To date I have never sailed Llandudno to the Isle of Man on an Isle of Man Steam Packet vessel. I do recall watching a classic turbine arriving there in the mid 1970s when I had been taken to Llandudno by my grandmother to have a trip on the Great Orme Tramway, as in those days my principal interest was in rail transport. After the trip on the Tramway and another trip on the then recently opened Cable Car we then walked along the pier and watched a classic turbine arrive. I can't recall which vessel it was, though I remember quite a few passengers disembarked. It was late afternoon and I would presume that the ship had been on a cruise to Puffin Island.
In more recent times have sailed from Llandudno on several occasions on Balmoral to Anglesey, Blackpool and Morecambe Bay. Today's trip was to be another Steam Packet first as far as my personal experiences were concerned.
Knowing that parking near to the pier at Llandudno was limited resulted in a decision to make an early start to ensure a convenient parking space and avoid the rush as word had already been passed around that the sailing was full.
Leaving home around 05:00 and driving through Liverpool it was interesting to note quite a few Saturday night revellers making their ways home. I must confess that I seldom get up early on Sundays without very good reason. However. the Lady of Mann is one of the few very good reasons I could think of.
Driving along the North Wales Expressway the weather was fine, however, approaching Llandudno Junction it became apparent that some heavy weather was developing over the Snowdonia Mountains.
I arrived at the Pier car park around 06:40. There remained just two spaces left. As I made my way along the pier the Lady of Mann could be seen approaching at low speed from the North West.
A few years have passed since I last walked along Llandudno Pier to board the Balmoral. It was interesting to note that the fabric of the pier appears, as is common with many similar structures, well past its best and it will not be long before some major work is required to ensure its continued availability as a recreational facility and boarding point for occasional Steam Packet and Waverley Steam Navigation Company sailings.
Some patching work appeared to be underway near the Pier Head. Under the canopy of the Pier Head Pavilion which now serves as an amusement arcade, was a table functioning as the check-in desk.
Ground crew and security staff surprisingly appeared to be from Heysham rather than Liverpool, which perhaps one might have expected.
Though I was early, there were a good number of passengers already checked in and waiting behind the temporary barriers erected under the pavilion canopy.
The LADY OF MANN of came alongside the small landing pier around 07:10. However, it took a few minutes before she was positioned a number of whistle blasts were heard as positioning took place.
The small landing area means that it was only possible to use one gangway.
On boarding it was interesting to notice a new addition to the LADY OF MANN. The previous week I had watched the ship being prepared for the new season at Alexandra Dock. I thought I had seen the new passenger and crew stern car ramp access doors painted wood grain. Perhaps I was imagining things? Or perhaps the white paint had been restored? However, a distinctive new feature had made an appearance.
A small conservatory style porch has been fitted to the passenger access passageway. The passageway itself has been fitted out and carpeted to provide a much more welcoming entrance to the vessel's passenger area. The previous entrance passage presented a utility appearance and was often damp, thanks to the old pull down windows which remained in this area.
Enquires reveal that the porch has been erected to provide some, protection to the passenger side passage. However, one wonders just how robust it may prove to be in winter.
Gangway was removed at 08:03. Three late comers appeared on the pier just in time to see the ropes let go at 08:06. I couldn't get the exact passenger figures for the outward sailing but it was believed to be between 700 and 800.
The LADY OF MANN moved astern off the pier, a large number of people lining the stern ramps
Captain Spencer welcomed everyone onboard informing passengers that wind was blowing SW 5 to 6
The LADY OF MANN moved slowly astern off the pier and swung out into the bay. There was little to be seen enroute to Douglas. The cloud continue to thicken. The only vessel of note to be seen was a Liverpool bound tanker around 09:33.
One of the passengers travelling on the vessel appeared to be a town crier dressed in traditional costume. As the voyage to Douglas progressed this gentleman was noted propped up against the crew galley vent reading a Titanic book and listening to a Titanic CD!
The mid voyage update advised passengers that the LADY OF MANN was running at 20 knots.
As the Isle of Mann approach it started raining, intermittently at first. The captain advised passengers that the stabilizers would be retracted before the final approach to Douglas Harbour. On the outside of Victoria Pier could be seen Island Class patrol vessel HMS ALDERNEY.
Ropes were on at 11:10.
The LADY berthed on number two berth. To assist in the rapid disembarkation of passengers the vehicle gangway was attached to the stern ramp, as well as the conventional passenger gangway which was attached to the boat deck.
By now it was rather damp and I decided to change my plans and opted for Tours coach excursion to the south of the island and Peel. Though a regular visitor to the Isle of Man I have never been on a guided coach tour. It was both entertaining and informative. The driver was certainly an excellent representative for both his company and the Isle of Man.
Arrival back at the Sea Terminal was at 15:45. A long queue snaked back from the security gate, past the check-in desks and round to the entrance to the waiting area.
The queue moved reasonably quickly. However, as usual the security gate caused the bottleneck, quite a few of the passengers managing to activate the metal detector. Regular travellers know that putting all metal items in hand baggage which is x-rayed can be a way of avoiding problems.
There were already quite a few passengers on board by the time I boarded at 16:00. I initially made my way don to the Blue Riband lounge. As on the outward journey, given the scarcity of members, passenger were allowed upgrade to Blue Riband as well as 1st Class
Ropes were off at Douglas at 16:38. Passenger numbers were reported to be 712. The LADY OF MANN moved astern of the berth. The captain had advised a southerly wind force 6 to 7. It took around 11 minutes for the Lady to swing and point her bows through the harbour entrance and accelerate away.
The LADY took a rather wide swing in the bay to take up a southerly course for Llandudno. The LADY OF MANN was now running head into the wind which resulted in a fair amount of motion, which provided some of the occasional excursionists with a noticeable mount of motion discomfort. The sudden disappearance of the queue at the Promenade Cafe is usually indicative of a decline in appetite brought about by motion.
I spent most of the return trip on the stern ramp, though it rained for much of the returned trip with the Lady running head into the wind the stern ramp provided shelter.
As the Welsh coast approached the weather improved and the cloud lifted. A small patch of blue sky could be seen over the Little Orme.
A slow and careful approach was made to Llandudno Pier. The LADY OF MANN was on the Pier at 20:05, though some positioning was required before the gangway could be put in place at 20:15.
With a single gangway in use, disembarkation was going to take a while. I eventually disembarked around 20:25.
Making my way back to the car, I set off for home through the centre of Llandudno. Swinging onto the promenade near Bodafon Fields I was in time to seen the LADY OF MANN moving off into the bay.
Though it was an overcast evening the Lady appeared to reflect the available light and looked absolutely splendid as she set sail for Warrenpoint for Monday's excursion to Douglas.