When I arrived at the vehicle check in area around 00:00 there were already a number of vehicles lined up. I was directed into the Blue Riband queue in line 8 whose sole occupant was a Bentley. Bentley's are certainly fare from common and it was strange that another one was encountered on the return trip on the Lady a few days later.
It was rather blustery, therefore, I didn't bother venturing into the terminal building, electing to remain in the car. Whilst waiting to board I noted the arrival of various newspaper trucks who entered the former James Fisher terminal area on the south quay. This appears to be used as a newspaper distribution point, with some of the papers presumably finding their way on to the BEN-MY-CHREE bound for the Isle of Man.
Vehicles were called forward for boarding around 12:50. One advantage of being a member of the Blue Riband Club is that you get priority loading. My humble little Ford KA keeping company with a shiny Bentley at the head of the private vehicle queue.
The last 02:15 departure I made from Heysham with a car was back in summer 2000. On That occasion private vehicles were called forward to the top of the number 1 berth linkspan at around the same time but where held there until just after 02:00 before being boarded in a hurried fashion just prior to departure.
Fortunately this did not happen this time. The was a wait of around 20 minutes whilst the tug masters scurried to and fro with the semi-trailers. Some accompanied trucks then boarded before the cars were directed on board at around 01:10.
Private vehicles were directed onto the upper vehicle deck. I then made my way up to deck 7 to collect the cabin key.
On deck 7 it was noted that some alterations had obviously taken place to the cafe-bar area. The cafe counter now being rather like that on the LADY OF MANN and has gained the same "Promenade Café" branding. The bar area, as on the LADY OF MANN is now the "Triskle Ba". These changes will no doubt enable standardised menus to be produced for both vessels. New signs have appeared around the BEN-MY-CHREE of a similar design to those applied during the LADY OF MANN's refit last year.
New paintwork has been applied to parts of the stairwell area as well as carpeting. I ventured into the Blue Riband Lounge to check for any refit changes there and avail myself to some refreshments before bed. However, my membership card would not release the electronic lock. One of the stewardesses explained that the lock needed reprogramming and let me in through the crew door. There has been a modest revamp of the lounge with a light coloured, deep pile carpet being installed. How serviceable this may prove to be in the long run especially after rough voyages remains to be seen.
The bench seats and armchairs have all be reupholstered in materials somewhat similar to those employed in the Blue Riband Lounge on the LADY OF MANN. After a couple of glasses of wine it was time to get off to the cabin for a sleep.
As I had made my reservation rather late I was informed that there was only a disabled or dog cabin left! I selected the dog cabin as it did not appear right to take up a disabled cabin.
However, on opening the wider than usual door of cabin 818 it was apparent that this was a disabled cabin! Obviously a greater need had arisen to accommodate a pooch!
Some of the differences noted were alarm cords to summon assistance, plus the fact that the bed on the forward side of the cabin was actually a hinged bunk, of the type found above the lower beds. Presumably this arrangement exist to allow for manoeuvring wheelchairs. Additionally there was also a grab handle close to the washroom door.
The disabled cabins share a washroom probably to provide more space for wheelchairs. These are entered by a large sliding door. There being a matching door into the adjacent cabin. One has to remember to lock both doors when using the washroom. A notice requests that you remember to unlock the other door after use. However, I did note that there appeared to be nothing to stop access between cabins via the washroom at least on my washroom door. It appeared as though there had once been some kind of hook and eye catch, but the hook on the cabin 818 door looked as though it had long gone missing. This should be rectified as it would have given the occupants of the neighbouring cabin access whilst one was asleep. In these security conscious times not an ideal situation.
Unlike the conventional cabins on the BEN-MY-CHREE the washroom is just that. There is no shower facility.
By the time the Ben appeared to move off around 02:10 I was in bed. The cabin darkening as the lights of Heysham harbour were left behind.
I woke up again about an hour later feeling rather hot. By now the BEN-MY-CHREE was well out of the sheltered waters and she was pitching around a bit. I drifted off to sleep again before being woken by several hefty thumps as the Ben punched her way though the waves.
I obviously drifted off to sleep again as the next thing I recall was being woken by the PA system announcing our arrival in Douglas and requesting that passengers occupying cabins return their keys to the information desk on deck 8.
Looking out of the window Douglas Lifeboat station was visible and the BEN-MY-CHREE had commenced swinging round ready to move astern onto the berth. The time was now 05:50
Outside on the corridor doors were clicking and people could be heard moving around. Switching on the kettle for a quick cup of tea the PA sounded again advising that the vehicle decks were now open yet the Ben had not yet stopped moving!
These days there appears to be an undue haste in wishing to get everyone one off vessels as soon as they arrive after night crossings. Its hard to know if this is the operators just wanting to get things prepared for the next trip or partly a response to passengers in a rush to disembark.
By the time I returned to vehicle deck 5 most drivers were in the cars though it was obvious that discharging of vehicles from the lower deck must still be underway as the ramp had yet to be lowered.
This was finally done around 06:10 and I drove off at 06:15. Therefore, there was no real need for the haste in which private vehicle passengers were being hurried down to their vehicles as they were left to sit there and wait.
Given that the BEN-MY-CHREE does not depart again until 09:00 I have often wondered why a more leisurely disembarkation for non-commercial drivers and foot passengers occupying cabins is not permitted up to say 07:00.
There are few things to-do in Douglas at 06:15 in the morning. Fortunately the Sefton Hotel where I had a reservation was able to let me check-in earlier than their usual check-in time of 14:00 and get some breakfast.
My personal feeling is that if there wasn't such a rush to get passengers off the vessel, the time between 06:00 and 07:00 could be usefully used by selling breakfasts to a captive audience and enhancing revenue.
Or perhaps my attitudes belong to a long gone age when passengers could remain in cabins after arrival until a civilised hour!