HEYSHAM to DOUGLAS - December 27
For a number of years now, I have undertaken seasonal wanderings on the Irish Sea with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Wanderings include the post Christmas Douglas - Dublin sailing. This year, 2004 saw both the pre and post Christmas sailings being scheduled for operation by the LADY OF MANN.
In previous years the post Christmas Douglas - Dublin sailing has been undertaken by the BEN-MY-CHREE. With the LADY's greater speed, and the fact she didn't have to get back to Douglas for the evening sailing to Heysham, the Dublin sailings this year [and in 2005] have been scheduled as day excursions, with a return sailing back to Douglas at 18:15 thus affording a useful amount of time ashore.
Now at this point - you are probably wondering, "Why the reference to chips?" - that will become apparent as you read on. Needless to say I had the dubious pleasure of encountering what must be the most travelled plate of chips ever! I have reason to believe that the plate must have clocked up over 500 miles on the Irish Sea. For all one knows it may be still destined to voyage on into eternity rather like the mythical "Flying Dutchman".
Anyway - back to the chips later!
I started my trip on Monday December 27 at Heysham. I had considered sailing from Liverpool in the evening, on the LADY OF MANN, but as the BEN-MY-CHREE would not be sailing to Dublin this year , I thought I would still make at least on seasonal sailing on her.
Previous experience has taught me that Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sailings can get very busy over the Christmas Holiday period, therefore, I made a point of arriving at Heysham early just before 12:00. I resisted the temptation to drive round to the harbour entrance to photograph the BEN's arrival and proceeded directly to the vehicle check in. A handful of other cars had already arrived, but I managed to secure first place in lane 8 the Blue Riband Club lane.
On arrival at Heysham it was interesting to note that all signs still retained their "SeaCat" branding whilst at Liverpool, much effort has been put into erecting new signage and replacing all reference to "SeaCat" on older signs that remain.
I wandered into the terminal building for a coffee. It was very quiet at this stage with only a handful of foot passengers.
Returning to the car I noted the Ben arrive at about 12:15. Around 89 private vehicles disembarked. By now the vehicle marshalling lanes were filling up and foot passengers were starting to arrive. Quite a few were noted disembarking from an arriving train through the increasingly "holy" side of the terminal building. Each time I go to Heysham the holes appear to get bigger. One would have thought that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company who took over the port from Sea Containers would do something about it.
Eventually around 13:00 vehicles were drawn forward into the holding area at the top of the linkspan and at around 13:30, following the loading of two drop trailers, cars were loaded.
It was quite obvious this was going to be quite a busy sailing and a quick move to the Blue Riband Lounge was in order to ensure a good seat there. Once settled in and joined by quite a few other BR Club passengers I wandered outside. On ro/ro berth #2 was RIVER LUNE taking a seasonal rest from her Norse Merchant sailings. It was noted that her fosc'sle appeared to have sustained some damage. There must be a tale there which has escaped enthusiasts' gossip. Alongside on ro/ro berth #3 was fleetmate MERCHANT BRAVERY. Some crew appeared to be doing some work on board.
Departure from Heysham was slightly early at 14:08 with the Wyre Light which marks the entrance to the Wyre Channel being passed at 14:33. A few moments later the small oil product tanker - BLACKFRIARS of Crescent Shipping passed inbound.
The BEN-MY-CHREE passed the Lune Buoy at 14:50.
Just before the halfway point of the voyage things became a little more bouncy. The Chief officer announced that we were making a speed of just 17.5 knots due to the strong headwind and that our expected ETA at Douglas would be at 17:50.
Around this time I took a wander around and discovered that down below the BEN-MY-CHREE was indeed well filled.
The rest of the crossing passed uneventfully. As the BEN approached Douglas passengers were advised to sit down as the stabilisers were retracted prior to entering the harbour. The swell there can cause some unpredicted movements, though on this occasion nothing untoward happened and we were soon swinging onto Edward Pier with ropes on around 17:50 as predicted.
As my car was located near the stern door I made my way to the aft stairs. Now, this is the first time I have been on a busy sailing with the car since the addition of her new passenger accommodation.
What I did discover that the narrow doorway through to the aft accommodation proved to be somewhat of a bottleneck. With foot pax trying to make it to the forward stairs and cars passengers trying to make it to the aft stairs
DOUGLAS TO DUBLIN - December 29, 2004
On arriving down at the Sea Terminal at around 07:20 it was apparent that there were more passengers present than the few who usually turned up for the return sailing to Dublin after Christmas. Obviously a some were taking advantage of an alternative day trip to Dublin.
