Saturday 5th April 2003: Liverpool to Dublin 08.15 sailing.
Saturday 5th April 2003: Dublin to Liverpool 13.15 sailing.
SuperSeaCat Two has for quite a while now been regarded as somewhat of an embarrassment in the wider fleet of Sea Containers. After the well documented problems of her first 1998 season serving Liverpool Ė Dublin and her 2000 season on Heysham to Belfast having finished in less than glowing circumstances coupled with the fact that she was laid up throughout most of 2002 at Portsmouth had led most observers to conclude that the ship was never going to see service again. All sorts of rumours abounded about her being used for spare parts for her sister ships, her engines were supposed to be shot at and her hull damaged. It just goes to show you should never believe all you hear!
When SuperSeaCat Two arrived back on the Mersey in March she was greeted with cheers and relief all round. The " Diamant Experience" had been too much to bear for traveller and Company alike so the appearance of a nearly refitted ship in Langton Dock was a cause for celebration. There were a couple of other things to celebrate as well. Firstly the ship was now British, registered in Liverpool. Secondly she had been officially transferred to the fleet of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and thirdly the Liverpool-Dublin route was now officially under the control of the Steam Packet and would be directed from Douglas. Steam Packet engineers and crew had been working on her for a while in Portsmouth and there was plenty of work to do on her when she arrived on the Mersey but one got the feeling now that the ship was being nurtured and from now on the sense of ownership, which certainly benefited SeaCat Isle of Man, would also help SuperSeaCat Two.
It was with these feelings of optimism that I arrive at the Landing Stage for my first sailing on the vessel since 27th March 1999. I was not to be disappointed. I was as usual in good time for check in, as was a fellow enthusiast and friend who was joining me for this sailing, the author and photographer Ian Collard. Boarding was smooth and efficient for us foot passengers and for cars, and at 08.13, with 260 passengers and under the command of Captain Pierro, ropes were cast off and we were away. Both Ian and I were pleased to see fluttering at the mainmast the time honoured house flag of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. As Ian pointed out, perhaps a good opportunity to give the ship a decent name as well. As I have mentioned in the present issue of Ships of Mann, Snaefell is due for a revival. Perhaps something will happen along these lines sooner or later and if it did it would give a thoroughly modern vessel a link with a magnificent heritage.
It was certainly an excellent day for a sail; hardly any wind, smooth sea, blue sky but sadly visibility was hazy Ė well, you canít have everything! At 08.31 we were off the Rock and at 08.50 we crossed with Seacat Isle of Man coming in from her morning sailing from Douglas, looking in fine shape in the sunlight, and shortly afterwards we were crossed by what appeared to be a Duke class frigate of the Royal Navy on her way into Liverpool.
We spent most of the time on the open deck of the vessel, which of course is more exposed than that of her sister SuperSeaCat Three, but there is more of it. None of it thankfully is railed off and there are sheltered parts of it if you know the ship. A quick tour of the interior of the vessel shows she has changed a little since she was last on the Irish Sea, such as the positioning of the food outlet [This had actually been repositioned when she was deployed on the Belfast - Heysham route - JHL] and the size and shape of the shop but there are no really significant changes. I have to admit I am not keen on the rows of aircraft type seats and perhaps if the vessel is to be a Steam Packet vessel permanently, as it appears she will be, then a more imaginative layout could perhaps be achieved in the fullness of time.
The Saga Moon was observed ex Dublin on the starboard side at 10.55 heading for Heysham and at 11.25 the NORBAY of P&0 made a magnificent sight as she made her way to Liverpool. The pleasure of seeing such a fine ship as the NORBAY was tempered slightly when ten minutes later on the port side we caught sight of the Stena Explorer ex Dun Laoghaire on her way to Holyhead. At 11.39 we were abeam of the Kish light, and the engines slowed at 11.47 when we were off the Bailey. This relatively early slow down was explained by the fact that we were following in one of those giant car carrier vessels, the Sapphire Highway, and she was slow. Passing Poolbeg light at 12.04 the Jonathon Swift was observed to be still at the berth but she was off at 12.16 and as she passed us greeted us with her whistle to which we replied, leading to immediate rumours that Irish Ferries had bought the Steam Packet Company! A pleasing rumour for the web site editor but not true! Ropes were on at 12.24 after a passage of about four hours and ten minutes.
As soon as we were off then we were on again! Ian and I checked in straight away and discovered that there were only 140 passengers on the return sailing. Many potential travellers were already at Aintree or Old Trafford so it was to be a quiet sailing.
Ropes were off at 13.08, over five minute early and we were passing Poolbeg at 13.16 and were abeam of the Bailey at 13.27, but not before making a wide circle around half a dozen yachts in the Bay. We were off the Kish light at 13.36 and then settled down to an uneventful crossing back to Liverpool. Uneventful because of the visibility which at time was very poor indeed, yet it was lovely and warm in the sun outside, where once again most of the sailing was spent. We did go inside for half an hour to rest our legs as only one outside bench seat has found itís way back on the outer deck. There used to be half a dozen of them at one time!
At 15.05 the first officer announced we were three miles off Anglesey and the speed was 33 knots. I have to admit I thought the ship was steaming very well indeed, very smoothly even, and if 33 knots is enough to keep up the schedule then why make the engines work too hard. Perhaps experience has shown that these sort of engines need to be treated with care and you will get the best out of them and to the observer this certainly seemed to be the case.
The mist was so thick I have no idea at what time the Bar was passed but when Q1 loomed up and the mist cleared at 16.19 I realised we had missed it. At 16.42 we were at the Rock and we were at the Stage at 17.06 after a smooth passage of just under four hours.
Okay, I hear you say. It was fine Seacat type weather, and so it was. But both Ian and I thoroughly enjoyed these two sailings on SuperSeaCat Two, she steamed well, the system worked well on board and the crew, both customer services and officers and seamen were as friendly and helpful as they always are. If the ship can maintain this standard for the rest of the summer, and given luck there is no reason to think she wonít, then her reputation will be revived and she will serve the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company well. I am certain she will and I look forward to my next sailing on her.