT VENTURE bound for Heysham followed astern by EUROPEAN PIONEER bound for Fleetwood.

To the north east a large unidentified research / exploration ship could be seen at anchor. With a large helipad on the foredeck and a massive radome on the top of the mainmast it made an impressive, if somewhat ugly sight.

Ahead could be seen MERCHANT BRILLIANT on her Heysham - Belfast sailing. RAPIDE and MERCHANT BRILLIANT passing at 14:30. As we left the Isle of Man astern, "Mananan's Cloak" appeared to slowly enveloped the coast so that only the mountain tops were readily discernable.

Crammag Head Lighthouse on the Scottish Coast at was passed at 15:00.

15:34 HSS STENA VOYAGER visible starboard inbound from Stranraer, she was to drop in behind RAPIDE and follow her up Belfast Lough.

At 15:38 RAPIDE passed Mew Island Lighthouse and entered Belfast Lough.

15:44 SEACAT SCOTLAND could be seen some way off rounding Black Head on her mid afternoon sailing to Troon.

15:44 NORTHERN STAR could be seen departing from Larne on one of her occasional Larne to Dublin sailings whilst another unidentified P&O vessel could be seen heading in bound.

15:46 LPG Tanker HAMILTON passed heading outbound this was followed four minutes later by LOUGH FISHER.

Kosan Gas tanker STELLA KOSAN could be seen at anchor off Bangor. 

15:54 low air draught coaster AJOS G passed outbound to be followed at  15:57 by the freighter SEA EAGLE.

At 16:03 the handles were pushed back at channel marker 15.

Ships noted at the various berths were container ship JANE working containers.  A little upstream was Ramsey Steamship Company's BEN ELLEN. The large Cosco bulker YOU SHENG was also noted whilst, astern if her was the cargo ship ALEXANDRIA.

Outside Harland & Wolff yard could be seen the massive floating rig BULFORD DOLPHIN.  A little further up stream on the south side of the Lagan could be seen the preserved WWI cruiser HMS CAROLINE which is used by the RNR. The final vessel of note was CELTIC KING working containers. The tops of the two catamarans which had been intended for the proposed Loughlink service were also glimpsed.

16.20 arrived Donegal Quay terminal. Within a few minutes the stern door was open and I drove off. As I came off RAPIDE, a crewman pointed to the left towards what I thought was the exit and by the time I realised my mistake I was heading towards the other linkspan. The vehicle exit from Belfast is that obvious! - I realised my mistake as the crewman started to wards me, I quickly reversed and found my way to the correct exit!

Heysham - Removing Gangway

Maughold Head

Point of Ayre

Merchant Brilliant

Mew Island Lighthouse


You Sheng

Bulford Dophin


HMS Caroline

Harland & Wolf

Celtic King


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