However, I understand, that there was no attempt to market the sailing as an excursion opportunity on the island - surely something of a mistake?
The BEN-MY-CHREE was on the Edward Pier, the LADY OF MANN on #1 berth on Victoria Pier bow in. Passengers were boarding onto the boat deck due to the low tide. Having staked a claim on a seat in the Blue Riband lounge with a number of other regular excursionists I made my way up on deck.
Making my way up the forward port stairs I was surprised to be greeted by the sight of a plate of partially consumed chips complete with fork! Strange in deed! A fellow enthusiast remarked that this plate complete with fork and chips had been there when he boarded for the 19:00 sailing from Liverpool the previous evenin! Presumably, then the chips would have at least commenced their journey on the 13:45 sailing from Douglas on December 28. Or could it have been earlier?
Departure was slightly earlier than scheduled at 07:52 with a load of around 70 passengers and a few cars.
The LADY OF MANN was off Langness at around 08:30 and passed off Calf Sound at around 08:30. By now it was becoming light. To the south the distinctive outline of an Everard's tanker could be seen.
With little else to view it was time to go down and get a full "Irish Sea Breakfast". The plate of chips was still there.
After a hearty breakfast, those served up on the LADY OF MANN always appear more tasty than those on the fast craft it was time for a wander around again. The chips were still there!
Little in the way of other vessels were noted apart from a solitary fishing vessel. Visibility was best described as moderate. Though as the Lady approached the Irish coast things appeared to brighten up. Around 11:30 HSS STENA EXPLORER could be seen heading several miles to the south east bound on her late morning sailing from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead.
Within a short time the LADY OF MANN entered Dublin Bay passing Kish Lighthouse and she rounded the Bailey at 12:10. What looked to be the Dún Laoghaire lifeboat could be seen stationary at sea off Dun Laoghaire.
On approach to Poolbeg Light which marks the start of the Liffey fairway up to Dublin Port we slowed to allow JONATHAN SWIFT to pass by outbound to Holyhead.
Passing Poolbeg Light at 12:24 it was noted at least one ship enthusiast had made it out along the Great South Wall to lighthouse with at least two cameras round his neck. It isn't very often that the opportunity to photograph both PRIDE OF BILBAO and LADY OF MANN within a few minutes presents itself!
The PRIDE OF BILBAO having arrived in the Liffey shortly before with a seasonal excursion from Portsmouth. Though the enthusiasts on board the LADY had hoped for more of simultaneous arrival!
LADY ran up the channel. Passing the NMF terminal LINDAROSA and MERCHANT BRILLIANT were at the berths. It was interesting to note that one of the buoys off the NMF Terminal was almost submerged.
Other ships to be seen at Dublin were the container ships NORTHSEA TRADER and MAERSK WESTLAND. On the oil berth was tanker STEN TOR, whilst the sizeable bulk of car carrier AUTO PRESTIGE could also be seen.
Further up river towards the East Link could be seen LEILI and beyond that PRIDE OF BILBAO at the P&O Terminal. Beyond the East Link bridge the replica emigrant ship JEANIE JOHNSTON was berthed - open to the public over the Christmas holidays.
LADY OF MANN swung onto berth 49a which is adjacent to the main berth 49 and is eminently suited to the LADY OF MANN. Ropes were on at 12:42 slightly behind schedule due to the south westerly head winds which the Lady had run into.
Making my way down from the boat deck, the plate of chips were still noted to be present, though they had now been moved more into the corner.
As had been the case when I had previously sailed on the LADY OF MANN in February 2003 from berth 49a it was intended to use the vehicle ramps for both cars and passenger. Given the state of the tide, it was intended to put the car ramp on the lower portside doors. Unfortunately there appeared to be a problem with the hydraulic mechanism. It took a considerable time to get them open with passengers and cars not disembarking until around 13:20! Probably the fact the that the portside lower vehicle doors do not appear to see that much use were the cause of the problem.
An interesting afternoon in Dublin followed as I took the opportunity to try out the new Luas Trams. They really are a swish operation. For inbound ferry passengers the stop can be easily found on the north side of the Busáras near Connolly station - the current eastern terminal of the red line. Some pictures of the Luas Tramway operated by Connex are show on the right. The trams are the Citadis model built by Alstom.
18:15 DUBLIN TO DOUGLAS - December 29
Given that my belongings and car were in Douglas, it certainly wasn't prudent to be late back to the Dublin Port Passenger Terminal and I ensured a return by 17:00.
There appeared to be quite a few cars in the marshalling area, with both Holyhead and Douglas traffic queued up.
JONATHAN SWIFT was on berth 49 awaiting her 17:30 sailing.
Interestingly the electronic departure boards in the terminal now display "IOMPSC" where in the past "SeaCat" would be displayed. However, the departure gate signs still showed "SeaCat". Perhaps no-one has come up with Steam Packet company logo for the computer driven signs. Interestingly some of the terminal announcements I am sure also referred to "SeaCat" including the return to car instructions for car passengers.
Cars were soon starting to make their way around to 49a. Loading the LADY OF MANN with a good load of cars is not something that can be done rapidly.
JONATHAN SWIFT departed on time and STENA ADVENTURER drifted past inbound from Holyhead. It was obvious that ULYSSES wouldn't be too far behind.
With all the cars on board the LADY OF MANN - foot passengers were brought down from the departure lounge and walked the short distance over to berth 49a. It was obviously important for the foot passengers to be on board the LADY before the ULYSSES berthed as the route from the terminal involved crossing the linkspan access road.
Looking down river the ULYSSES could be seen approaching somewhere off North Bank Lighthouse.
After securing a seat it was time to go up and watch the ULYSSES berth. - Yes, the plate, chips and fork were still at the top of port side stairs!
The LADY'S departure was delayed a while as the ULYSSES was made secure on her berth.
Ropes were off at 18:25 a little behind the scheduled 18:15 departure time due to the arrival of ULYSSES. For the return trip the LADY OF MANN was well loaded with around 380 passengers and a good load of cars believed to have been around 80.
The LADY OF MANN set off quite quickly with much smoke being carried forward by the prevailing westerly wind. However, she quickly stopped after passing ULYSSES and started to move astern probably just as quickly. Meanwhile Dublin Port Tug CLUAIN TARBH appeared running down the LADY's port side. Approaching from astern was fleetmate DEILGINIS. The object of their attention was the reason for the LADY's sudden move astern. The SEA PROGRESS of Lagoa Shipping of Greece. A general cargo ship with what appeared to be heavy lift capability.
The LADY moved over to the right of channel starting to move forwards at 18:45. SEA PROGRESS passed inbound to be greeted by the two tugs at 1848.
With the mild wind behind a very pleasant trip back to Douglas followed. In his mid voyage report the first officer commented on the excellent conditions almost inviting passengers to go outside.
Up on the boat deck it was interesting to note that most of the bench seats were occupied and there were quite a few people either sitting or walking about outside. Rather than being late December it could quite easily have been a pleasant spring.
It was around this time that it was noted that a cigarette packet had joined the plate, chips and fork at the top of the forward port stairs.
The beam of Chicken Rock lighthouse was visible by 21:03. The LADY OF MANN passed off the Calf of Man at 22:05, Langness at 22:19 and was berthed in the harbour by 22:53. On the tanker berth was an unidentified Everard's tanker. Presumably the one seen some way off in the morning.
DOUGLAS TO LIVERPOOL - December 30, 2004
I returned to Liverpool on the 13:45 sailing from Douglas on December 30. Once again the LADY was well loaded.
She departed promptly at 13:45. It was interesting to note that the plate, chips, fork and cigarette packet were still in place at the top of the port forward stairs.
It was a quiet voyage back with little of interest to be noted. The first half or the voyage the sea was a little lumpy, not enough to trouble the LADY OF MANN, but one that might have caused delay or disruption to a fast craft sailing. Should the replacement for the LADY OF MANN and SEACAT ISLE OF MAN be a fast craft, winter disruption of seasonal holiday sailings would be more likely.
The Liverpool Bay Offshore Installation was passed to port at 16:06, with the LADY passing Q1 inbound at 16:56. the Rock at 17:34. The LADY was secure on the stage at 17:50.
As I made my way down from the boat deck to pick up some belongings from the Blue Riband Lounge, I passed the plate which had now acquired a paper tissue, and mused just how much longer would the plate, chips, fork cigarette packet and paper tissue continue to sail the Irish Sea?!
Once again my seasonal wandering of the Irish Sea with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company had come all too soon to an end. As usual an enjoyable series of sailings and one to look forward to again next Christmas.